The Picts discovered Christianity in the 6th and 7th centuries and began building churches near their stones. Then many of the stones themselves were moved into the churchyards. (Most of the 200 extant stones are not on their original sites.)
Ferguson and the local minister, Rev Andrew Greaves, examine the standing stone in the garden of the manse at Glamis, showing symbols on one side, a serpent, salmon and mirror, while on the other there is a cross carved in relief and infilled with interlaced designs. Among other symbols here, Ferguson is intrigued by a carving showing a cauldron with a pair of legs sticking out from it. Pictish ritual drowning?
The Rev Greaves takes him down to a well by a burn that is traditionally associated with the Irish St Fergus, who converted the local Picts. The well is still used for baptisms today.
Ferguson then visits the stone on nearby Hunter’s Hill and finds an American artist, Marianna Lines, tracing the much eroded carvings and making her own pictures using vegetable dyes. She believes the symbols are part of a belief system that convey a spiritual message on the theme of ‘honouring the earth’.
Finally, Ferguson talks to Dr Anna Ritchie, a Pictish expert. She tells him we probably won’t ever know the meaning of the symbols. They speculate about the disappearance of the Picts – or rather their gradual merging with the Scots of Dalriada, their own kingdom in Argyll and the west.
Dr Ritchie suggests this came about through inter-marriage. The Picts were not exterminated but at some point their art simply stops altogether, as if their symbols were no longer allowed on the stones. Ferguson pays his homage at the last and greatest of their standing stones – Sueno’s Stone near Forres.