The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


San Miguel de Arrechinaga, Markina-Xemein, Biscay, Northern Spain.

Latitude 43.267458. Longitude 2.49396. The little Basque town of Markina-Xemein in the Pais Vasco, province of Bicay, north-eastern Spain is much like any other town in the Basque country, but here we have a very curious site. The little church and hermitage of San Miguel de Arrechinaga stands just across the bridge at the western-side of the town on the Xemein Etorbidea road. It is built around three huge megaliths or, a dolmen? The town is situated on the main B1 633 road running north-east to south-west. Bilbao is some 26 miles to the west, while the town of San Sebastian is about the same distance to the east.

San Miguel de Arrechinaga, Markina-Xemein, Spain

Although the huge stones within the sanctuary of San Miguel’s church have often been referred to as a prehitoric dolmen, it is almost certain they are not. In fact, they owe more to geographical history. The three odd-shaped, gnarled and distorted boulders are probably the eroded remains of a huge rock outcrop from the hill-side that was formed in the Tertiary period many hundreds of millions of years ago, perhaps 40 million years ago? At least that is the general consensus. So, in other words they are a natural feature, and nothing to do with prehistory.

In the middle-ages, according to legend, a local hermit came to live here and built his cell beneath the huge stones. His name was perhaps St Pollonio. Later, a church was built around the three stones and the hermitage, a site that was by that time revered as a place sacred to St Michael the Archangel – patron saint of high places. In the 18th century a new church was built around the curious stones. The three stones support each other in an interlocking sort of way; the largest of the three at the back lies over the top of the front two stones, supporting the whole structure. At the front and between the stones stands the main altar and a shrine inside which stands a very nice statue of St Michael (San Miguel) and a reliquary of St Pollonio – the whole thing looking as though it were made to be this way. A 14th century altar-piece can be seen in the church – though this is often locked away for security reasons. The floor of the church is hexagonal, while the roof is pyramid-shaped with a cupola in the centre of the ceiling and a rather large, radiating key-lock boss. St Miguel’s entrance door has an upper axis over which stands a belltower.

Legend says that a young man must pass three times underneath the huge stones if wishing to be married the following year; this is said to still take place even today. One rather far-fetched local legend claims that St Michael killed and then buried the devil beneath the boulders long ago before the church was built on the site – something that is said of other churches with a dedication to this saint located upon high places or rocky outcrops.

Sources:-

Fergusson, James., Rude Stone Monuments In All Countries, London, 1872.

Click on the following link  http://www.blogseitb.us/basquetourism/2010/11/28/san-miguel-de-arretxinaga-a-very-peculiar-church/

Click on the following link  http://hispanismo.org/senorios-vascongados/5613-curiosidades-san-miguel-de-arrechinaga-marquina-vizcaya.html

 


Kerloas Menhir, Plouarzel, Finistere, Brittany

Français : Le menhir Kerloas à Plouarzel en Br...

Kerloas Menhir (Photo credit: China_Crisis Wikipedia)

Longitude 48.426638 Latitude 4.679393. The Kerloas Menhir or Menhir de Kerloas stands on a low mound in open countryside 2 miles east of the village of Plouarzel in northern Finistere. The nearest town is Ploudalmezeau 7 miles to the north. A footpath takes you 200 metres south from the D5 Kerloas road to the giant standing stone that dates from the Bronze-Age around 3,000-4,000 BC and, to a prehistoric monument that can be seen for many, many miles around – although today it is missing it’s top section after lightning apparently struck it at some point in the distant past. The menhir stands at the southern edge of the Bois de Kervealouz forest. This is probably the tallest “standing” stone in Europe.

At 9.5 metres or 31 feet high this smooth granite standing stone which was quarried at L’Aber Ildut a couple of miles to the north-west is quite a remarkable sight. But originally it was approx 40 feet high before it lost the top 2 metres or so during a severe thunderstorm 200 years ago. The top part was blasted away by a lightning strike, some of the large pieces being sent over a large area landing in the nearby forest and on a farmhouse. It has a huge girth with a “quadrangular” tapering base; the shaft also gradually tapering away near the top where the breakage has occured. It’s estimated weight is 150 tonnes. Beneath the small round-shaped mound on which it stands there are said to be a several more metres of stone. About three feet up from ground-level on two sides there are two strange feminine-like humps or protuberances in the menhir – giving it the appearance of a hunchback person, but nobody seems to know why, or what, they are for. They are, however, probably associated with fertility? The mound beneath the stone is probably the remains of a tumulus where there was a burial of a chieftain, or maybe more than one chieftain – indeed the area around the site is called Kerglass ‘field of grief’.

Kerloas Menhir, Finistere, Brittany.

According to local legend, upto 100 years ago young, newly married couples would visit the Kerloas menhir on their wedding night in order to improve their family prospects. The woman would rub her naked body against one of the humps in the stone, while her husband would do the same to the other hump. These strange occurrences were performed in order that the man would receive a male child, while the woman would become the dominant one in the house. It also seems probable that the woman would help her childbearing on by climbing the menhir to the top naked and then sliding back down it again, but whether all this clambering all over the stone helped we don’t know, it probably would have caused the woman much bruising and friction burn in the meantime! Other legends claim there was buried treasure beneath the stone (grave-goods), while a very far-fetched legend claims the big stone wanders off every night to take a drink from a river, or even the sea! Now that is indeed far-fetched.

Source:-

Briard, Jacques., The Megaliths of Brittany (Giseserot Edition), Rennes, 2001.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menhir

 


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La Grand Menhir Brise, Locmariquer, Morbihan, Brittany

the Great Menhir of Er Grah, the largest known...

The Grand Menhir (Photo credit: S.Moller Wikipedia)

Latitude 47.571647 Longitude 2.949593. The site of the massive monolith or menhir is at the northern side of the village of Locmariquer, Morbihan region, and just west of the cemetery on the D781 (Route d’Auray). The nearest town, Auray, is 10 miles to the north. It’s name means ‘great broken standing stone’ because that it what it is today. But a more romantic name for the broken standing stone is ‘the fairy stone’ (Menhir Hroeg or Er Grah) because it was thought to have been erected by the little people, or the fairy folk lived there and, maybe still do. But in actual fact it was set up by Neolithic tribesmen in 4,500 BC – the huge stone being brought here from an outcrop of rocks near the estuary of the river Auray, some 7 miles to the north of Locmariquer.

Today, sadly the grand menhir lies on the ground having been broken into four sections by a lightning strike, or some think by an earthquake, but originally there were five sections – probably a small fragment has been lost. It is now thought that the menhir was broken by human involvement in two distinct stages. When it stood upright, if it ever did, then it would have been over 20 metres or between 64-66 feet high and it’s weight calculated to be around 300 tonnes or more, perhaps making it the largest monolith in Europe – or one of the largest in western Europe? However, the menhir would have been placed several feet into a round-shaped pit which has now been partially filled in. The girth of the stone at it’s base being approx 4 metres. The four remaining lumps of stone are carved and shaped smoothly around their narrower edges and also on the broad faces, and there is a carving of what is perhaps an axe in it’s wooden haft on one of the stones.

Near the top of the menhir the stone narrowes to form a roughly pointed shape, something that might cause it to be seen as phallic in appearence, but more than likely the stone was, or would have been used, for astronomical purposes. There were probably other standing stones here because a number of socket holes have been excavated running in a straight northerly direction for 180 feet, but of these only small stones remain. The grand menhir and it’s accompanying stone row were no doubt aligned with the winter and summer solstices and, quite probably a lunar happening such as an eclipse at the time of construction.

The 'Table des Marchand' dolmen in Locmariaque...

Table-de-Marchand (Photo credit: Myrabella Wikimedia Commons)

Behind the grand menhir is another prehistoric site that is linked. This is La Table des Marchand also known as The Merchants’ Table, a Neolithic passage-grave that has now been reconstructed. Actually, it is a dolmen that stands within the remains of a burial mound (tumulus) that measures over 36 metres or nearly 120 feet across. As the name suggests the monument is very like a stone table albeit three tables or capstones that are supported by 17 curved and slightly pointed upright stones. Below the largest stone table there is a gallery with stone-built walls around the chamber; the large stone table resting at one end on one of these curved supports, this one in particular has carvings of sun-ripened wheat ears. And the underside of the large table or capstone has an interesting carving depicting what is thought to be a plough in the form of an axe that connects up by a shaft that has slight traces of a harness and oxen (long-horned cattle), the back legs of one of these animals can be just made out, although it is rather faint now.

There are two more dolmens in the village. At the northern side stands The Dolmen of Mane Lud and in the centre The Dolmen of Mane Rethual – both of which are worth looking at if time is not too tight.

Sources:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Locmariaquer_megaliths

Michelin, Brittany Tourist Guide, Michelin Tyre Limited, London, 1983.

Scarre, Chris (edited)., The Seventy Wonders Of The Ancient World – The Great Monuments And How They Were Built, Thames & Hudson, London, 1999.

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012.


Carnac Stone Rows, Morbihan, Brittany

Latitude 47.595977 Longitude 3.066988. The countryside around Carnac in the Morbihan region of southern Brittany abounds with standing stones that stride across the fields like ancient warriors – forming alignments or stone rows – perhaps the most famous being ‘Alignments de Kermario’ about 1 mile north-east of the village of Carnac beside the D196 road (Route de Kerlescan). The nearest town is Auray 10 miles to the north-east. You can’t really miss these rows or avenues of prehistoric menhirs as they can be seen from three other country lanes running off the D196, or you can walk beside the stones if you wish. The stone rows start just a little to the north of the village of Kermario and fan out in the form of geometric patterns in a north-easterly direction for over half a mile (1,300 metres) standing like ageless sentinels in the landscape, often oblivious to the lanes that cut through the sides of them, and even then the stones have not lost out.

English: Image taken by me on 2005/10/9 in the...

The Kermario Stone Rows (Photo credit: Odedr – Wikipedia)

There are 10 stone rows or avenues at Kermario and upto 1,030 standing stones, seven of the rows being very well preserved. They are thought to date back to the Neolithic age between 3,300-4,500 BC and to have probably been placed here for astronomical purposes, perhaps in relation to the stars, but also to align with the summer and winter solstices, and also being used to predict lunar eclipses. One local legend says the stones are actually Roman soldiers turned to stone by St Cornely (Cornelius), the local healing saint of Carnac, who is patron saint of cattle and whose (pardon) is still held on the second sunday of September – the nearest sunday to his feast-day 16th September. St Cornelius should probably be identified with the pope and martyr of that name who died in 253 AD?

The stones were locally quarried and rolled along on shaped timbers by thousands of workers always ensuring a straight line was kept to. Some of the menhirs are now recumbant, while others tilt at various odd angles, but most of them remain in a relatively up-right position considering how long it is since they were placed there. The stones vary in size, but some are 20 foot high. At the north-eastern end of the alignment, near the Kerloquet road, a stone circle has been identified, and here the smaller scale Alignment de Kerlescan made up of over 500 stones takes over.

Source:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carnac_stones

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stone_row

Thom, A & Thom, A.S., ‘The Carnac Alignmenents’, Journal for the History of Astronomy, 1972.


The Fairies Rock, La-Roche, Illet-et-Vilaine, Brittany

Longitude 47.936515 Latiude 1.404866. The Fairies Rock or ‘Rock of the Fairies’ (Roche-aux-Fees) prehistoric monument is located in a wooded area with oak trees and a small lake about half a mile north-east of La Roche village, Illet-et-Vilaine Dept, central Brittany, near the D341 La Motte road. There is a small car park. The site is two-and-half miles south of Esse and some 3 miles north-west of Retiers. This famous passage-grave is said to be the largest dolmen in France and, it is quite probably the best preserved of any of the dolmens in Europe. In the Breton language the word “dolmen” means table of stones or simply ‘a stone table’.

Fairies Rocks, Brittany (After P.Mesney).

There are 40 huge stone slabs here, some reckon on there being 42, but it is difficult to reach a proper total. The dolmen or passage-grave dates from the late Neolithic period sometime between 3,000-5,000 years BC, and was said to have been built by fairies, but in reality this sacred long tomb was constructed by ancient tribesmen for the burial of chieftains, but because it forms an alignment it was probably also used by them to view the Winter solstice on 21st December. The huge slabs of stone have a slight purple colour, but in fact, the stones are made of a reddish basaltic schist that was quarried some 3 miles from here.

The passage grave or corridor tomb is 20 metres (65 feet) long, 4 metres (13 feet) wide and 2 metres (6-7 feet) high. Some of the larger slabs and boulders weight up to 40 tonnes, while the smaller ones weigh several tonnes, rather to heavy for the fairies to attempt to lift but hundreds of tribesmen would no doubt have ways of dealing with them. The entrance to the dolmen or passage grave is 3 metres long and is in the form of a porchway (portico) with two uprights and a huge top lintel stone that fits exactley into position. This capstone has some markings at its edges, possibly caused by ropes or something ritualistic. Further inside the monument there is a low roofed passageway or corridor and then a large chamber divided into four compartments with uprights around the sides supporting the rest of the monument and more huge top stones forming the roof. In the central chamber a lump of stone has fallen to the ground. Originally this wonderful grave (tumulus) aligned south to east would have been covered over with earth to a length of 20 metres, but the earth has gone leaving the massive supporting stones.

According to legend, young couples would come here to consult with the fairy folk. They were then informed by the little people to do as instructed. The man would have to walk around the stones in a clockwise direction, while the woman went in an anti-clockwise direction, and by the time that both had returned to their starting position each would have to have counted the same number of stones – all would then go well for them in their marriage, but if one had counted a couple of extra or lesser stones they might not find things went their way; and if they each counted by more than two stones then the marriage would not go ahead and they must go their own seperate ways. Well its a good story, and if you believe in the fairy folk, and many people do, then you will almost certainly be captivated by the little tale.

Please click on the following link to see a photo of the site  http://www.flickr.com/photos/cris_gmp/498506060/


Rey Cross Roman Camp, Stainmore, Cumbria

OS grid reference: NY 9004 1241. This is a difficult one to reach. You will need to park in one of the east-bound lay-bys beside the A66 Stainmore Pass dual carriageway on the summit and then find a stile allowing access to the earthworks of this 1st century AD Roman marching camp at Buzzard Hill. [A word of caution here please do be very careful as the road can be quite dangerous]. The almost rectangular-shaped earthworks are much more prominent once you get close up to the site. Most of the camp lies on the north side of the road, but a section (south-side) can be found on the opposite side of the A66, near the river Greta, although it is probably not worth crossing over the road for.

The camp was probably built sometime between 70-72 AD when the 6,000 strong IX legion under the Roman governor Quintus Petillius Cerialis came to the north of England to subdue the Brigantes and Venutius, husband of the warrior Queen, Cartamandua, then forming a rather tenuous alliance. Petilius later defeated and murdered Venutius at Stanwick c72 AD. The A66 follows the course of the Roman road between York (Eboracum) and Carlisle (Luguualium), but it seems the road was constructed slightly later than the marching camp in the early 1st century AD? eventually linking many camps, forts and fortlets along the way, including those nearby at Bowes Moor, Bowes (Lavatris), Maiden Castle and Brough (Verteris). It is, however, believed Rey Cross marching camp was only occupied for a temporary period, perhaps a few weeks, months or a year? The camp appears to have been re-occupied during the 3rd-4th centuries AD because some pottery has been excavated from that period.

The earthworks are spread over 20 acres or 296 metres from east to west and 144 metres north to south with fairly strong ramparts of stone and earth and, an external ditch. At the south side these ramparts still stand to a height of approx 6 feet in the centre and approx 20 feet wide at its base. But the northern ramparts are much more intermittent and less strong due to boggy ground conditions, indeed part of the northern section has sunk into the ground. There are traces of an external ditch at the north side measuring just 0.4 metres and, at the north-west just under 1 metre. During excavations in 1990-1 before the road was widdened into a dual carriageway, an external ditch at the eastern and western sides was found. This was some 2 metres wide and just under 1 metre deep with a berm of 1 metre in width. Near the north-east corner of the camp there is what is probably a Bronze-Age stone circle, something the Romans had clearly taken in to account.

There were at least 9 gateways (tituli) each being about 10 metres in width at the north, south, east and western sides of the camp; however, at the south-western side a couple of the south-eastern gateways have been obliterated by the A66 which bisects through this lower part of the earthworks, and recent limestone quarrying has not helped the situation. Three gateways at the north-side are still visible today. Close to the south-western side there is a small mound which sits where the quarrying occured, although this feature has, luckily, survived. This may well have been a small signal station? – there were others in an alignment sited at intervals along the Roman road, now the A66.

Rey Cross, Stainmore, Cumbria

In a lay by at the side of the A66 to the east of the Roman camp stands the stump and base of an Anglo-Saxon cross (Rey Cross), dating from c946 AD when it was set up by King Edmund of Northumbria to mark the boundaries between his own territory and Cumbria (Strathclyde). However, legend says that in c954 the Viking ruler of York, Eric Bloodaxe, fled from York into Cumbria, being murdered and buried here at that time. There is no evidence for that. The cross originally stood within the Roman camp, but in 1992 it was re-located to its present position when the A66 was widened. Sadly the wheel-head and the upper section of the shaft have long since disappeared, leaving just the worn stump socketed into a more modern lump of stone or concrete. The cross would originally have been 3 metres high. Today there are no signs of any Saxon carvings, the inclement weather conditions upon Stainmore having put paid to that.

Sources:-

Wilson, Roger J.A., – A Guide to the Roman Remains In Britain (Fourth Edition), Constable, London, 2002.

Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society (TCWASS), (2nd Series) xxxiv (1934) pages 50-61.