[from Proc IoMNH&ASoc vol2 #1 1923]
By CANON GRENSTED.
The object of this paper is to bring together some scattered and disconnected facts in such a way that a possible connection may be perceived and a common explanation may be given of them. In the summers of 1910 and 1911 I spent some weeks in examining the antiquities of the Isle of Man. I used the Illustrated Notes on Manx Antiquities by Mr. P. M. C. Kermode and Prof. Herdman, and my attention was drawn by it to these 'White Stones.' This book reprints, with additions, the paper in which the authors gave the result of their examination of the circle of cists and the hut village of ' Lag-ny-Boirey,' on Meayll Hill, above Port Erin, in 1893. From the book I transcribe two passages.
Speaking of the Hut Village, they write, on page 34: 'There were also found some small flints and quartz pebbles, which may have been used in striking a light. Possibly the white quartz pebbles, a great number of which were also met with in the cists of the circle, had been used as " pot-boilers." If the rudely baked clay vessels were not able to stand much fire, the contents may have been cooked by dropping in these stones, previously heated on the hearth. This explanation may account for the small pebbles in the huts, but scarcely for the great number found in the graves.'
And on page 39: 'In each cist were found a number of rounded white quartz pebbles from the beach, measuring- t to 6 inches in diameter. These were found scattered through the grave, without obvious arrangement, although they may originally have been carefully deposited on the floor, around the urns, or in some definite manner. In some other ancient burial places on the Island similar white quartz pebbles, evidently brought from the sea shore, have been used.' And the authors add : 'Can this be the origin of the superstitious dislike the natives still have to the use of the " clagh-bane " or " white-stone "? Fishermen, for instance, will refuse to go to sea on a boat which has a white stone in the ballast.' This custom, then, of interring white stones with the dead was used in the Island in the last days of the Neolithic or the beginning of the Bronze Age, when their custom was to cremate the dead. But the custom lasted on into Christian times. I have seen similar pebbles in the grave in S. Trinian's Church, Marown, a grave which does not lie parallel to the walls of the church and is probably older. Canon Quine also informs me that some years ago excavations were made at Lonan Old Church, and a trench made right round the church, close to, the walls, revealed interments right up against the walls, and, at the west end, under the walls. In these graves, especially at the west end, were an enormous number of these waterworn stones, evidently brought from the shore, in size from a marble to an egg. Of these quite a good wheelbarrow full were collected. These graves were constructed of stone slabs and were oriented. They were evidently very early Christian interments. We must next take a third step forwards, to the dedication of the church. Canon Quine informs me that Lonan is derived from Kil-onan, which became K'Lonan, and that Kil-onan is Kil Adamnan, and on pages 64 and 65 of Kermode and Herdman's Notes I read that near Keeil Woirrey, in Corna Valley, Maughold, the Rev. S. N. Harrison discovered, a few years ago, a rough unhewn slate slab (Fig. 41) with the inscription in Manx runes: ' Krist Malaki, and Patrick (and) Adamnan. Una] (O'Neal's) shepherd Juan carved this in Kurnadale.' An inscription probably cut in the xiii century. This third step enables us to reach and take a fourth step. We must inquire who Adamnan was, and what ideas he had on the subject of ' a white stone.'
He was ninth Abbot of the monastery of Iona, A.D. 679-704, and he wrote the life of Columb-Kille Saint Columba founder of the monastery and missionary, A.D. 521-597 That book is in three sections, to the first of which are two prefaces. The first book deals with the prophetic revelations to the saint, the second with his miracles, the third with his angelic visitations the last chapter describes his death.
In the first preface he tells us how the Saint took a white stone from a river and blessed it for the working of certain cures, and this stone, contrary to nature, on being dropped into water, floated like an apple. This miracle being done in the presence of King Brude and his household. And how, a still greater miracle, in the same province, he raised the dead son of a believer, and restored him alive to his father and mother.
Book II, p. xxxiii, gives a full account of this miracle. Broichan, a Druid, refuses to set free an Irish bondmaid at the bidding of Columba, but an angel from heaven smote him and shattered in his hand the glass from whence he was drinking, and forced him to be willing to free the little maid. Columba took a white pebble from the river Ness, and said
' Note well this white stone, by which the Lord will effect many cures among this heathen people.' He sent this stone, by request of King Brude, saying, ' If first Broichan will promise to free the girl, then let this little stone be dropped in water and so let him drink of it, and he shall at once recover health; but if he refuses and opposes the freeing of the slave girl he will immediately die.' Broichan drinks from the stone, which floats on water, and at once recovers. The stone afterwards heals many, but, wonderful to relate, when required by a sick man who was destined to die could never be found. And, indeed, it was sought for and yet not found when King-Brude died in A.D. 58;. King Brude's palace was at the N.E. end of Loch Ness.
Now, this miracle takes its place in a series of the wildest character; it is evidently recorded by a man whose mind was saturated, as was also, no doubt, the mind of St. Columba, with the supernatural. It is the record of an age in which Patrick and Columba were regarded as magicians, working by the power of the Son of God a greater magic than the magic of Irish or Scotch Druids who opposed them. An age which regarded the Simon Magus of Acts viii, 9, as a Druid, and which could write in an ancient hymn ascribed to Columba, ' Christ, the Son of God, is my Druid.' An age, too, to which the tombstone (v or vi Cent.) found at Balla-queeney, with the inscription ' Dovaidona Maqi Droata,' son of a Druid, belong, similar inscriptions of the same date being found in Ireland. What is now Ulster, S.W. Scotland, and the Isle of Man, forming, at that date, one district within which the same type of mental outlook existed.
Can we pass further and take a fifth step, and see whence these ideas in the mind of Broichan the Druid and Columba the Saint would come ? I think we can. Evans, in his ' Ancient Stone Implements,' p. 467, etc., gives instances of pebbles found in barrows, as, for instance, at Carder Low, near Hartington, in Derbyshire, where about eighty quartz pebbles were found, together with flint implements, a basalt axe-hammer, and a bronze dagger. At Alsop a round quartz pebble in the left hand of the skeleton; at Readon Hill, near Namshorn, a pebble in the right hand; and, more important still, the discovery of numerous skeletons in the churchyard of Penmynydd, Anglesey, with a white oval pebble the size of a hen's egg near each. It is doubtful whether these be Christian or not, but the Rev. D. J. Williams, who describes them, suggests that there may be a connection with Rev. ii, 17. "the text refers to the Church of Pergamos, and runs ' To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna and will give him a white stone and on the stone a new name written.'
Now, this text would perfectly explain why Columba may have used a stone in some way of which we have a distorted account in Adamnan, but it will not explain why such stones are found in the pre-Christian burial places, nor why such use would appeal to a heathen audience.
It is possible that one and the same heathen religious idea lies behind every single one of these incidents and of the passage in Rev. ii, 17.
For remember that Pergamos was a city that stood near the Hellespont, the place where the Galatian people, who were a nation of Gauls, entered Asia Minor after their repulse from Delphi, B.C. 279. As Bishop Lightfoot points out in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians, they were alternately the scourge and the allies of each Asiatic prince.