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Sacred geography – Picts – Castles, Palaces and Forts 02



Type of Spiritual Experience


A description of the experience


Dundurn is the site of a Pictish hillfort in what is now Strathearn in Perth and Kinross, Scotland.  It is a designated scheduled monument.  Within a sacred landscape it would be classified as a ‘castle’ rather than a ‘palace’ and was the home of a ‘king’. 

The ‘castle’ was situated on a hill with the River Earn to one side and the Allt Ghoinean burn to another, thus it includes two other sacred symbols, the hill and the river or stream.  Furthermore the site is egg shaped making it tie in with the cosmic Egg.  Its plan would not have gone amiss in the Indus valley.

Excavations have identified three stages of fortification between 500 and 800 AD, which means it was built at the time kings took over from queens and the matrilineal system during the time of conversion to Christianity.  Dundurn was probably connected at that time with a symbolic planet – one of the seven ‘kingdoms’.  The fort at Dundurn (or Dún Duirn) is mentioned twice in the Annals of Ulster, firstly relating to a siege in 683 AD, at which time it was held by King Bridei III, and secondly as the location of the death of a king in 889 AD.


Symbolically the location places it around Floclaid (or Fotla) or Fortui.

Dundurn fort occupies an isolated rocky knoll and consists of a series of ruined walls and courtyards all over the flanks of the knoll, the uppermost measuring about 70ft in diameter, while the total area covered is 325 yds by 180 yds.

Limited excavations were undertaken in 1976 by the Dept of Archaeology, Glasgow University to establish the date and origin of Dundurn. At least two periods were recognised in the fortifications of the citadel and the uppermost terraces. The defences, revealed by the tumbled stone of their walls, are in the form of boss of rock surrounded by enclosures on two levels. No wall faces could be detected in the tumble.

From the evidence gained, an oval castle may be inferred, measuring 20.0m by 15.0m internally, defended by a rubble wall 4.0m thick laced with nailed timbers”.


Picts Gaels and Scots - Dr Sally Foster

The Church, a centralising force, played a crucial role in the late 7th early 8th century as the kings … actively promoted and established the concept of the single Pictish kingdom (Veitch 1997; Fraser 2009). Not just kings, but also local lords, could see value in undermining the local cult centres of their neighbours and drawing their followers to them.

If as king or a lord you granted land to the Church, then in certain regards they acted as your local agents and representatives. The local nobles derived additional authority by their association with this fashionable new source of power, which also widened their career opportunities. Its pastoral system was a means of extending and establishing an ideology that was pro-state. The Church was also able to assist in administrative matters … This type of symbiosis between king and Church was a recognised phenomenon throughout north-west Europe in the 8th century.

In return, the Church obtained the land (and associated rights) that it needed both to survive and to generate wealth for its own works. Ecclesiastics were in effect ideologically endowed nobility who derived their authority from their access to Christianity.


……………………….. In this .. we see how the influence of the Church came to permeate all levels of society and was probably the most successful and effective method by which the authority of kings could be peacefully extended. It did so by extolling an international and outward-looking belief system as part of a Universal Church, reinforcing and sustaining the breakdown of locally based power structures that were highly individual and personal in their character. Its ideology was pro-state and hence supported the aspirations of kings who now modelled themselves upon leaders of the former Christian Roman Empire and sought to expand and centralise their power base.

With time, the Church also came to provide some degree of administrative support for the king and nobility. Through the history of the Church and its interrelationship with the rest of society we can therefore trace evidence for the consolidation of society.



The source of the experience


Concepts, symbols and science items


Map of the Egg


Map of the Egg

Activities and commonsteps