Scotland's churches and kirks reflect a unique story quite distinct from ecclesiastical history elsewhere in these islands. And while some Scottish kirks can appear dour and/or generally relatively recent compared with churches found elsewhere, the impact of the often turbulent evolution of religion in Scotland has brought to the fore the interest and importance of Scottish kirkyards or churchyards. Many contain items of historical importance that go back far beyond the age of the kirk they now surround. And understanding what to look for and how to understand what you see adds dramatically to any visitor's experience of Scotland, whether it be during a browse of a city graveyard or in and around a ruined chapel in the most remote corner of the Highlands.
Dane Love's "Scottish Kirkyards" should be considered a "must read" for anyone with any interest in the subject. It is more background reading than a field guide, and as such presents a series of chapters on different aspects of the subject which between them amount to, as far as we are concerned at least, the definitive account of this fascinating subject.
The book takes as its starting point neolithic, bronze age and iron age burial customs before moving on to Pictish symbol stones (as many are in or have been found in kirkyards). It then moves on to the medieval era and Scotland's unique heritage of West Highland grave slabs. Scottish burial practices before the Reformation receive appropriate treatment, before the book begins to take a much more detailed approach to developments since 1560. One chapter looks at funeral custom, and is followed by another on tombstone symbology. We then move on to information to be found about causes of death, and another chapter looks at epitaphs.
Very little is overlooked. The use of kirkyards for markets, weapons practice and prisons (amongst other things) is covered, and the resurrectionists (body snatchers) of the early 1800s get a fascinating chapter to themselves. The book concludes with a list of some of the notable graves to be found in Scottish kirkyards.