The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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St Barnabas Churchyard Cross, Bromborough, Wirral, Cheshire

Cross at St Barnabas Church, Bromborough (Photo credit: Peter Craine - Geograph)

Cross at St Barnabas Church, Bromborough (Photo credit: Peter Craine – Geograph)

Os grid reference: SJ 3490 8221. On Church Lane in Bromborough, Wirrral, stands the 10th century St Barnabas Churchyard Cross, where at the south-side beside the church porch stands this heavily re-constructed Anglo-Saxon wheel-head cross. There are apparently some other carved stones, possibly of Saxon origin, in the garden of the nearby parsonage; and in the churchyard there is an interesting 18th century sundial and, close-by stands the 19th century market cross. St Barnabas’ church is located in the centre of the village on Church Lane to the west of the river Mersey – at the east-side of the Wirral Peninsula. Birkenhead lies 3 miles to the north on the A41 road while Ellesmere Port is 3 miles south-east on the M53. Bromborough is thought to be one of the many contenders for the Battle of Brunanburh (937 AD), though there is ‘much’ debate about that.

The first church ‘may’ have been established here in 928 or 934 AD, but there may have already been a monastery here, and then a Norman foundation which stood for several hundred years, though the present red Sandstone parish church is of 1862-4. There may have been Viking incursions into the area during the 9th and 10th centuries, which is why it is sometimes assumed the cross shows some ‘tenuous signs’ of Scandinavian influence, though it is generally regarded as being Saxon carving. Early chronicles suggest that the first church, and quite possibly [the monastery] were founded by Aelfthryth, or Ethelfleda, Lady of the Mercians, sometime around 912 AD. Lady Ethelfleda was the daughter of King Alfred the Great.

The Saxon preaching cross was put together from three fragments of Saxon stones that originally resided inside the church, and was re-erected beside the porch in the churchyard in 1958. It looks to be quite a crude monument and something of a mish-mash of the three seperate carved stones ‘haphazardly put together’ that are thought to date from the 9th-10th centuries. These pieces of carved stone originally stood in the present church and, indeed in the earlier Norman foundation before that. The sculptured wheel-head is quite basic really, with only faint carvings across its middle; the only other bit of carving is a long panel of worn interlacing on the shaft, below which a plaque* is attached recalling its history and which, rather sadly spoils the monument. The two parts of the wheel-head above and below the middle (carved) section look to be of a later date, possibly the 12th-16th century?

Also of interest in the churchyard is a 18th century sundial. This may originally have been part of the market cross. It stands upon two square-shaped steps on a base, and has a thin tapering shaft with a square top and dial. The date is recorded as being 1730.

In front of the churchyard stands the very tall market cross with square-shaped pillar standing on an eight-stepped plinth, supporting a fine ornamental top. Author Derek Bryce in his book ‘Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross’ says of this monument: “The cross at Bromboro in Cheshire stands on a stepped pyramid base, the steps of which are clearly not intended for treading…..the cross is surmounted by a sphere and sundial, which have since been replaced by a cross ecclesiastical.” The steps (plinth) of the cross are clearly medieval, maybe 13th century, the rest is from 1874.

Sources:

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

* http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/2257157

http://list.english-heritage.org.uk/resultsingle.aspx?uid=1015600

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Barnabas’_Church,_Bromborough


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Meir ny Foawr, Knocksharry, Isle of Man

Os grid reference: SC 2758 8495. The prehistoric site of Meir ny Foawr, near Knocksharry, at the far western-side of the Isle of Man, is a former Bronze-Age stone circle – however not much of it has survived – and some of its quartz boulders may have been robbed away over the centuries. This collection of boulders in a sort of part circle is located on the side of the hill called Lhergy Dhoo Uplands and is nearly half a mile south-east of Lhergydhoo house, in Kirk German parish. It can be reached on footpaths to the east from Switchback road, and the stones can be seen for many miles around. However there is a dearth of information regarding the site. The little village of Knocksharry is 1 mile to the north on the A4 road, while the town of Peel is 2 miles to the south-west along the same A4 coastal road, overlooking the beautiful Doon Bay.

Meir ny Foawr stone circle is also known locally as ‘the Devil’s Fingers’ or ‘the Giant’s Fingers’ indeed many Megalithic  monuments in the Isle of Man are in some way associated with the devil, or some mythical giant. The structure covers an area of around 30 feet (9.4 metres) and is formed by five large white quartz boulders in a sort of horseshoe shape, rather than a circle, though it may originally have been a circle? Three of the stones lean over at the north-side, while that in the centre is 7 feet high and may represent the altar; the three leaning stones are considered to be part of the original burial chamber. When the site was excavated some Bronze-Age urns were dug up. On the periphery there are a couple of smaller stones known as outliers. So, infact, we might consider calling this a ring cairn or cairn circle? We must assume, therefore, that there was at one time an earthen-mound covering the stones here at Meir ny Foawr?

The area around Knocksharry is rich in ancient remains. There is the prehistoric site of Crosh Mooar about 1 mile to the north-east of Meir ny Foawr – this was a Bronze-Age burial mound – but sadly it was almost destroyed in the early 1900s. And there are several cairns and tumulus’ dotted around the immediate area; at Knocksharry there is a Bronze-Age cemetary which is located close to the ruins of an early Christian chapel. Here three badly damaged funery urns were excavated.

Sources:

Hulme, Peter J., More Rambling In The Isle Of Man, The Manx Experience, Douglas, Isle of Man, 1993.

The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas, 1973.

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/iomnhas/v035p446.htm

http://www.isle-of-man.com/manxnotebook/fulltext/pn1925/gn.htm


Onchan Celtic Crosses, Isle of Man

St Peter's Church, Onchan, Isle of Man (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St Peter’s Church, Onchan, Isle of Man (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SC 4005 7814. Inside St Peter’s church on Church Road, Onchan, Isle of Man, there is a collection of carved Celtic cross-slabs from the 7th-12th centuries AD. The present-day church stands on what was quite obviously a religious site back in the Dark Ages, although the first church which was dedicated to St Conchan (Connachan) was established in the 12th century when it was called Kirk Conachan – that dedication lasted for hundreds of years until a re-dedication to St Catherine and, then to St Peter in the 19th century. St Peter’s church is located on Church Road, just off the main A2 (Whitebridge Road), at the south-side of Onchan. The village of Onchan stands on the headland at the north-side of Douglas Bay – the Manx seaside town being 1 mile south, while Baldrine is 2 miles north on the A42.

Norse Cross at Onchan by Br Olsen (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Norse Cross at Onchan by Br Olsen (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

There are 6 cross-slabs in the church although one shows strong Norse origins, and there is an early Christian gable cross which originally stood on the roof of an ancient keeill, a small early primitive Christian chapel. One of these called ‘Thurith’s Cross’ stands at just over 4 feet tall, is of Norse origin, and dates from the 11th-12th century. It is decorated with a crude cross on both sides as well as ring designs, but of most interest here are the runic inscriptions (both sides). These inscriptions are in short bursts: (front) krus isukrut thurith – ‘Christ / Thurith carved the runes’ (back) asunr raisti ift kui nusina murkiaum – ‘the son erected this cross to the memory of his wife muirkiaum’ and then: ukikat aukrathikr – ‘I examined / read the runes and interpreted etc’.

The Kirk Conchan Cross is a wheel-head cross at just over 2 feet high. It may date from the 9th century. This is a broken slab that has a cross and four rings with plait-work designs and, also interlacing strap-work (in low relief); there are also two creatures that might be dogs – one of which has two heads! And, the Fylfot Cross is almost 5 feet high and is said to date from the 10th century. This cross-slab has a ‘fylfot’ design as its cross, similar perhaps to the swastika symbol. Again we have dog-like creatures at either side of the cross. This slab came from the keeill chapel which stood on this site before to the 12th century church was built.

There are another three slab-crosses all of which are Celtic in origin and date from the 7th-9th centuries. These are broken, but they are still interesting because of the carved crosses, circles, plaitwork, strapwork, spiralls, numerous other Celtic-style designs and, again there are strange animals, including the usual dog-like creatures. Also, there is what is referred to as a ‘gable-end cross’ which is 12th century and supposedly came from the roof of the old keeill chapel. This primitive little chapel stood here just prior to the 12th century church of Kirk Conachan; its remains are still visible in the churchyard.

Encased in the wall close to the crosses is a 17th century silver chalice that is said to have been used by King Charles I at his last communion before his execution in Whitehall, London, in 1649, afterwhich he was revered as King Charles the Martyr, with a cultus in parts of England as well as three church dedications.

There is little if any information on St Conachan, Connachan or Concenn who supposedly became bishop of Sodor and Mann in 540 AD, and has given his name to the village. He is sometimes identified with St Adamnan, the Irish saint who was a missionary in Scotland during the 7th century, and a contemporary of St Columba whose “Life” he wrote, but due to the ‘later century’ in which he lived this would seem not to be the case. To confuse things even more St Christopher, the 4th century Roman martyr was at some point ‘patron’ of the church at Onchan!

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Onchan#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manx_runestones#

Kermode, P.M.C., Manx Crosses, Bemrose & Sons Limited, London,1907.

The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas,1973.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dolmen du Couperon, Rozel, Jersey, Channel Isles

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Dolmen du Couperon (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude: 49.234347. Longitude: 2.035263. On the headland at the north side of Jersey, in St Martin’s parish, stands the ancient monument Dolmen du Couperon, a late Neolithic gallery-grave that was partially restored in the early part of last century. Also known as Le Couperon and Le Couperon Dolmen. The monument stands 50 metres across the field to the west of Rue de Scez and the 17th century brick-building known as the guardhouse. Just to the north of the monument is the beautiful Jersey coastline of Rozel Bay, and a few miles further west the little village of Rozel. Dolmen du Couperon stands at the side of a field overlooking the seashore of the north Jersey coastline, a haven for holiday-makers; the nearest town being St Helier several miles to the south-west. Although the monument has been partly restored a couple of times it is still in a reasonably good state of preservation.

The gallery of this ancient tomb is roughly 8 metres long, while the whole monument across is 4 metres wide. It is formed from two parallel rows of upright stones and, above them large slabs laid rather ‘haphazardly’ across make up the roof. And 18 smaller upright stones or peristaliths surround the grave (at each side) and indicate the width of the original low, covering mound, which was made of stones, although the kerb may originally have continued in a straight line, instead of curving round like it does today. When it was being partially restored back in 1868 and 1919 some of the outer kerb-stones seem not to have been put back into their former positions, in particular the stone at the east side is not in situ – the thinking being that it should perhaps have been halfway along the gallery, acting as a sort of ‘dividing stone’? And the portal stone has been positioned so as to block the gallery’s entrance at the east-side, but again this ‘may’ not be in its original position. The tomb is thought to date from the late Neolithic period (3,250-2,850 BC).

No significant artefacts were excavated from the gallery-grave, apart that is from fragments of flint and pottery. Could the tomb have earlier been robbed by treasure-seekers?; and of the few finds here no knowledge exists as to where these were taken to! But all in all this is a very nice ancient monument.

Sources:

Dillon, Paddy., Channel Island Walks, Cicerone Press Ltd., Milnthorpe, Cumbria, 1999.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_dolmens#

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Le_Couperon_dolmen_and_guardhouse

http://www.prehistoricjersey.net/Le_Couperon.shtml

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=10561


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St Mary’s Well, Cefn Meiriadog, Denbighshire, Wales

Ffynnon Fair at Cefn, Denbighshire (Photo Credit: Wellhopper)

Ffynnon Fair at Cefn, Denbighshire (Photo Credit: Wellhopper)

Os grid reference: SJ 0292 7107. Some 2 miles to the south-west of St Asaph and hidden-away in a wooded area near Cefn Meiriadog – stands St Mary’s Well (Ffynnon Fair) and its associated chapel (now in ruins), once a much-visited Roman Catholic pilgrimage centre. The site is of interest because of its ornate well-basin, considered to be very similar in design and age to the well-chamber at St Winifred’s Well, Holywell, which was linked to St Mary’s on the main pilgrims route across north Wales and, like that famous well – St Mary’s (Ffynnon Fair) was renowned for its healing properties. And, like St Winifred’s Well – St Mary’s does have “very cold water”. The well and its associated ruined chapel are located on private land beneath some trees, close to the river Elwy in the hamlet of Wigfair, Cefn Meiriadog parish, Denbighshire, a mile or so to the north-west of Trefnant. It is difficult to reach but from the A525 make for the bridge over Afon Elwy, then go left into the lane. A footpath runs close to the site, but access is ‘not good’ from the gate! Go across the fields and into the valley just to the north of the river to reach the well site in Chapel Wood which is, sadly, becoming ‘very’ overgrown and forgotten.

The well chapel (Capel Ffynnon) was built in the 13th century, or it was rebuilt in 1500 along with the octagonal, star-shaped well-basin and attached cistern (bath); the rest of the building consists of a chancel, of a later date, a north and south transept, while the holy well stands at the far-western side of the chapel. Water from the well flows along a channel in the south transept, before meandering down to the river – Paul Davis ‘Sacred Springs’. Davis thinks the well-basin had some form of elaborate vaulting over it, probably contained within a projecting wing, and so the building originally had a cruciform plan. Could the chapel have been in use at some stage as a religious hostel for pilgrims visiting the holy well – and paying homage to Our Lady at the same time. Unfortunately, the chapel is now in a very ruinous state, leaving the star-shaped well open to the elements. Some of the 15th century Perpendicular windows retain their splendid decorative work, as do the doorways.

Water in this holy well was known to cure infertility and eye disorders, according to Audrey Doughty in her book ‘Spas And Springs Of Wales’. As this well-basin looks broadly similar to that at St Winifred’s Well, in Flintshire, and given the size of the chapel could it be that the benefactor was the saintly Lady Margaret Beaufort, Countess of Richmond and mother of King Henry VII (1443-1509) – almost certainly she would have had the money to build something on such a grand scale. Audrey Doughty says the well structure is 8ft (2.4m) square; she also says that it “had without doubt been in use for very many centuries before it is said to have been rebuilt”.

St Mary’s well would have been visited by Roman Catholic pilgrims and probably Protestant pilgrims as well up until the late 17th century, when the well and chapel fell into disrepair, although the well may have continued to be in use. Apparently, it is said, that up to 1640 marriages were performed here, but whether these were legal or illegal is uncertain, though a priest could ‘be payed’ to come and perform the marriage ceremony if required! Francis Jones in his acclaimed work ‘The Holy Wells Of Wales’ says of the well: “it flowed within a small well-chapel now in ruins”, and goes on to say that: “it was ruined in Lhuyd’s time who says that the ‘gwyl’ of Mary was held there”. Jones is, of course, referring to Edward Lhuyd, the 17th century English antiquarian who visited north Wales towards the end of the 17th century. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) the Jesuit priest and poet payed a visit and wrote a little bit of prose about it; and a poem was written about St Mary’s Well at Cefn by Mrs Felicia Hemans (1793-1835), who lived at St Asaph in the early part of her life.

Many thanks indeed to Wellhopper for the use of his photo, thanks sincerely. Check out his website: http://wellhopper.wordpress.com/2012/02/26/ffynnon-fair-st-marys-well-cefn-meiriadog/

Sources:

Coflein:  http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/306714/details/FFYNNON+FAIR%2C+WELL+CHAPEL/

Davis, Paul., Sacred Springs, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, 2003.

Doughty, Audrey., Spas And Springs Of Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales, 2001.

http://why-lydia.livejournal.com/9288.html

Jones, Francis., The Holy Wells Of Wales, University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1992.