The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

St Maelog’s Cross, Llowes, Powys

St Maelog's Cross, Llowes

St Maelog’s Cross, Llowes

OS grid reference SO 1923 4172. St Maelog’s Cross can be found inside the parish church of St Maelog in the village of Llowes just off the A438, some 2 miles west of Hay on Wye, Powys. The cross-slab was probably carved in the early Christian period, although the stone itself is said to be of a prehistoric date. It originally stood at Croes Faelog in the Begwn hills to the north-west of Llowes, but in the 12th century it was erected in the churchyard; then in 1956 the monument was placed, for safety reasons, inside the church. The village takes it’s name from a St Llywes who may have had a hermitage here, but when St Maelog arrived from ‘the north’ he allowed him to settle in this place (Llowes) and build a small monastery or a church? More likely his monastery originally stood at Croes Faelog.

The cross-slab is said to weigh a massive 3 tonnes, stand to a height of 7 feet, is 3 feet in width, and to date probably from the 6th or 7th century AD. On the front face there is a well-defined and quite impressive carved Celtic cross that stands out
in high relief from the surface. It is a fairly simple style of cross made up of small and large diamond-shapes inside squares with strong borders running from top to bottom, forming a wheel-type cross at the top. However, the carved cross on the opposite side was added in the 11th century and is quite crude, compared to the front side, and not that special. The slab is thought to be a prehistoric standing stone; the cross being carved onto it to Christianise the pagan stone by Celtic missionaries who came to the area in the so called Dark-Ages after the Roman withdrawal from Wales sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. The church was largerly rebuilt in the mid 19th century and the only antiquity from the earlier, medieval church is the font which may be 12th century?

St Maelog, Meulog or Meilig was a native of Clydeside in Scotland who became a soldier in the 6th century but decided to abandon that life, for a Christian one. He was of the family of Caw Cawlwyd, a chieftain of noble descent. His brothers were said to be St Caffo and St Gildas the Historian. It seems he first settled on the Isle of Anglesey (c 510) where he became a follower of St Cybi; there is a church dedication for him at Llanfaelog, Anglesey. Later, after an education under St Cadoc at the monastic college of Llancarvan, south Glamorgan, he became a Christian missionary at Llowes (c 540) and evangelized around the area as far as the Begwns. Maelog is also known to have visited Ireland where he goes under the name St Malloc, and to have died in Brittany about c 590 AD.

Celtic Cross, Llowes.

Celtic Cross, Llowes.

A well-known local and rather fanciful legend says that a 12th century giantess called Moll or Malwalbee (Maude de St Valerie) of Hay Castle got the stone, or pebble in her case, caught in her apron while at at Glasbury and, because it started to annoy her she decided to throw it across the River Wye from her castle at Hay to where Llowes church now stands; the pebble was, in fact, St Maelog’s Cross! In the book ‘The Story of Brecknock’ by Wendy Hughes we are told that: “she re-built Hay Castle in a night carrying stones in her apron”. Maude was actually the wife of William de Braose, Lord of Hay Castle. The slab has come to be referred to in legend as ‘Malwalbee’s Stone’. There is said to be a stone effigy of Moll in St Mary’s church, Hay on Wye. Maude’s husband, William de Braose, also held Abergavenny Castle 18 miles to the south. By all accounts he was not a nice person and was known as “the Ogre of Abergavenny” according to Wendy Hughe’s book. William de Braose murdered the Welsh chieftain, Sitsylt ap Dyfnwal of Castell Arnallt, near Clytha on Christmas Day in 1176 during a banquet held at the lord’s castle in Abergavenny. The relatives of Sitsylt later destroyed Abergavenny Castle (c 1182) while de Braose was away but they were unable to find the murderer. His noteriety caught up with him eventually, and de Braose died a pennyless beggar in France, 1211.


Hughes, Wendy., The Story of Brecknock, Garreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, Wales, 1995.

Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

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

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

With thanks also to The Megalithic Portal

Clonmacnois Monastic Site, County Offaly, Southern Ireland

Clonmacnois Cathedral (photo credit: JohnArmagh - Wikipedia).

Clonmacnois Cathedral (photo credit: JohnArmagh – Wikipedia).

Irish grid reference N0099 3066. The monastic site of Clonmacnois or (Cluain Mhic Nois) meaning ‘the fields of the hogs of Nos’, stands within a walled monastic enclosure beside the banks of the River Shannon near Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly, Southern Ireland. It dates from 545 AD when St Ciaran (Kieran) 512-545, son of a chariot-maker from Rathcrogan, Co. Roscommon (Connaught), founded a great monastic establishment here, surrounded on the landward side by boggy land. There are three 9th century crosses, two round towers (one of which is still intact), upto 200 grave-slabs from the 8th-12th centuries, the ruins of eight roofless churches and also St Ciaran’s Cathedral, and many other interesting antiquities. Clonmacnois was once referred to as ‘a monastic city’ that originally had 105 monastic buildings, before the Vikings and, later the Normans came here in 1179 and, very sadly, destroyed many of them. In 1552-3 the site and it’s remaining buildings were badly damaged by the terrible atrocities following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ’caused by’ the “English”. Clonmacnois lies just north of the R444 ‘Back Road’ between Moate and Shannonbridge, while the town of Athlone is 4 miles to the north on the M6/R446 roads.

Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnois.

Cross of the Scriptures.

Perhaps one of the finest and best preserved of the the high crosses (now partially restored) is that called ‘The Cross of the Scriptures’ (the Western Cross), dating from the early 9th century AD, near the west door of the cathedral. It stands at 4 metres (13) feet high and is made of sandstone; the front face shows scenes from the Life of Christ and other biblical scenes. The bottom panel (front) shows King Dermaid, son of Fergus, or of Aed? of the southern Ui Neill clan, helping St Ciaran the disciple of St Finnian of Clonard to build the first section of his monastery in AD 545 – with what could be a tree in between them? At the base of the cross there are scenes showing horses pulling a cart and, warriors riding on horses. An inscription recalls ‘a prayer for Colman who made this cross for King Flan’. The other two 9th century scultured high crosses – ‘the North Cross’ is badly damaged and the South Cross beside Temple Dowling is also quite damaged, but both still very rich in Celtic-style carvings.


One of the two round-towers stands to it’s original height of 17 metres and was used as a bell-tower for Temple Finghin (or St Finghin’s church), while the other, O’Rourke’s Tower, is damaged at the top, but is still some 20 metres high. Of the remaining churches The Nuns’ Church is perhaps the best. This dates from 1167 and is Irish-Romanesque in style; the carved chancel arch has beautiful geometric design-work; also the ruined St Ciaran’s Cathedral, which replaced an earlier 9th century cathedral, probably dates from the 13th or maybe 14th century, and has some beautiful carved figures of saints above the north doorway; the west doorway dates from 1200. The collection of 200 grave-stones inscribed with crosses and inscriptions in prayer-form are now housed in the visitor centre at the site, and there are another 500 smaller stones, some very fragmented. One stone, in particular, is round-shaped with a hole in the centre and a large incised-lettered inscription to the memory of SECHNASACH, an abbot who died in 928 AD; and another grave-slab with an elaborate Latin cross has an inscription in prayer-format to the memory of MAELFINNIA, an abbot of Clonmacnois who died in 921 AD. These stones would have marked the graves of former abbots of the 7th-9th centuries AD and, also a number of high kings of Mide, Brefni, Tara and Connacht. There are also three richly carved cross-shafts with Celtic ornamentation, but they are without their cross-heads.


Cross of the Scriptures (panel), Clonmacnois.

Cross of the Scriptures (bottom panel)

St Ciaran, however, only lived for another seven months after the foundation of his monastery, dying at the age of thirty-three in 545 AD, or possibly 549 AD of yellow fever, according to some historians in the field of Irish monasticism. But undoubtedly this is one of Ireland’s “greatest monastic centres”, with much still remaining from the Early Christian period, although many of it’s monastic buildings are now in a somewhat ruinous state. Clonmacnois was regarded as ‘A Cradle of Celtic Christianity’ for 600 years. A hoard of Hiberno-Norse coins, dating from the late 11th century, was dug up close to the site in 1979 by a group of school children, and a number of other monastic antiquities including implements, bones and an ornamental twisted gold rod and copper-alloy ring, thought to be Hiberno-Norse. To the west of the monastic site and just north of St Ciaran’s National School, are the earthworks and walls of a Norman castle. The famous Clonmacnois crozier is now displayed in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin.


King, Heather.A (Editor)., Clonmacnois Studies Vol 1 Seminar Papers 1994, Duchas The Heritage Service, Dublin, 1998.

Scherman, Katharine, The Flowering of Ireland – Saints, Scholars & Kings, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.

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

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing), London, 1984

With thanks also to ‘The Megalithic Portal’


St Mary-Le-Gill Church, Barnoldswick, Lancashire

St Mary-Le-Gill Church, Barnoldswick

St Mary-Le-Gill Church, Barnoldswick

OS grid reference SD 8930 4801. The picturesque St Mary-Le-Gill Church near Barnoldswick is something of a hidden gem that can be found up Ghyll Lane, (often spelt as ‘Gill’) off the B6252 Skipton road, at Coates, about 1 mile north-east of the town that used to be a part of west Craven or north Yorkshire uptil 1974, but is now in Lancashire, just about! The hamlet of Greenberfield with the Leeds and Liverpool canal running through it is half a mile west of the church, while the town of Skipton is about 8 miles to the north-east on the A56 and A59. The name Gill (Ghyll) is the Yorkshire name given to the stream, in this case Gill Syke, that runs southwards from the churchyard and cemetary along the western edge of Ghyll golf course towards Rainhall, while the place-name ‘Coates’ probably means “cottages” – Coates being a grange/farm of Sawley Abbey near Clitheroe.

A Norman foundation, there was a monastic church on the site in 1157, built by Cistercian monks from Kirkstall Abbey near Leeds, west Yorkshire, some 10 years after another group of Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey in north Yorkshire had tried unsuccessfully to sustain a foundation in the area, but they had failed due to the ‘very’ inclement weather conditions encountered there along with other problems. In the book Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain by Lionel Butler and Chris Given-Wilson, the authors say: “the land was unproductive, however, and the community was plagued by robbers”. The land for a small abbey had been granted to 13 monks and 10 laybrothers from Fountains Abbey under abbot Alexander in 1147 – by Henry de Lacy, Earl of Lincoln, but by 1152 the foundation had been abandoned and left to decay. In the book ‘Outstanding Churches in Craven’ by Val Leigh and Brian Podmore – the authors add a comment from one of the monks saying: “We stayed there for some years, suffering many discomforts of hunger and cold, partly by reason of the inclemency of the air, and immoderate plague of waters, partly because of the Kingdom being disturbed, robbers many times wasted our goods”. The Cistercian abbey of Kirkstall near Leeds was founded in 1152 by the monks who had left Barnoldswick. A few years later, apparently, the Pope decreed that the monks must build a church ‘as a replacement’ at ‘Bernulfswic’ because they had failed to keep their abbey going there. However the monks, maybe out of malice, decided to build the church dedicated to St Mary about one-and-a-half miles from the original site of their failed abbey, which was located on the western edge of the present town at Monkroyd (Townhead). There are no remains, only slight earthworks there today. More likely they sited the church on ‘St Mary’s Mount’ at Ghyll to provide a place of worship between Bernulfswic, Marton and Thornton-in-Craven as a kind of atonement ie penence.

In the excellent book ‘Journeys Through Brigantia’ (vol 1) Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, by John* and Phillip Dixon – the authors say: “And indeed what a place for quiet reflection this churchyard is amid the willow-herb, brome, wild-thorn and old English rose that play for space among the tangled stones”, a statement that I like because I think ‘that’ more or less sums up the place as you walk up through the lovely churchyard – when the place has been left alone for some considerable time, but just as nice when the grass and foliage has been cut back as was the case when I visited.

The Perpendicular church tower of the present-day building looks very grand, dating from the early 16th century, while nothing much remains of the 12th century Norman foundation, apart from an arch above an inner door; there is an inscribed stone on the south wall of the tower that reads: CCCCCXXIIII that should have read 1524 but the ‘M’ is missing! Outside, at the side of the porch, there is a medieval stone coffin that is now full of soil. This may have once contained the body of one of the monks who came here to help build the church or the abbey.

Inside the church much of the timbered roof dates from the 13th century, while the font with Jacobean canopied-cover is 14th century; at the side of this there is a nice Medieval holy water stoup (piscina). In the sanctuary (north wall) stands the credence table, carved with three swords in fess, representing the arms of Kirkstall Abbey and it’s monks who came back to build the church. The wooden three-decker pulpit is of 1620 and above it an octagonal sounding board. Notice the south door which has a beam that would have been placed across the door during invasions by Scottish armies, keeping the local people who were taking refuge, secure. Above the door is the 12th century Norman arch, the last reminent perhaps of the 12th century Norman foundation. The dark oak box pews date from the 17th century, and there is a wardens’ and constable’s box-pew in the south aisle. There are many interesting old gravestones in the churchyard, two of which date from the early 17th century, and are well-embedded into the ground.

There are a number of prehistoric settlements and earthworks in the area and a number of finds have come to light in recent times; a Bronze-Age sword was found here at Ghyll, and several Celtic stone heads have been discovered within a few miles, including one at Great Hague house, Kelbrook, and also a Bronze Age collared urn was dug up at nearby Hare Hill, Thornton-in-Craven, according to John* and Phillip Dixon in their work ‘Journeys through Brigantia’ (vol 1).

*[This site page is dedicated to the memory of my dear friend and author John Dixon, of Clitheroe, who very sadly passed away in September 2012].


*Dixon, John & Phillip., Journeys through Brigantia (Vol 1) Walks in Craven, Airedale and Whafedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

Leigh, Val & Podmore, Brian., Outstanding Churches in Craven, Bradford Diocesan Board of Finance in conjunction with Val Leigh Publications, Settle, North Yorkshire, 1985.

Butler, Lionel & Wilson-Given Chris., Medieval Monasteries of Great Britain, Michael Joseph Limited, London, 1979.

Carne Beacon, Veryan, Cornwall

Carne Beacon, Cornwall (photo credit: Mick Sharp)

Carne Beacon, Cornwall (photo credit: Mick Sharp)

OS grid reference SW 9126 3863. On the hilltop overlooking the beautiful Gerrans Bay in south Cornwall stands a fairly prominent ancient burial mound or round barrow (tumulus), dating from prehistoric times, rather than the more recent so-called Dark Ages, as was often thought from the Cornish legend of the saintly King Gerrenius. The man-made mound known as ‘Carne Beacon’ is covered in trees, bushes and grass and stands at the south-side of a farmer’s field (near Churchtown farm) ringed by a barbed-wire fence, but with a gate at one side for access. The site can be reached from the village of Veryan 1 mile to the north, or from the hamlet of Carne half a mile south, via footpaths around the edges of the field where the mound is located. The A3078 St Just and Tregony road is roughly one-and-a-half miles to the west of Carne Beacon. Just to the north of the ancient burial mound are the earthworks of an Iron-Age fort or settlement known as ‘the Veryan Rounds’.

Carn Beacon is between 15 and 28 feet (upto 6 metres) in height, depending on which part of it you’re standing on, and it has a circumference around the base of 370 feet (113 metres). During World War II it was used as a lookout post; a concrete pillar can still be seen on the top of the mound from this structure. It is considered to be the largest Bronze-Age burial mound in England. According to the ‘often accepted’ legend, a golden boat with golden oars was buried inside the mound in the 6th century AD along with a Dark-Age king; the boat in question had been rowed across Gerrans Bay from Dingerrin carrying the body of the saintly King Gerrenius (Geraint) of Dumnonia (Devon) who had died in his palace there circa 555 AD. But there was also a St Geraint or Gerran who lived about the same time and founded the church of St Gerrans-in-Roseland, which has rather added confusion to the legend, perhaps, although we known that a certain King Geraint figured in the ‘Register of Llandaff’ concerning St Theliau (Teilo) a 6th century Welsh churchman who had cause to travel through this part of the country on his travels to Brittany at that particular time and was well received by that king; so are the two saints Gerrenius and Geraint one and the same, quite probably. One legend informs us that St Just, son of King Geraint, had been converted to christianity by the Irish female saint, Boriana (Buryan). St Just in Roseland, Cornwall, is named for him. A St Geraint is commemorated on the 16th May. Some accounts also confuse things more by saying that King Gerrenius lived in the 7th or 8th century?

The antiquarian, John Whittaker, in his work ‘The Ancient Cathedral of Cornwall’ says that “when Gerrenius died, he was brought from his castle of Dingerein and ferried with great pomp across Gerrans Bay in a barge plated with gold”. The site of Dingerein or Dingerrin castle, a sort of crescent-shaped earthwork, can be found near Trewithian, Cornwall, some 4 miles to the west of Carne Beacon. It seems that the good Dr Whittaker never got the chance to excavate the great mound, even though the local people had got word that he was going to do so and had been given the ‘day off’ work for this wonderful event.

English: Carne Beacon

Carne Beacon (Photo credit: Tony Atkin – Wikipedia)

In 1855 the mound was finally excavated, but sadly, or perhaps unfortunately, no golden boat with golden oars was found – only a cist-type grave inside slabs of stone, like a small chamber, was found along with some ashes of burnt bones and charcoal. Whether these ashes were those of King Gerrenius of Dumnonia we may never know. But this very ‘fanciful’ legend has proved to be a good story told down the centuries. The cist grave (cairn) would most probably date from the Bronze-Age. The almost circular-shaped earthworks a short distance to the north of Carne Beacon is all that now remains of an Iron-Age hillfort or settlement that is locally called ‘the Rounds’, ‘Veryan Rounds’ or ‘the Ringarounds’.


Whittaker, John Dr., The Ancient Cathedral of Cornwall History Surveyed, (2 vols), London, 1804.

Westwood, Jennifer, Gothick Cornwall, Shire Publications Ltd., Princess Risborough, Buckinghamshire, 1992.

Readers Digest., Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, Readers Digest Association Limited., London, 1977.

Farmer, David., The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, (5th Edition), Oxford University Press, 2004.

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

National Trust: