Bute was a very important island during the Early Christian (Early Historic) period. Place names record dedications to saints such as Cattan, Blane and Ninian, archaeological remains show where monasteries and churches stood, early written records for the first time record the names of actual people living in Bute with the list of bishops and abbots of Kingarth – starting with Daniel c 660.
The museum has an impressive collection of artefacts from Christian sites around the island. A painting by Horatio McCulloch, which hangs in the Early Christian case, is an interesting record of how the St Blane’s appeared before the Third Marquess of Bute undertook restoration of the site in the 1890s.
Many carved stones still remain on the St Blane’s site but a beautiful carved horseman stone was removed to the museum by Historic Scotland and is on permanent display along with some small finds from the site. The museum also owns an album copied in 1929 from Schultz’s original 1896 plans which can be viewed by arrangement.
The carved stones in the museum come from Inchmarnock, St Blane’s and St Mary’s chapel. One stone on display, the MacAlister stone, has had an interesting journey around the island. Due to deterioration in its condition, it was moved to the museum in 1996. Prior to that date it had been in Rothesay Churchyard (on the burial plot of the MacAlister family from where it gets its name). It is recorded as being re-erected in the churchyard in 1886 but as the stone is more than 1,000 years old, this is not its original site. Tradition places it at Ascog and it may originally have stood at Kilwhinleck. Whatever its origins, it is an extremely interesting stone. It is the shaft of a free-standing cross which has been richly decorated with interlacing designs, a horseman, birds and two quadrupeds – one winged and the other with an arched back and interlaced tail.