chapter  1
15 Pages

Carved in stone

Engaging with the past in Medieval Orkney
WithSarah Randles

This chapter deals with the Norse inhabitants of Orkney in the Middle Ages and their responses to the earlier Pictish and Neolithic monuments that they encountered, as well as the material legacy of those responses. The depiction of crosses on Medieval churches was also an important element in the ritual of consecration, sacralising the space for God. The relationship with the stones of the past was thus ambivalent for the medieval Orcadians. Stone dominates the landscape and commemorates the past in Orkney in a ubiquitous and unavoidable way. The stone heritage of Orkney, reflecting the constructions of successive cultures, is both its emotional ‘heart’ and an essential part of its economic lifeblood. Much of the evidence for the Norse response to the Neolithic heritage of Orkney comes from surviving inscriptions in stone. Maeshowe was roofed in stone, but otherwise would have been a very familiar structure to the Norse men who entered it.