The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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The God Stone, St Luke’s Churchyard, Formby, Merseyside

The God Stone, Formby, Merseyside.

The God Stone.

Os grid reference: SD 2800 0671. At the western side of the town of Formby, Merseyside, close to the seashore and just along St Luke’s Church Road, stands the parish church of St Luke and, almost hidden in the churchyard (west side) is The God Stone, a small oval-shaped stone that is inscribed with a thin cross standing upon some steps. It is also known as The Corpse Stone or The Cross Stone. The present 19th century church stands on a pagan site, but probably from about the early 10th century it was settled by Vikings from Ireland or perhaps the Isle of Man; the stone being placed there at that time, or maybe earlier? Also of interest in the churchyard is the wooden cross, and in the church porch the 15th century gravestone of a local giant! The seaside town of Southport is 6 miles to the north on the A565 while Crosby is 5 miles south on the same road. Liverpool city centre is 10 miles to the south.

The God Stone stands at the west-side of the churchyard beneath some trees. It is 1 foot 6 inches high and is oval in shape, but below ground it becomes a short stumpy shaft which tapers away. It was apparently moved to its present position in 1879. In the early 10th century Formby (Fornebei) was a Viking settlement and a pagan one, but by about 960 the site was Christianised and, later in the 12th century a chapel was established, which would become St Luke’s. There were at least two churches on this site previous to the present-day church, which was built in 1855. It would, therefore, seem that the God Stone became a sort of marker or “rebus” to which the newly converted could ‘congregate around’ and be baptised “at” by Christian missionaries. At some stage, maybe a few centuries later, a Calvary cross was carved onto the stone by missionaries (as a representation of Christ). The curious little stone with its steps below a thin incised cross which has a circle or orb at the top (perhaps a Norse runic symbol) that ‘might’ signify commitment to Christ and ‘the climb up the steps to the cross’, and the nearness to heaven and then ‘eternal life’ (the afterlife).

In the Middle Ages and more recent times, and also to some extent in pre-Christian times, corpses were ceremononially carried around the stone three times, or maybe more in order to contain the spirit of the departed and prevent it from coming back to haunt the relatives, according to Kathleen Eyre in her book ‘Lancashire Legends’. She goes on to say that: “The practise of carrying the corpse three times around the churchyard was witnessed by an English traveller to Holland a few years ago”.  Though the author does not say who that traveller was!

Also in the churchyard there used to be an old wooden cross of uncertain age (encased in zinc) and standing upon tiered stone steps (there is now a more modern wooden cross in its place), and also the 18th century village stocks. In the church porch there is the cracked 15th century gravestone of a local giant. Actually he was none other than Richard Formby, a local man and one of the ancient family of Formby’s, who was the armour-bearer of King Henry IV (1399-1413) and who died in 1407. His tombstone was brought to St Luke’s from York Minster where it received its crack when a wooden beam fell onto it during a fire at the minster in 1829. Apparently Richard was seven feet tall. An inscription on the gravestone reads: “Here lies Richard Formby formerly armour-bearer of our Lord and King, who died on the 22nd Day of the month of September in the year of our Lord 1407. Upon whose soul may God have mercy”- Kathleen Eyre ‘Lancashire Legends’. Housed inside the church is a crude 12th century font which came from the first building on this site. 

Sources:

Eyre, Kathleen., Lancashire Legends, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, North Yorks, 1979.

Fields, Kenneth., Lancashire Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1998.

http://stlukes.merseyside.org/history.html


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Rough Castle Roman Fort, Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, Scotland

Rough Castle Roman Fort (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Rough Castle Roman Fort (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: NS 8435 7985. About halfway between Bonnybridge and Tamfourhill in the Falkirk region of Stirlingshire, in what “was” the ancient kingdom of Dumnonia, are the very well-defined earthworks of Rough Castle Roman Fort, a 2nd century Roman military site attached to the Antonine Wall (south side), which is ‘said’ to be one of the best preserved forts in Scotland, and certainly one of the most notable in Britain, according to the work ‘Ancient Monuments Scotland’, an HMSO guide. Although it was only a temporary fort it was well endowed with a number of military buildings and, at the east-side a bath-house, the foundations of which were discovered during a number of Archaeological excavations in the early 1900s. The fort was built upon a north-facing and very commanding escarpment, beside a ravine into which the Rowan Burn flows, which no-doubt aided the security of the fort somewhat. The town of Falkirk is 1 mile to the east and Larbert is 2 miles north.

Antonine Wall near Rough Castle (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Antonine Wall near Rough Castle (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The fort stands at the south-side of the Antonine Wall (part of the north-west frontier) and, in particular, the section behind the fort (north and north-west side) with its deep-ditch and rampart is one of three that are extremely well-preserved, although the actual Roman wall itself, or what constituted as a wall at the time, has mostly disappeared leaving only the earthworks as a reminder. The Antonine Wall, built about AD 143, is actually a V-shaped ditch which was 15 Roman feet wide with a rampart of turf on a stone base, a military way that ran for 36 miles (40 Roman miles), linking the Firth of Clyde at Old Kilpatrick in the far west, to the Firth of Forth at Bo’ness in the east. It was built soon after AD 143 to a planned line, earlier set out by Julius Agricola (c 80 AD), by the legate Lollius Urbicus and named after the emporer at the time, Antoninus Pius; but militarily it was nothing like Hadrian’s Wall, although it was called ‘a permenent frontier’ at the time of building, and that’s what it was to remain – in the landscape at least.

Rough Castle For, a drawing by William Roy 1755 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Rough Castle Fort, a drawing by William Roy 1755 (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Rough Castle fort covered about 1 acre, so fairly small compared to some of the forts in England and Wales. It was called a ‘wall fort’ because it abutted up against a Roman wall, in this case the Antonine Wall. Typically it was square-shaped with curved corners but with no lookout towers, although there were the usual four side entrances at the N.S.E.W. Built around 142 AD as a temporary fort, spaced at a two mile interval with its near neighbours – Seabeg to the west and Watling Lodge to the east; at Watling Lodge there is another well-preserved section of the Antonine Wall. But Rough Castle only lasted for just over 20 years, and by 163-4 AD the wall and its 19 small forts and 14 temporary forts were abandoned, Hadrian’s Wall further to the south being occupied instead! However, for a short period around 210-11 AD Rough Castle was re-occupied. The double ditches and ramparts of the fort, and its annexe are well-preserved, especially at the east, south, and western sides, that at the north-side being the much deeper defensive ditch and steep rampart of the Roman wall.

During Archaeological excavations in 1902-3 the foundations of numerous buildings were discovered within the fort and, in the annexe a bath-house, including: an headquarters block, barrack block, commandant’s house and a granary; also a series of defensive pits (lilia) outside the Antonine ditch on the left front of the fort were found, according to the work ‘Ancient Monuments Scotland’, which goes on to say that: “Two inscriptions identify the garrison, the 6th Nervian cohort”, one of six infantry units of up to 500 men from north-eastern Gaul who were honoured with the title ‘Brittanica’, according to the very excellent work of I. A. Richmond ‘Roman Britain’. Further excavations took place at the fort in 1932, 1957 and 1961.

Sources:

Bedoyere, Guy de la., The Finds of Roman Britain, B.T. Batsford Ltd., London, 1989.

Breeze, David. J., Historic Scotland, Batsford Ltd., London SW6, 1998

Canmore/Rcahms Site Page  http://canmore.rcahms.gov.uk/en/site/46803/details/rough+castle/

H. M. Stationery Office, Ancient Monuments Scotland, Illustrated Guide, Volume VI, Edinburgh, 1959.

Photo Credits (nos 1&3)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rough_Castle_Fort

Photo Credit (no 2)  http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Antonine_Wall_near_Rough_Castle_Fort.jpg

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England 1 Roman Britain, second edition, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

 

 


The Agglestone, Studland Heath, Isle of Purbeck, Dorset

The Agglestone on Studland Heath, Dorset.

The Agglestone on Studland Heath, Dorset, early 1900s.

Os grid reference: SZ 0236 8282. On Studland Heath 1 mile north-west of the village of Studland on the Isle of Purbeck, stands a strange rock formation called The Agglestone, which has now fallen on its side. Locally it has associations both in myth and legend with the devil who is said to have hurled the rock from the Needles on the Isle of Wight, to where it stands today but, as we all know and is often the case, he missed his target by many miles. But this strange rock formation has been gradually eroded away over many thousands of years by natural forces, ie the weather. The town of Swanage is 2 miles to the south, while Corfe Castle is 5 miles to the west, just off the B3351 Wareham road.

The Agglestone close-up (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The Agglestone close-up (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The strange-shaped Agglestone Rock is 20 feet high and is estimated to weigh 400 tonnes. It is perched upon a conical-shaped hill and is made of tertiary Sandstone, according to Wikipedia. Also known as the Devil’s Anvil, due to the shape we see today, or the Devil’s Nightcap. The name Agglestone could in fact be a derivation of Eagle Stone and, maybe locally ‘wobble stone’ because “aggle” is the local name for ‘wobble’ or ‘wobbly’, apparently! It is said, according to the myths and legends associated with the rock, that the Devil in anger decided to hurl it from the Needles on the Isle of Wight (where he just happened to be standing) to Corfe Castle to which he had taken a dislike, according to Janet & Colin Bord in their book ‘The Enchanted Land,’ or perhaps the city of Salisbury where the great cathedral stands, or was he aiming at Bindon Abbey near Wool in Dorset. It is also possible I would think, that the Devil intended the large rock to hit Christchurch, Dorchester, or maybe even Wimborne Abbey, in fact just about any Christian community in the south and south-west of England was in his reach, and quite a reach that would be!

Sources:

Bord, Janet & Colin., The Enchanted Land, Thorsons, Hammersmith, London W6, 1995.

Photo Credit:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agglestone_Rock

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=12260


St Melangell’s Church, Pennant Melangell, Powys, Wales

St Melangell's Church, Pennant Melangell (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St Melangell’s Church, Pennant Melangell (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SJ 0241 2654. In the valley of the river Tanat, at the foot of the Berwyn mountains, northern Powys, is the lonely and remote hamlet of Pennant Melangell and St Melangell’s Church, which is dedicated to a 7th or 8th century Welsh princess called Melangell or Monacella, patron saint of hares and rabbits. The partly Norman church houses the 12th century shrine of St Melangell as well as her grave; also in the church are two 15th century wood-carvings depicting the saint’s legendary life, two medieval stone effigies, and a Norman font. The church at Pennant, its original name being Llanmelangell-yn-Pennant, has been a place of devout pilgrimage since at least the 10th century. About a quarter of a mile to the south of the remote hamlet amongst an outcrop of rocks is the saint’s so-called stone bed (Gwely Melangell). The hamlet of Pennant Melangell lies just off the B4391, whilst the town of Bala is 8 miles to the north-west, the village of Llangynog is 2 miles to the east, and Lake Vyrnwy 4 miles due south.

According to legend, Melangell was the daughter of King Cyfwlch Addwyn – the very same Cyfwlch who is mentioned in the ‘Tales of Culhwch & Olwen’ as being a member of King Arthur’s court; he was also said to have been related to St Helen of Caernarvon, the famous Helen Llwddog (Helen of the Legions) who married the Roman general, Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig), although a few have considered her to be of Irish birth, and perhaps the daughter of a King Jowchell? Melangell fled from her father’s court to avoid marrying an unsuitable partner, wishing instead to seek a life of prayer and devotion to God. She came upon the wooded valley of the Tanat (c590 AD), finding it much to her liking; indeed she lived in a cave at Gwely Melangell to the south of the present-day hamlet that bears her name. Here in an outcrop of rocks the saint’s so-called stone bed is to be found, although the stone is probably a natural-rock feature. Soon local people got to know of Melangell and came to see her, some women even left their babies for her to nurse; to Melangell all wild creatures were very dear to her, even the trees and flowers gave her great pleasure.

But the best part of ‘The Legend’ says that one day a local prince Brochfael Ysgthrog of Pengwern came hunting in the valley, and when one of his hounds gave chase to a hare it ran for protection beneath St Melangell’s robe. When the prince came upon this sight he was literally ‘stopped in his tracks’ at the very sight of such a radiant young woman, his hounds refusing to kill the hare. Prince Brochfael, having inquired as to her name (she informed him it was Melangell), then asked her to marry him, but she told the prince that that was not possible because ‘she only wanted to live her life for Christ in peaceful Pennant’. Prince Brochfael was not really surprised at her answer, so instead he gave her some land at Pennant on which to build a nunnery for local women (c604); the present-day church presumably stands on the site of that building.

St Melangell's Shrine at Pennant Melangell Church.

St Melangell’s Shrine at Pennant Melangell Church.

In the early part of the 7th century St Melangell died and she was buried in the church, or chapel, one of two that had stood here prior to the present-day building, which stands in a circular churchyard, a feature that means it is a sacred site and possibly a Bronze-Age settlement? The yew trees are thought to date back 2,000 years, and some of the foundation stones of the church may date back to 800 AD. Today the building houses The Melangell Centre, but in the chancel stands the shrine of St Melangell, dating from 1170, a Romanesque structure that was beautifully restored in 1958 and, which originally stood at the east side of the church in the Cell-y-Bedd (Cell of the Grave) where the saint was ‘said’ to have been buried. A stone slab believed to have once marked the saint’s grave is now built into the apse floor. Here at this remarkable stone structure pilgrims sought a miraculous cure, offering their prayers and votive messages to St Melangell, which continues today in one form or another.

On the restored oak loft-screen are two 15th century wood carvings which are part of a frieze that depict ‘the legend’ of Melangell and Prince Brochfael, and in the chancel two 14th century stone effigies, one of which is Melangell with a hare at her side, while the other is of Prince Madoc ap Iorwerth Drwynden, son of Owain Gwynedd, king of north Wales. Madoc was treacherously murdered at Bwlchgroes by his own brother’s followers so that his brother, Dafydd, could ascend to the throne of Powys before his time. The carved 15th century rood-screen, now also restored, is a delight as is the 12th century Norman font.

The killing of hares and rabbits has long been forbidden in Pennant Melangell because it is believed they are sacred animals under the protection of St Melangell; the people in the parish still honour this custom. She is patron saint of hares and rabbits, which are known locally as ‘Monacella’s little lambs.’

Sources:

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eglwys_Santes_Melangell.JPG

Barber, Chris.,  More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London W1X, 1987.

Jones, Andrew., Every Pilgrim’s Guide To Celtic Britain And Ireland, The Canterbury Press, Norwich, Norfolk, 2002. 

Spencer, Ray.,  A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Wales, 1991. 

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places in Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious, (Unpublished Manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.


The Rock Cones Of Urgup, Cappadocia, Turkey

Urgup in Cappadocia (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Urgup in Cappadocia (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 38.660046 & Longitude 34.853611. On the Anatolian Plain in the Zelve region of Cappadocia, some 140 miles south-east of the capital city Ankara and 2 miles north-east of Goreme, stand the famous Rock Cones of Urgup, with hundreds of naturally-formed rock citadels: pinnacles, cones, domes, columns and pyramid-shapes, resembling giant mushrooms, which are known locally as Fairy Chimneys.

Since the 4th century Christian ascetics have sought sanctuary in some of the larger rocky structures and carved out churches and chapels from them, indeed some of the rock faces, nearby, have some quite astonishingly ‘beautifully’ hewn-out places of refuge and worship, while underground there are literally hundreds of subterranean cave-like dwellings, with passage-ways linking rock-cut rooms and buildings, many on different levels, with boulders that could be rolled into position across doorways in case of attack. But going further back – in the 1st century AD St Peter the Apostle is said to have brought Christianity to Anatolia, and then in the 4th century St Basil, bishop of Caesarea (now called Kayseri, 50 miles to the east), urged monks and hermits who were fleeing from persecution to follow an ascetic life on the Plain of Urgup and the Goreme Valley, nearby.

Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Fairy Chimneys of Cappadocia (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

There are many hundreds of rock pinnacles, resembling lofty chimneys that seem to nearly touch the sky in places, which have been shaped by erosion and the softer rock around them gradually worn-away over millions of years to form the alien, moon-like landscape of today; many of the pinnacles being over 100 feet high (30-40 metres) and having windows and doorways, many even being joined together to form communities of people, with many more having churches and chapels built inside them. And below ground there are vast cavenous-like structures: tunnels, galleries, and passage-ways, with several different levels of underground buildings and rock-cut rooms. The main entrances have large boulders standing ready in position so that they could be rolled across in case of an attack from the outside, and if any would-be invader did get inside they would find the maze of passage-ways bewildering, if not down-right dangerous, and they would be dealt with in due course! A few of the larger, more interesting churches still retain their original medieval frescos, a lasting tribute to the monks and hermits who painted them many centuries ago.

A Rock Church in Cappadocia (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Rock Church,  Cappadocia (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

These underground towns, cities, and communities of people would have been largely self-sufficent; they even had their own stables attached – both above and below ground, and also their own water supply through pools and large stone tanks. However, by the 13th century the rock chimneys of Urgup were being abandoned, and only a few solitary hermits and priests continued to live here in an equally solitary residence, but the man-made rock churches and chapels did continue to be ‘in use’ until more recent times, and today they are a tourist attraction, with some 600 or so churches surviving both at Urgup and at nearby Goreme – including the churches of St John the Baptist, St Barbara, St Basil, Church of the Apple and Tokali.

The geography of the Urgup and Goreme area is summed up as being: these strange rock formations were shaped over 8 million years or so to form what we see today. The cones or pinnacles have survived because they are formed from a much harder rock than the soft rock plateau that had originally surrounded them -which has worn away to leave the strange chimney-like shapes and, at the top of each cone a bulbous lump of basalt and small boulders has fused together, providing protection to the lower rock structure itself, looking like a sort of top-knot, perhaps, and giving each cone a chimney-like appearence – hence the local name ‘fairy chimneys.’

In the Reader’s Digest book ‘Strange Worlds Amazing Places’ the geography of this region is outlined in detail: “The process that shaped this unique landscape began when the volcanoes of Cappadocia erupted about 8 million years ago. They deposited countless layers of ash, lava, debris and mud, raising the altitude of the land by more than 1000 feet (300m) to form a prominent plateau.”

“Millions of years of compression turned the volcanic ash into a soft, pale rock called tufa. This was overlaid by a thinner layer of dark, hardened lava known as basalt. As the basalt cooled, it contracted and split, laying itself open to the erosive action of the weather. Streams and floods crisscrossed the plateau, cutting ever deeper, and earthquake shocks and winter frosts helped break up the layers of tufa and basalt.”

“Today the process of erosion continues, slowly wearing down the pinnacled landscape and exposing the multi-coloured layers of earth. These range from the palest tufa, through tones of ochre, russet and deep chestnut (caused by mineral impurities), to the black of the basalt.” Another Reader’s Digest publication ‘Book of Natural Wonders’, tells a similar story.

Sources:

Reader’s Digest, Strange Worlds Amazing Places, The Reader’s Digest Association Ltd., London W1X, 1994.          

Reader’s Digest Book Of Natural Wonders, The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc., New York, 1980.

Michael’s Guide Turkey, (series editor: Michael Shicor), Inbal Travel Information Ltd., Tel Aviv, Israel, 1990. 

Photo Credits:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cappadocia

http://www.turkeytravelcentre.com/blog/cave-churches-cappadocia/


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Rosamond’s Well, Blenheim Park, Woodstock, Oxfordshire

Fair Rosamund's Well, Blenheim (Photo Credit: Philip Halling - Geograph)

Fair Rosamund’s Well, Blenheim (Photo Credit: Philip Halling – Geograph)

Os grid reference: SP 4365 1647. At the north-side of the lake in Blenheim Park at Woodstock, Oxfordshire, is Rosamond’s Well, also known as Fair Rosamund’s Well. It takes its name from Lady Rosamond de Clifford who was to become the lover (Mistress), for her sins, of King Henry II, although probably not ‘entirely’ out of her own choosing! Fair Rosamond, it is said, was “supposedly” murdered by a very jealous Queen Eleanor in about 1175, or was she? But back in the 12th century the well was called Everswell, maybe because it was ‘never ever’ known to run dry, even in the driest spells of weather; and in the past the water had some curative properties as pilgrims were wont to come here and partake of it in bottles – in those distant times, but in fact the well has only been named after Rosamond since the 16th century. The village of Woodstock is a quarter of a mile east of the well, while Bladon is half a mile south, and the town of Long Harborough 2 miles south-west on the A4095 road.

Godstow Nunnery Ruin (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Godstow Nunnery Ruin (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Poor Rosamond was buried at Godstow nunnery, a house of Benedictine nuns dedicated to St Mary and St John the Baptist, which is now in ruins beside the river Thames, near Oxford. It was founded by the widow Edith Launceline in 1133, dissolved in 1539, and almost destroyed during the Civil War in 1645 or 46. Today the ruin acts as a pound for local farm animals. There are only fragmentary remains of the precinct wall and chapel of abbess’ lodging, according to Frank Bottomley in his book ‘The Abbey Explorer’s Guide’, 1981. The nunnery ruins are two-and-a-half miles north-west of Oxford city centre.

Today the well looks quite neat and tidy, and is surrounded by a fence, in what is a very tranquil setting close to the north bank of Blenheim Lake – in the green and wooded grounds of Blenheim Palace. The well is actually a large square-shaped pool paved all around with flat paving stones, while at the head of the pool a high, curving wall with carvings, and a square opening for the water to issue into the pool itself; the water then flowing out into the lake. Foliage and trees grow at either side of the structure, which is soon to be restored. The water is usually quite near to the top of the pool, indeed it is never known to go down by much nor to dry up when there is a prolonged spell of dry weather. Close by is Rosamond’s Bower where Lady Rosamond, daughter of Walter de Clifford, lived before her untimely death (in strange circumstances) at the age of 35 in the year 1175 – murdered, according to the legend, by Queen Eleanor after she had found out that Fair Rosamond was her husband’s concubine. However, it is said that only the king knew the route to Rosamond’s secret bower, a sort of underground labyrinth built for her by King Henry.

Fair Rosamond was buried at the Benedictine nunnery of Godstow in Oxfordshire. In the book ‘A Thames Companion’ by Prichard & Carpenter, the authors say: “On the main stream of the river, Godstow comes next with its ruined nunnery and legend of Fair Rosamond, of which Aubrey wrote (in a manuscript note inside his copy of Plot’s Natural History of Oxfordshire, now in the Bodleian Library): This Rosamond, ye fair daughter of Walter Ld. Clifford, and forced to be Concubine to K. Henry ye 2d, who builded for her at Woodstock an house or Labyrinth under the ground, much wherof at this day is to be seen as also is a goodly Bath or Well, called to this day Rosamund’s Well. In the end she was poysoned by Q. Elianor, some write, and being dead, was buried at Godstow in a house of Nonnes besides Oxford. Not long since her grave was digged, where some of her bones were found, and her Teeth so white (as ye dwellers there report) that the beholders did much wonder at them.”

Sources:

Photo Credit: © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Geograph: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fair_Rosamund’s_Well,_Blenheim_-_geograph.org.uk_-_1015851.jpg

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Godstow

Bord, Janet & Colin., Sacred Waters, Paladin Books, London W1, 1986.

Bottomley, Frank., The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd (The Windmill Press), Kingswood, Tadworth, Surrey. 1981.

Prichard, Mari & Carpenter, Humphrey., A Thames Companion, (2nd Edition), Oxford University Press, Oxford OX2, 1981.

 


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The Sandbach Crosses, Cheshire

The Ancient Crosses, Sandbach (1886)

The Ancient Crosses, Sandbach (1886)

Os grid reference: SJ 7587 6082. In the cobbled market-place opposite the High Street at Sandbach, Cheshire, and at the back of St Mary’s church – are two tall Anglo-Saxon crosses known as The Sandbach Crosses, said to date from the 8th or 9th century, or maybe even earlier. They are in fact Mercian crosses because this area came under the jurisdiction of that kingdom during the 7th century AD, which was ruled by the pagan King Penda, and his son Paeda, who became a Christian; the crosses being ‘supposedly’ set up to commemorate the conversion to Christianity of Paeda following his business trip to the kingdom of Northumbria where he married a Christian princess called Alchfleda or Ealfleda, daughter of King Oswy. Four northern missionary priests: Adda, Betti, Cedd and Diuma accompanied the newly-married couple back to Mercia, and there the four ‘holy men’ set about spreading ‘the word of God’ in the kingdom of Mercia itself, perhaps even establishing a monastery at Sandbach, according to the Venerable Bede. They appear to have been succesful, especially when Paeda succeeded his father as king of Mercia in 655; Paeda died four years later in 659. The crosses ‘were’ said to have been set-up a few years earlier in 653 AD.

Both crosses were heavily restored after being virtually destroyed by Puritans in 1614 and then suffering the fate of being used as building material in various structures, in a well, and even as paving-stones in the town’s streets. The carved, sculptured stones that formed the two crosses were eventually very hurridly taken away to various places in Cheshire (by some eminent local notaries) – before being brought back and re-erected in the market-place at Sandbach in September 1816.

In the work of the antiquarian Miss E. Egerton ‘The Saxon Crosses – Sandbach, Cheshire – An Illustrated Description And History’, regarding the destruction of the crosses she says that: “Sir John Crewe took several pieces to Utkinton , and set them up as ornaments in his grounds. When he died they were taken to Tarporley, to the Rectory by Mr. Allen, where Mr. Cole, a distinguished Antiquarian, saw them, made drawings of them, and now they are to be seen in British Museum along with his other M.S.S. Later these stones were found to be deposited at Oulton Park, owned by Sir John Egerton. For a number of years the Crosses remained in a state of mutilation, but as Sandbach grew the inhabitants decided to have the Crosses restored and re-erected.”

But the two sculptured crosses, despite being battered about, are still “outstandingly” well-carved with scenes from the bible and notable moments from royal Mercia in the mid-7th century AD. It is thought highly likely that a third small cross once stood beside the two in the market-place, indeed the pieces of carved stone on the ground beneath St Mary’s church-tower, nearby, may have come from that ‘lost’ cross?

The taller of the two high crosses is almost 16 feet (4.8) metres high, while the smaller one is almost 11 feet (3.3) metres high, although they would originally have been taller if they had not lost their cross-heads. The carvings are in varying sized sections (panels) down each face and, although these carvings do not always quite match-up, generally they are pretty good considering what they had been through!

Sandbach Crosses (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Sandbach Crosses (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

The taller cross is made-up of eight pieces of stone, some more recent, standing upon a large base and a stepped plinth, decorated with biblical scenes in sections (panels). At the top there is a broken, round-shaped  cross-head, now only a quarter of it remains. The east face is apparently the most interesting, maybe because it deals with Christ’s crucifixion, his baptism, and also “his” transfiguration in early Christian motifs. In the centre Christ on the cross with the two Mary’s at his side, and the emblems of the four evangelists formed by the limbs of his cross, while below that Jesus in the manger, with an angel above and an ox at each side. At the top, just below the head, two mutilated figures and, below that the intruments of the passion – a hamer and pair of pincers. Toward the bottom ‘The Annunciation of the Virgin Mary’ and above her the holy ghost in the form of a dove. Below that a circle with the Virgin Mary, St Elizabeth and St John.

The west face shows Christ’s passion: near the top four figures may be the evangelists, while further down Christ is bound with a cord, with a man in front dragging him (by the cord) towards Pilate. At the centre Simon of Cyrene carries the cross, and in front of him a figure carrying a club, or a lance, and just below the middle the Angel Gabriel visits Zacharias (seated) in the temple; the bottom panel shows two dragons. The north face has ‘The Descent of the Holy Ghost’ with a long-tailing dragon; the other panels going downwards have ten Apostles in two columns, each in his own compartment but on a different level, although ‘seemingly’ able to communicate with his neighbour! And the south face is adorned with interlacing, filigree work, and vine-scrolls, and a number of animals trapped inside the scrolls – representing John the Baptist in the Wilderness.

The smaller cross is largerly a 19th century reconstruction, its broken Maltese-style head may have come from a third small cross. It is made up of many panels in which there are numerous creatures and human figures. The north face depicts Paeda’s journey to the north. At the top two dragons with their tongues interlinked, below that two rows of compartments or rooms with a figure inside (walking), some carrying dagers in their hands. While the south face shows more figures, these ones quite well-carved and clear, in arched compartments and holding staves, while at the bottom two angels are looking upwards.

The Royal House Of Mercia.

The Royal House Of Mercia.

The east face consists of five diamond-shaped compartments. At the top a bull (meaning strength) with its head inclined backwards, while below that a human figure inside the diamond-shape with his hands ‘going’ into his sides, maybe representing King Penda, and above and below the king’s noblemen. In the centre of the cross Alchflaeda, princess of Northumbria, with her two attendants. At the bottom King Paeda of Mercia in a diamond-shape with two noblemen. The west face is damaged at the top, but the lower section is very good. Here we have the conversion to Christianity of Paeda with a dove coming to rest on his shoulder, while below him in arches are his many followers, and at the bottom two angels looking up.

Sources:

Anderton, Bill., Guide To Ancient Britain, Foulsham, Slough, Berkshire, 1991.

Burgess, Rodger., Cheshire – Secrets from the Past, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 2000.

Egerton, E, Miss., The Saxon Crosses – Sandbach, Cheshire – An Illustrated Description And History (2nd Edition), Chester, 1934. (Reprinted by: The Rotary Club of Sandbach, December 1986).

English Heritage: https://www.english-heritage.org.uk/daysout/properties/sandbach-crosses/history-and-research/

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sandbach_Crosses

 

 

 

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