The Journal of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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Winter Hill Stone, Keighley Moor, West Yorkshire

Winter Hill Stone, Keighley Moor.

Winter Hill Stone, Keighley Moor.

Os grid reference: SD 9828 4197. Upon Keighley moor (western side) and overlooking Cowling stands the Winter Hill Stone, a large weather-beaten boulder that has many faint cup-marks at its base and others on top. The stone lies some 630 yards to the north-west of Hitching Stone, on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border, which is a huge block of gritstone. It is from Winter Hill Stone that the winter soltice sunrise can be seen, so obviously a place

Cup-Marks on Winter Hill Stone.

Cup-Marks on Winter Hill Stone.

of great reverence in pre-historic times; the cup-marks being carved in the Bronze Age. To get to this stone it is “best” to follow the footpath opposite the small carpark, on Buck Stone lane, close to Wainman’s Pinnicle, then head in the general direction of the Hitching Stone, but after some 460 yards (at the little wooden gate) veer off to the south-west and, a further 380 yards brings you to Winter Hill Stone, close to the western edge of the moor overlooking the hamlet of Over Dean. The village of Cowling is 2 miles to the west and Cross Hills a further 4 miles north along the A6068 road.

Winter Hill Stone (Top).

Winter Hill Stone (Top).

This large rounded, weather-worn stone is quite prominent upon the flat-shaped Winter Hill, but sadly the cup-markings around the stone’s base are now much less prominent – indeed some of them are barely legible to the eye. There are at least 17 tiny cup-marks that are eligible, the rest are very faint, but on the top of the stone more cup-marks are quite well-defined, indeed over time they have become deeper and wider due to the constant weathering; the strange grooves and ruts are also the result of erosion to the soft gritstone. The hill on which the boulder stands is ‘so named’ because the winter sun can be seen to rise from [here] behind the Hitching Stone over to the north-west. There are many, many other boulders and stones littering the moor, one or two also look as if they “might” have very faint cup-marks on them. In particular, a boulder some 380 yards to the south-west of Winter Hill, looks a likely candidate. It is highly likely that there were ancient settlements somewhere on the moor, but obviously these are now hidden beneath the thick, dense carpet of ferns and heather which seem so relentlessly to have taken over.

The author Paul Bennett in his epic work ‘The Old Stones of Elmet’ says: “Although there are some cups higher up the rock, oddly the majority are just above ground level. This makes little sense until one realises, thanks to its name, that the winter soltice sunrise was observed from here rising up behind the gigantic Hitching Stone on the near skyline.”

Hitching Stone.

Hitching Stone.

The Hitching Stone (Os grid ref: SD 9866 4170) is a huge glacial erratic block of gritstone the size of a small house that was deposited here at the last Ice Age. It reputedly weighs over 1,000 tonnes. Large fissures run vertically through the rock, one of which was caused by a fossilised tree that has worn away; while one side of the rock bears a large oblong-shaped hole that people climb into. There are some Victorian inscriptions on the stone while at the top a deep natural basin containing rain-water that is never known to dry-up, even in long dry spells of weather. Long ago local folk visited the stone in order to participate in various games, and the site was also a meeting place for local councils and parliaments – Bennett ‘The Old Stones of Elmet.’ The Hitching Stone stands on the Yorkshire-Lancashire boundary.

And in the interesting little book ‘The Pendle Zodiac’ by Thomas Sharpe we are told that the Vernal Equinox sunrise behind the Hitching Stone is in alignment with Pendle Hill. Sharp goes on to say: “Where natural markers (and even some of these have pecked ‘cup and ring’ markings) are absent, the ancestors would have incorporated standing stone monoliths to time the alignments and to receive into the landscape, etheric vitality from the luminaries.” Pendle Hill beacon is roughly 14 miles, as the crow flies, to the south-west of Winter Hill Stone and  Hitching Stone.

These large gritstone boulders on Keighley Moor were laid-down thousands of years ago at the last Ice Age by a massive glacier moving southwards, and retreating as it did so. Over time the boulders (erratics) themselves are slowly weathering-away due to the often wet, windy climate upon the moor. Nowadays, however, these strange, often round-shaped boulders and stones have become waymarkers and sentinels that seem to loom-up on the barren, unforgiving landscape, taking one by sudden surprise!

Sources:

Bennett, Paul., The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.

Sharpe, Thomas., The Pendle Zodiac, Spirit Of Pendle Publishing, 2012.

http://davidraven-uk.blogspot.co.uk/


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Ballycrovane Ogham Stone, Co. Cork, Southern Ireland

Ballycrovane Ogham Stone (Photo credit: Peter Ribbans - Geograph)

Ballycrovane Ogham Stone (Photo credit: Peter Ribbans – Geograph)

Irish grid ref: V 6569 5291. On the windswept headland to the south of Lough Fadda, at the far-western point of County Cork, Southern Ireland, stands the ancient monument which is known as Ballycrovane Ogham Stone, a very tall standing stone (menhir) which has an Ogham inscription carved on its edge. But this tall, thin pillar-stone pre-dates the Ogham inscription by over two-thousand years – back to the Bronze-Age, at least. The ancient standing stone is located in a field on the top of the hill overlooking the harbour at the south-side of Kenmare Bay – at Ballycrovane on the Beara Peninsula (Ring of Beara) – a few hundred-yards south-east of the ‘Faunkill and the Woods’ road and the little coastguard station, then with ‘possible’ access through the farmyard*. Ballycrovane is 2 miles to the south-west of Ardgroom village and the R571 road; the village of Eyeries being a further 2 miles to the south-east. [*The stone is on private farmland, so you "might" have to pay a small fee to visit the monument!]

Ballycrovane Ogham Stone is said to be ‘the tallest Ogham stone in Ireland’ and probably in Europe, for that matter. It stands at a very impressive 17 feet (5.3 metres) and is said to be several feet below ground, but it is only a very slender pillar-slab and it tapers slowly away to the top. At the eastern edge there is an Ogham inscription which is becoming difficult to see because of weathering. This stone was obviously erected here during the Bronze-Age, with the notches being carved onto it in more recent times, probably during the 3rd-5th centuries AD. The inscription is now thought to recall someone called Deich and Toranus – the full Latin translation being: MAQI DECCEDDAS AVI TURANIAS which would be ‘Of the son of Deich a descendant of Torainn’, but could the inscription in fact be a kind of dedication or memorial to the Deisi – the ancient tribe that inhabited Ireland – during the 3rd-4th centuries AD? We may never know that question.

Ogham was the ancient (Goidelic) language of the Celts who inhabited the western fringes of Britain in pre-Roman times, but it was still being used by the ancient Britons up until the 5th-7th centuries AD – the so-called Dark Ages, at which time many Ogham memorial stones were Christianized with a carved cross. The script consisted of a series of short notches or strokes, carved vertically and also slanting on the edges of grave-covers and some standing stones, similar in fact to the wording and epitaphs that we see on gravestones in churchyards today. Antiquarians and historians in this particular field have now been able to translate, in Latin form, these usually short inscriptions by following the Ogham script alphabet, the key to which was in the 14th century Book of Ballymote.

The author James MacKillop in his work ‘Dictionary of Celtic Mythology’ says of the Ogham language: “The earliest form of writing in Irish in which the Latin alphabet is adapted to a series of twenty ‘letters’ of straight lines and notches carved on the edge of a piece of stone or wood. Letters are divided into four categories of five sounds.” MacKillop goes on to say: “Ogham inscriptions date primarily from the 4th to 8th centuries and are found mainly on standing stones; evidence for inscriptions on wood exists, but examples do not survive. The greatest concentration of surviving Ogham inscriptions is in southern Ireland; a 1945 survey found 12 in Kerry and 80 in Co. Cork, while others are scattered throughout Ireland, Great Britain, and the Isle of Man, with five in Cornwall, about thirty in Scotland, mainly in ‘Pictish’ areas, and more than forty in Wales. South Wales was an area of extensive settlement from southern Ireland , including the migration of the Deisi.” 

Sources:

Dictionary of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, New York, 1998.

Photo copyright:  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/507477

© Copyright Peter Ribbans and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Reader’s Digest., Illustrated Guide to Ireland, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.

Scherman, Katherine., The Flowering Of Ireland,  Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.

The Megalithic Portal:  http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=12

 


Dupplin Cross, Dunning, Perth And Kinross, Scotland

Duppling Cross (originally at Cross Park Field, Forteviot)

Duppling Cross (originally at Cross Park Field, Forteviot)

Os grid reference: NO 0190 1448. This very splendidly carved free-standing cross which is known as Dupplin Cross, has in recent years been re-housed inside the ancient church of St Serf at Dunning in the Strathearn region, Perth & Kinross, for safety’s sake as it originally stood on a hill at Cross Park Field near Bankhead Farm 1 mile to the north of Forteviot, Perth & Kinross (Os grid ref: NO 0505 1896). Forteviot was one of the Pictish ‘royal’ capitals and a palace is said to have been built there. The Dupplin cross is, infact, a Class III Pictish stone – the shaft displaying human figures and a Latin inscription – while the head of the cross has Celtic-style decoration. And also in the church there is a Pictish cross-slab and also a Viking (hogback) tombstone. The early 13th century church of St Serf (Servanus) is located in the centre of the village of Dunning some 3 miles south of Forteviot, 3 miles south-east of the A9, and 7 miles south-west of Perth.

Dupplin Cross (front & east side) by J. Romilly Allen.

Dupplin Cross (front & east side) by J. Romilly Allen.

The cross is made of local hard sandstone and is 8 foot 6 inches high and 3 foot wide across its arms, and it is said to date from about 900 AD, so quite late for a Pictish stone. It is a Class III Pictish cross, but it does not have any symbols as such, although there are numerous warrior-like figures and also Biblical characters as well as ornate decoration described as being ‘Celtic’ in style. On the front face of the cross roll moulding and little spirals at intervals on the arms – with a raised circular boss at the centre which, according to the very detailed work ‘Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross’ by Derek Bryce, is “decorated with what appear to be solar radiations, symbols of Divine light”; the boss itself having a tiny cross on it. The shaft (front side) has three panels, one of which is now known to have a Latin inscription recalling the Pictish King Custantin, son of Wuirgust (Constantine Mac Fergus), the other two depict birds with crossed and interlinking beaks and legs surrounding a raised boss of interlacing and, David (from The Old Testament) tending the lion’s paw, with two more animals at the side.

The opposite cross-face has roll moulding, but the decoration in the boss is damaged, and the arms have scrollwork and key-patterning at the top. Both edges of the cross have interesting carvings – that at the left side has three panels (top) and three more on the shaft (lower) with a beast biting its tail, a man probably David seated playing a large harp, and cord-plait work. The right edge (top) has four panels of interlacing and three more on the shaft (lower) with two dogs sitting on their haunches with paws touching, two warriors on foot with sheilds and spears, and knotwork. The opposite shaft face has three panels showing a warrior on horseback, four warriors on foot holding shields and spears, a hound leaping on another animal which is perhaps a hind, and key-patterning seperating it all, according to Elizabeth Sutherland’s very thorough work ‘The Pictish Guide’.

Also in St Serf’s church is a Pictish Class III sandstone cross-slab of the 10th century? This has a broad-type Wheel or ring cross in high relief which is 3 foot 10 inches high. This slab was dug up from beneath the floor under the church tower about 1900. The cross at the top is, rather oddly, repeated lower down the slab but only about half of it has been carved; the sides of the slab have typical Celtic interlacing, now rather worn. And a tombstone of the 10th or 11th century is thought to be a Viking hogback. This has a cross carved upon its front-side and cable moulding at its border.

St Serf or Servanus, patron of Dunning Church, founded a monastic school at Culross, Fife, in the early 6th century. Traditionally, he baptised and tutored St Kentigern (Mungo); and is perhaps wrongly acredited with the title: Apostle of Fife. He died in 560 or 580 and his feast-day is usually held on 1st July.

Sources:

Bryce, Derek., Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Wales, 1989.

Jackson, Anthony., The Pictish Trail,  The Orkney Press Ltd., St Ola, Kirkwall, Orkney, 1989. 

Sutherland, Elizabeth., The Pictish Guide,   Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1997.


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.

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