DRUID CIRCLES AS BURIAL-PLACES

by

JAMES KERR
Edinburgh

[Extracted from NQ, 4th ser., 12, 206.]

 

The recent remarks of W. F. F. on Stonehenge in "N. & Q." give us an idea as to the origin of burials in our places of worship. The historical proof that he gives regarding the setting up of the stones at Stonehenge by Aurelius Ambrosius for his burial-place does not necessarily preclude their dedication to the worship of the sun and heavenly hosts, any more than the burial of the gifted and great hinders Christian worship in Westminster Abbey. I have often endeavoured to obtain some information as to the period or the purpose of setting up the curious cruciform sun temple in the remote Hebridean Island of Lewis, which erection lies north and south, with arms east and west. There is a centre stone 16 ft. 2 in. high, around which there is a circle of standing stones 40 ft. in diameter, consisting of 12 stones; the shaft of the cross extends 270 ft. north of the circle, and is an avenue 27 ft. wide, formed by a double row of stones, nineteen in number. The head of the cross to the south extends 69 ft., consisting of five stones. The eastern arm extends 38 ft., and the western 43 ft., each consisting of four stones. The average height of all these stones is from 10 to 13 ft.

It seems to me that both Sir Henry James, in his work on Stonehenge and Tursuschan, and Mr. Fergusson, in his work on Rude Stone Monuments, have not fancied the idea of pagan worship and burial being associated; while, strange to say, the vague feeling which has left the north side of every ancient churchyard in Britain almost unappropriated for burial, tells something about the origin of burial in and around churches being derived from the very pagans who reared the stone circles, they having, we are told, a terrible dread of the north.

From the nature of the ground in and around the circle there is no likelihood of the dead being buried here, but it may have been a place for cineration, as there is to the east of the great stone a sunk fire-chamber, with built sides, with a built drain-like flue towards the east, that may have acted as a blow-pipe to fan the flame with the orient breeze. Altogether this perfect prehistoric cruciform sun temple at Callernish, Island of Lewis, throws a strange glimmer of bewildering light upon the "orientation" of religious worship, and our burial of the dead with the feet to the east, and also on the great feature of the cruciform symbolism of our church architecture.

The curious sunk chamber, built in cruciform shape, in the circle of standing stones at Callernish, was only discovered some years ago, when a bed of peat moss, upwards of four feet thick, was removed from around these stones on the knoll or high place by the shores of Loch Roag. This bed of peat moss must have taken ages to accumulate.