The Gotland Memorial Stones

Before the year 400, the Pagan people of the Baltic island of Gotland, now part of Sweden, set up unhewn stone slabs, without, as far as is known, sculpture or other ornament. Around the year 400, however, there was a change, and people began to set up larger and more ornate stones. These were generally rectangular in shape, with painted images and symbols. Further progression in stone design produced monuments with horseshoe-shaped tops, and interlace pattern around the edges, in the manner of later Pictish cross-slabs. These date from the sixth century onwards. Prominent on many Gotland stones is the disc or wheel. Some depict it in the form of a dynamic whirling pattern, as on the stone from Sanda illustrated here, while others arc more wheel-like. The Sanda disc is composed of eight light crescents interspersed with eight others made from alternate light and dark triangles. Other discs are divided into four by lines or spirals. The pattern on stones from

Opposite: Gotland memorial stones. Centre: a painted stone from Sanda, whose roundel occupies the same place as the wheel-cross on comparable Christian stones.

Left (descending): border from Hablingo Havor; border from Vallstena; roundel from Vallstena; roundel from Hablingo Havor.

Right (descending): border from Hablingo Havor; border from Larbro St Hammers; roundels from Vâstkûnde Bjôrkome.

Martebo, Vallstcna and Vastkunde Bjorkomc have clear affinities with the sunwheel and the Celtic Cross. An alternative form is the knot-wheel, such as that on a stone from Hablingo Havor, examples of which arc found on later runcstones and Celtic Crosses. The position of the centres of the spirals and the 'holes' in the knot of the knotwheel are identical with the holes, real or inferred, that are the characteristic of the design of Celtic Crosses. Furthermore, the position of the disc on the Gotland stones is identical with that of the wheel-cross on early Celtic cross-slabs. The meaning of these stylistic concurrences between the Baltic and the British Isles has yet to be determined.

The border ornament of Gutnish stones (see the examples on page 57) varies from running spirals through swirl-patterns to interlace identical in form to that found on Celtic artefacts. It is possible that these bordered patterns reproduce tapestry patterns in stone, for the use of tapestries and hangings in a sacred context is universal. They are known from Celtic burials as far back as the La Tene era. Surviving northern-tradition tapestries, such as the twelfth-century one from Skog church, Halsingland, Sweden, show the pantheon in iconic form. The style and content of Roman, Coptic and Byzantine tapestries may have had an influence upon northern European styles of presentation, Gutnish memorial-stones of the Sanda type, and Pictish cross-slabs, such as that at Rossie Priory in Tayside, may be images in stone of fabric sacred hangings, now lost. More enigmatic is their relationship with the much earlier Etruscan funerary stelae of Italy. Dating from the fourth century bce, these memorial stones have many pictorial themes carved within scrolled borders which artistically are close to both the Gutnish and Pictish stones.

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