The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Bewcastle Cross, Bewcastle, Cumbria

English: The 7th C Bewcastle Cross (3), near t...

Bewcastle Cross (Photo credit:  Mike Quinn. (Wikimedia Commons)

OS Grid Reference: NY 5651 7466. Located at the west side of the remote Cumbrian hamlet of Bewcastle, beside the ruined Norman castle, and in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s stands the famous and highly sculptured Anglo-Saxon Bewcastle Cross. The village is just a few miles to the north of Hadrian’s Wall and close to the border with Northumberland. The city of Carlisle is 14 miles to the southwest beside the M6 motorway, while the village of Brampton is 9 miles to the south. Also at the western side of Bewcastle are the hexagonal-shaped earthworks of Forum Cocidii (Cocidium), a fairly large early 2nd century Roman fort. The church of St Cuthbert stands inside the fort. A Roman road (Maiden Way) runs southeast from here to the Roman wall and another fort at Birdoswald (Banna).

The cross-shaft is made from a single section of sandstone but is now without its cross-head but, even so, it stands to a  height of 4.5 metres (14 feet 6 inches) and is said to date back to the 7th or 8th century AD. All four sides of the shaft are beautifully and intricately carved in relief with human figures, animals, knotwork, interlacing, scrolls and runic inscriptions (one of which recalls a 7th century Saxon king) which were probably carved by stonemasons from the Saxon monastery of Monkwearmouth in Northumbria. They were asigned to carve the cross by St. Benedict Biscop, abbot of Wearmouth in 670 AD, and may well have come from overseas; and were possibly the same stonemasons who carved the Ruthwell Cross, Dumfrieshire, in the south of Scotland, but which was formerly a part of Northumbria?

English: The 7th C Bewcastle Cross - St. John ...

Bewcastle Cross – St. John? (Photo credit: Mike Quinn. (Wikimedia)

The cross-shaft is richly sculptured with Biblical and other religious and also non-religious decoration on all its four sides. These relief carvings are set inside panels of varying sizes; the west face is considered the best because it has three carvings of Biblical characters. At the top in a panel is St. John the Baptist with a lamb (Agnus Dei), below which a short runic inscription: GESSUS KRISTTUS ‘Jesus Christ’. The middle panel has Christ in magesty holding a scroll while treading upon two beasts. The bottom carving is possibly that of St. John the Evangelist with his trademark eagle or hawk perched on his wrist. The north face has a rather worn runic inscription at the top, below which there are vine scrolls, knotwork and interlacing, while the bottom has an inscription to Kyniburg (Cyniburga), wife of King Aldfrith of Northumbria?

It is thought the runic inscription, now incomplete, on the top of the north face should be interpreted as:- THISSIC BEACN THUN SETTON HWAETRED WAETHGAR ALWFWOLTHU EAC OSWIUG CEBID HEO SINNA SAWHULA which roughly translated is ‘This slender pillar (cross) of Hwaetred, Waethgar and Alwfwold set (it) up in memory of Alefrid, a king and son of Oswy’. ‘Pray for them, their sins and their souls’. The east face (top to bottom) has interlinking vine-scrolls in one complete panel, while the south face is carved with three more panels of interlacing, knotwork, scrolls, chequers and a cross; this face also has a very rare sundial. King Alcfrith ruled Northumbria (which included Cumbria, the northern Pennines and Scottish borders) between 685-704 AD, and was said to have been a scholarly ruler, a patron of the arts, and generous to the monastic church during the late 7th century.


Board, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries Of Britain, Diamond Books, 1994.

Kerr, Nigel & Mary., A Guide to Anglo-Saxon Sites, Paladin, London, 1982.

Maughan, John Reverend., The Bewcastle Cross Inscriptions, Manuscript in Durham University Library.

More information and photos by Mike Quinn here:

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012, and up-dated 2020.


The Shrine Of Rocamadour, Perigueux, Midi-Pyrenees, France

English: Rocamadour Deutsch: Rocamadour

Cave of St Amadour at Rocamadour, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 44.799682. Longitude 1.617066. Located at over 1,600 feet up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Causse de Gramat, Dordogne, in south-west France is The Shrine of Rocamadour, a place of pilgrimage since medieval times, if not before that. Roc means ‘Cliffe’ and Amadour (meaning ‘pure’) is the name of a Biblical saint of the 1st century AD who is otherwise known as Zacchaeus. In the steep-sided gorge above the river Alzou (on the right bank) stands ‘The Sanctuary of The Blessed Virgin Mary’ with a 12th century cave-church dedicated to St. Amadour and, on the hilltop above stands the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame, which houses the famous and much venerated cult figure of the ‘Black Madonna’ and another church of St. Sauveur that has numerous paintings and inscriptions recalling pilgrimages over the centuries. The town of Perigueux is 12 miles to the north-west and Cahors is 10 miles to the south on the E9 highway.

According to tradition and legend, Amadour or Zacchaeus was a native of Galilee or Jericho in the Holy Land and some scholars think he was the husband of St. Veronica. It was St. Veronica who wiped Christ’s face in a cloth when he was being taken to his crucifixion on Golgotha. Earlier, Zacchaeus had climbed a sycamore tree in Jericho in order to see and hear Christ preaching. After the crucifixion he accompanied other members of Christ’s family, including the three Marys, and other close relations to Gaul bringing with him a sacred wooden image of the Blessed Virgin Mary made from wallnut that was, perhaps, carved by St. Luke the Apostle, or maybe by Zacchaeus (Amadour) himself? Though it is claimed by some authorities that the image dates from the 8th or 9th century AD. He also brought with him some drops of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk.

The Black Madonna, Rocamadour, France.

The Black Madonna, Rocamadour, France.

Amadour lived the life of a hermit in a cave at Rocamadour and placed the wooden image in there. Today the cave in the Alzou gorge houses a church that is dedicated to the hermit saint and contains his relics which were placed here by Benedictine monks in 1166, after they had found his body to be still incorrupt. St. Amadour’s feast-day was placed on the 1st May, and he or another saint called Amadour is venerated at Lucca in Italy where is kept the so-called ‘Holy Face’ – the famous cloth belonging to St. Veronica. Amadour according to legend, visited Rome at the time of St Peter’s martyrdom there and also, perhaps, Constantinople. He died about 70 AD. Today the wooden image of the Black Madonna with the Christ child seated on her knee is safely housed in The Chapelle Miraculeuse inside The Church of Notre Dame on the hilltop above the cave-church, which has been a place of veneration and pilgrimage since the middle-ages and remains so today. There is also a chapel dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel and what is said to be a miraculous bell.

Also in the this Pyrenean town near the Church of Notre Dame is the 11th-13th century Basilica of St. Sauveur (Saviour), another place of pilgrimage down the centuries and, to which many kings, princes, saints and noblemen have payed homage. St. Bernard and St. Dominic are said to have come on pilgrimage here, as did Emperor Charlemagne. Many of these rich pilgrims have left inscriptions upon the walls and arranged for wall paintings to be initiated as a sign of their benevolence to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ the Saviour.


The Shrine of Rocamadour – [The Black Madonna copyright image].

Begg, Ean., The Cult Of The Black Virgin, Arkana, London, 1985.


The Mousse Fountain, Aix-En-Provence, France

English: Fountain on the Cours Mirabeau' in Ai...

The Mousse Fountain, Aix-en-Provence, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 43.526901. Longitude 5.449895. About midway along the tree-lined Avenue Cours Mirabeau at the corner of the Rue Clemenceau in the town of Aix-en-Provence, dept of Bouches-du-Rhone, France, stands the now famous hot thermal fountain and spring The Mousse Fountain, which is also known as ‘La Fontaine Deau Chaude’ and ‘Fontaine sur le Cours Mirabeau’. There are three other famous fountains close by: Fontaine de la Rotonde (19th century) in the Place de General de Gaul at the west end of the avenue is probably the largest, while Fontaine of the Nine Cannons (17th century) stands halfway between the two, while at the eastern end is the 19th century Fontaine du Roy Rene, but there are other fountains in the town. The seaport of Marseilles is approx 20 miles to the south and Pertuis is 10 miles to the north on the E712 highway.

The Mousse Fountain is a naturally-formed thermal spring with its source at nearby Bagniers from where it travels deep underground to “spring-up” on the Avenue Cours Mirabeau in Aix-on-Provence. But the fountain’s shaped basin dates from more recent times – 1734 to be precise. The huge round boulder sits in the basin and is covered in moss and foliage – this probably dates from the dawn of time in geological terms. From this the fairly hot, steaming water issues through various orafices from which people can drink the water; whereas people with certain “diverse ailments” can use the water in the basin. The hot water here can, apparently, cure all manner of ailments such as nervous disorders, stomach disorders, rheumatism and some gynaecological conditions, but the water is quite hot and is known to reach a temperature of 94 farenhite or more. Sometimes a strange thick foam gathers on top of the water and is locally referred to as “mousse”, from which the name is derived, though this is said not to be in any way harmful to humans.

The Romans under Gaius Sextius made good use of the hot thermal springs when they invaded this part of Gaul back in 121 BC after driving out the Celtic-Ligurian tribe from their settlement at Etremont just north of the town – the town at that time being on the Via Aurelia which linked northern Spain with Gaul. In the medieval period the thermal springs were a great potential for the town with pilgrims coming from all over the country to partake of the healing waters and, in more recent times this has largerly continued, mainly because Aix-en-Provence became a thermal spa-town, with hot water baths (giving a water temperature of upto 97 farenhite) that were built upon Roman foundations on the Rue du Bon Pasteur and, which again are said to be very effective for numerous diseases and bodily disorders.


Dolmen De Weris, Wallonia, Belgium

WERIS Dolmen de Wéris (5)

Dolmen de Wéris 1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 50.333648. Longitude 5.523543. The Neolithic dolmen or burial chamber called Dolmen de Weris no 1 is located near the northern end of the Rue des Dolmens highway in the area called Durbury – close to the Morville and Tour country roads, about a mile to the north-west of the little village of Weris, in the Wallonian province of Luxembourg, Ardennes, eastern Belgium. The megalithic structure stands beside the road partly hidden by trees and is easily missed. This burial chamber is called the Northern Dolmen, Allee Couverte Norde, or Dolmen de Nord. Running in a straight line to the south there is an avenue or double row of menhirs (standing stones) – the monument more or less forms the northern junction of the megalithic avenue itself.

This ancient monument is an impressive structure standing at 5 feet high made from pudding-stone with a massive capstone, sadly now broken, weighing 30 tonnes. It is supported by four huge rectangular-shaped stone blocks or orthostats, two of which weigh up to 20 tonnes. There is an equally impressive gallery (corridor), although quite short, and a rectangular-shaped ante-chamber 33 feet long, which has suffered some damage.  At the eastern end there is a blocking stone, while at the western end a wide portal (entrance) where, on the ground lies a recumbant stone, which originally blocked-off the entrance? Just inside the entrance is a strange curved stone (half-moon shaped) that is broken down the middle. This is called a ‘spirit hole’ or ‘kennel hole’. Near the eastern side there is a single standing stone or, what is perhaps a ‘mark stone’. Originally a mound of earth lay on top of the dolmen but this has now gone. There are a total of 16 stones at this site, which is said to date from 3,000 years BC.

At the south side of the dolmen are two stone rows or an anvenue of 30 menhirs that form an alignment with this – the northern dolmen – and with a curious stone to the north-east called ‘the Stone of the Ancients’ or ‘White Stone’ that is often referred to as a standing stone but, in fact, it is a naturally-formed stone some 3 metres high that leans at a 45 degree angle and stands on a hillside. At the bottom of the hill another stone ‘the Devil’s Stone’ or ‘Devil’s Bed’ is a flatish stone that is 0.6 metres high by 2.45 metres long.

About 2 miles to the south-west near the Route de Erezee (N841) north-east of Wenin we have the Weris (Southern) Dolmen no 2 which is, sadly, now collapsed although the entrance is still quite noticeable. This dolmen is a collection of 20 stones 23 feet long and in a very ruinous state, but similar to the northern dolmen in that it is also a gallery-tomb.

In 1906 the northern Weris dolmen was excavated. Parts of three skeletons were discovered along with other artefacts. However, its stones were not put back into their original positions (in situ) and other damage was caused to the monument. Though, by the looks of things, the archaeologists haven’t done such a bad job! The huge capstone was probably broken at this time as was the spirit-hole?


Grotto De Massabielle, Lourdes, Hautes-Pyrenees, Southern France

la grotto de Massabielle Lourdes (photo credit: Brunner Emmanuel Manu25 Wikipedia)

la grotto de Massabielle Lourdes (photo credit: Brunner Emmanuel Manu25 Wikipedia)

Latitude 43.097606. Longitude 0.058322. The famous 19th century healing shrine of the Grotto de Massabielle at Lourdes, in the Hautes-Pyrenees region, of south-western France is a cave and grotto located on the bank of the river Gave, just beneath the Basilica of The Immaculate Conception (The Upper Basilica). Lourdes is a town in the foothills of the Pyrenees that became famous the world-over when on 18th February 1858 a young French peasant girl called Bernadette Soubirous experienced 18 apparitions or visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which continued until 16th July that year. The town of Tarbes is 5 miles to the north-east on the N21 highway.

The name Massabiele means ‘the old rock’ or ‘the ancient mass’. In the grotto is the famous miraculous healing spring that has cured many, many people of illnesses since the very day when it started to flow again after being dry for some considerable time. A simple altar stands in the middle of the grotto and in a niche upon a rocky ledge a very beautiful statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. Bernadette became a nun in 1866 at the convent of St Gildard in Nevers, France, where she died of ill health in 1879 aged 35. She was canonised as a saint in 1933 and her body lies preserved (incorrupt) in a crystal-glass reliquary in St Gildard convent church. Today the shrine at Lourdes is the most famous Roman Catholic pilgrimage centre in the world.

The Basilica and Grotto.

The small cave entrance forms the grotto of Massabielle close to the bank of the Gave de Pau river where Bernadette, her sister and a friend, came to collect wood for her family’s fire in 1858 – the site was at that time surrounded by a pig-sty and festering rubbish dump. It measures 27 metres (88 feet) in height, nearly 10 metres wide and 9.5 metres deep – the niche or crevice to the right-hand side where the statue of Our Lady of Lourdes stands is just under 4 metres high. Our Lady’s statue carved out of marble is 1.88 metres (6ft 2 inches) high and was sculptured by Joseph Fabisch of Lyons. The statue was placed in the grotto in 1864. She wears white with a blue girdle and rosary beads hang from her left arm, while yellow roses adorn her feet. Our lady looks serene with her hands raised together in prayer. Beneath the statue are the Latins words:- Que Soy Era Immaculada Concepciou – ‘I am the Immaculate Conception’.

From what is known with regard to the miraculous healing spring which now flows into a large pool in the grotto it appears it had dried-up long before Bernadette came on to the scene, but during one of the visions (on 25th February 1858) Our Lady told the young peasant girl to scratch at the soil where water would then flow, and on the following day the spring was flowing very strongly, forming a pool. From that day on miracles of healing began to occur and, indeed, have continued to occur with many sick and disabled people being miraculously cured after partaking of, or, bathing in the holy water – something that many doctors have been unable to give any medical or scientific reasons for the many astounding cures. There are taps provided for pilgrims to collect the water in bottles, or simply to have a drink and, bathing facilities are provided for sick and disabled pilgrims.

Today Lourdes is visited by thousands, if not millions of pilgrims, coming from all corners of the world, not just looking for a miraculous cure, but to join in with the many religious services (there is the Underground Basilica of St Pius X) and processions that take place along The Esplanade. All go away feeling greatly uplifted and spiritually renewed, and some realise that they have received a miraculous cure. The water in the grotto has a very high mineral content and has frequently been examined by scientists – indeed carbonate of magnesia, carbonate of iron, chloride of sodium, chloride of potash, silicate of soda, iodine and ammonia have all been found in the water of the holy spring, along with other minerals too; the surrounding soil being rich in limestone. It can be drunk without any danger. But at the end of the day it is “perhaps” faith that is the true miracle here at the grotto in Lourdes.


Shields, J.A Rev., The Spirit of Lourdes, M.H.Gill and Son Ltd, Dublin, 1958.

Bordes, Joseph Father, Lourdes In Bernadette’s footsteps, MSM, Vic-en-Bigorre Cedex, France, 2005.

Ravier, Andre, Bernadette, Collins, London and Glasgo, 1979.

Click on the link

Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012 (up-dated 2022).


La Ciste Des Cous, Bazoges-En-Pareds, Pays De La Loire, Vendee, France

Longitude 46.658523. Latitude 0.943036. La Ciste Des Cous is said to be the oldest megalithic monument in the Vendee – this prehistoric site is located half a mile south-west of Bazoges-en-Pareds village and just off the D43 (Le Petit Miteau) highway close to the hamlet of Miteau-les-Champs. The village of La Joudonnere is 1 mile further along the highway. The site is signposted from the D43 road and is in open countryside beside a clump of trees. It is, at first glance, a rather strange structure with its almost defensive-like circular walls surrounding a stone-flagged central burial chamber and, beside that almost hidden by trees, is a cist grave that has some large stones set into the ground. Both monuments date from the Neolithic period of prehistory.

Circular dry-stone walls form this Neolithic monument that dates from 4,000 BC and there is a longish tunnel-like entrance with a large lintel stone above it. The low-level tunnel leads into a circular central enclosure (chamber) that has stone flags on its floor, most of which are now rather broken up due to vandalism. Its central chamber was originally a burial chamber, and it would have had a domed roof made of more dry-stone walling all fitting closely together, and maybe it was covered over with an earthen, grassy mound? It is quite a strong looking structure that is almost defensive in appearence and is somewhat similar to the Newgrange passage-tomb, in County Meath, Southern Ireland, although on a much smaller scale.

Next to this stands the rectangular-shaped cist monument which is now surrounded by a fence. This Neolithic grave-site has three large standing stones set into the ground at the head of the grave with another four large recumbant stones at the sides, one of which is a huge boulder, and some other smaller stones scattered around. The roof of the cist has gone. Both sites were discovered in 1910 and excavated in 1913 when upto 100 skeletons were dug up along with many other antiquities such as grave-goods.


Joussaume, Roger., Bulletin de la Societe Prehistorique Francaise, Paris, 1978.

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