St Munnu – an ancient image now identified

Exploring Celtic Christan Landscapes in Cowal

Gilbert Markus

Gilbert Markus

ex-priest, professor of history, eminent academic, and the original Faith in Cowal pilgrim trails development officer

Sometimes the smallest of things are the most satisfying.

There is a charter in the National Records of Scotland (NRS, formerly the National Archives of Scotland) by which Archibald Campbell, Provost of the Collegiate Church of Kilmun, grants a nineteen-year tack of the teinds of Dysart parish in Glenorchy. The exciting feature of this charter, however, is not so much its contents as the pair of seals appended to it.

 One of them is the seal of Colin, earl of Argyll (d,1584).

The seal of Colin, earl of Argyll in 1579 (National Records of Scotland,  GD112/51/39/8)
The seal of Colin, earl of Argyll in 1579 (National Records of Scotland, GD112/51/39/8)

The other seal has a picture of an abbot or bishop on it – an ecclesiastical seal, therefore.

Seal of Archibald Cambpell, Provost of Kilmun in 1579 (National Records of Scotland,  GD112/51/39/8)
Seal of Archibald Cambpell, Provost of Kilmun in 1579 (National Records of Scotland, GD112/51/39/8)

Until last week the NRS catalague described this second seal as that of James Hamilton, bishop of Lismore. This may be one reason why the seal is not better known. But the Faith in Cowal project has recently pointed out to the NRS that the seal is actually that of Archibald Campbell, Provost of the Kirk of Kilmun, and that it is appended directly below his signature. The NRS has corrected its catalogue accordingly.

The signature of 'Archibald Campbell Provost off Kilmovnd' (National Records of Scotland,  GD112/51/39/8)
The signature of ‘Archibald Campbell Provost off Kilmovnd’ (National Records of Scotland, GD112/51/39/8)

Now that the seal is correctly identified, we can say that we have also identified the earliest known image of St Munnu, the patron saint of Archibald Campbell’s church at Kilmun.   The saint stands on top of the Campbell coat of arms (two gyronnis or crosses of eight and two galleys), which of course refers to the family of Archibald, the provost.

As for the features of the saint himself on this seal, it is hard to discern much, but he is portrayed holding a bachall – the abbot’s staff of office.  This refers to the authority of St Munnu the abbot during his own lifetime of course, but we should probaby also read it as alluding to the Provost of Kilmun who uses the image to present himself as the heir to St Munnu’s authority.  By joining the image of the saint to the Campbell coat of arms the seal is making an implicit claim about the authority of Archibald Campbell and of his family.

The depiction of the bachall is doubly interesting because we know that such a staff was kept at Inverchapel, close to Kilmun, as a relic of St Munnu. The relic appears (together with its deòradh or hereditary keeper) in a charter of 1497.

By identifying this seal we can add another little piece to the jigsaw of the history of Cowal and the Christian communities here.

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COVID-19

Stay Safe

Click the image for current guidance

Most of our sites are still open, and will make for a nice, socially distanced way to celebrate your faith, or to partake in a pilgrimage.

HOWEVER

They are small sites, with small parking areas. If there is already a car in the parking areas, THINK TWICE about visiting. Perhaps try a different location. Don't stray too far from home (there are sites all over Cowal), and stay at least 2m/6.5ft away from other groups at all times. Please stay up to date with with current government guidelines (click the picture link).