The High Cross of Keills used to stand to the north west of the chapel, but because of the effects of weathering in such an exposed site it along with several other gravestones have been brought inside to the disused chapel. Like several other disused chapels in Argyll the walls of the chapel have been reinstated, a roof with roof lights has been put on the building, windows covered with perspex and any gravestones of interest moved indoors.
I was really taken by this cross, I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it before. The center of the cross has a nest with eggs inside, how often we tend to think of the Easter Egg as being a modern commercial exercise, however here in an beautiful, isolated, Scottish peninsula in the 8th century the people had Eggs at the center of their chapel cross.
I know what the blurb in the chapel says about the figures on this cross:
… a representation of St Michael on the upper limb, and a seated saint (perhaps an evangelist) at the top of the shaft.
I however have a different view on that. I think they are saying it is St Michael because of the suggestion of wings, well of course it could be, but I don’t believe so. To me the figure looks much more like an eagle,there is the remains of a weather worn beak and, less weather worn, something in its talons indeed it reminds me of Ezekiel chapter 17.
Dunadd was the royal centre for Dalrinada, the kingdom which covered much of the west coast of Scotland and also a small part of Northern Ireland. Dunadd is not far from Keills Chapel and indeed during the 8th century you could probably have sailed from one to the other. However in 735AD the Picts captured Dunadd and burned it down. Of course that didn’t mean the people in the area rolled over and surrendered, indeed Dalrinada wasn’t subdued until 741AD then to be ruled by the Picts until at the end of the century, when the Vikings arrived to subdue them too. As this cross is dated from this time I don’t think it takes any great leap to think the upheaval that was around at the time would have been portrayed in this Cross, especially as sadly the catalyst for this incursion by the Picts was religiously motivated, the expelling of clergy from Iona and the imposition of Roman usages. Yes I think this is an eagle, maybe not Ezekiel’s eagle, but an eagle not St Michael.