The artefacts held at Govan Old comprise one of the most impressive collections of early medieval sculpture found anywhere in Europe. Remarkably, every single one of these Viking-age treasures has lain in Govan Old churchyard for over 1000 years.
Known as The Govan Stones, this exhibition shines a light into a dark period of history before the nation of Scotland ever existed, when warlords battled for control of the British Isles, and Viking longships caused mayhem along our coasts and waterways.
Carved from as early as the 9th century, these monuments and their symbols represent some of the best surviving evidence of the powerful and expansive early medieval Kingdom of Strathclyde. Now rehomed inside the church, the Govan Stones serve as a powerful insight into the wealth, power and dominance of the last surviving British kingdom in Scotland.
To find out more about the Govan Stones collection and archaeological research conducted at Govan Old, click below to access the University of Glasgow Govan Old Archaeology Portal.
Govan Old Churchyard
Archaeological excavations in the 1990s uncovered evidence of Christian burials in Govan Old Churchyard dating as far back as the 5th century AD. For at least 1,500 years the churchyard has been a prominent feature on the landscape of the River Clyde, and an important focal point of Christian worship.
The distinctive teardrop shaped outline of the churchyard gives a hint as to its ancient origins. Although very rarely seen today, many early medieval churches featured circular or oval boundary lines. We believe the original entranceway to the churchyard was at Pearce Lane, in the south-eastern corner/point of the churchyard. It lined up with an ancient processional route that connected the church with the now-flattened Doomster Hill, a large, artificial mound which was the kings’ seat of power.
Burials in the churchyard date back to the earliest phase of Christianity in Scotland. However, most of the 236 gravestones we see outdoors today date from the 16th to the 19th centuries. They span a period when Govan saw huge population growth and the rapid rise of industry.
By the 1900s, the churchyard was almost entirely surrounded by shipyards, tenements and workshops, all jostling for space along the riverside. Despite all these changes, the original form of the churchyard has survived largely intact.
In 1993, the churchyard and its stones were designated as a Scheduled Monument by Historic Environment Scotland, giving them legal protection.
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