NGR: SJ 20267 44528. The Pillar of Eliseg or ‘Eliseg’s Pillar’ stands upon a burial mound beside the A542 in the Vale of Llangollen, just a couple of miles to the north of the town of Llangollen itself, near the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey in the Vale of Llangollen. Eliseg was, in fact, known as Elise or Elised but owing to a mistake made by the 9th-century stone-carver, the name of ‘Eliseg’ has stuck! The top of the pillar once had a cross-head but this was lost in the mid-17th century, and the shaft would have been taller as a large section also went missing. The cross was probably set up to commemorate a battle that took place in c 603 AD. It would seem that the cross-shaft is not in its original position as it was erected on top of the mound in 1779. Earlier the monks of Valle Crucis Abbey had held the cross in great sanctity and respect. On the pillar there were some 31 lines of inscription, but now only 8 are visible, recalling the names of the royal family of Powys during the 8th-9th centuries AD – beginning with the person who erected the cross, Cyngen (or Concenn), the grandfather of Eliseg and last king of Powys, who died at Rome in 854 AD. The inscriptions were added to the cross at a later date, and, these go on to recall Eliseg (Elised ap Gwylog) King of Powys – whom the cross is named after. The burial mound on which the cross stands was traditionally where Eliseg was said to be buried, but more than likely it was a Bronze Age burial, which pre-dated the monument.
Fortunately for modern-day scholars Edward Lhuyd (1660-1709) the Shropshire-born writer and historian made a drawing of Eliseg’s Pillar and also recorded the Latin inscriptions (1696) from the monument, which stands in Llandysilio parish. So, we know at least eight of the lines of inscription. Chris Barber writing in 1983 gives the following information:-
“1. Concenn (Cyngen) son of Cadell, Cadell son of Brochmail, Brochmail son of Eliseg, Eliseg son of Guoillauc.
2. Concenn therefore being great-grandfather of Eliseg erected this stone to his great-grandfather Eliseg
3. It is Eliseg who annexed the inheritance of Powys…throughout nine (years) from the power of the English which he made into a sword-land by fire
4. Whosoever shall read this hand-inscribed inscription stone, let him give a blessing on the soul of Eliseg
5. It is Concenn Who…with his hand…to his own kingdom of Powys…and which…the mountain…the monarchy Maximus…of Britain…Concenn, Pascent…Maun, Annan.
6. Britu, moreover, (was) the son of Guorthigirn (Vortigern) Whom (St) Germanus blessed and whom Severa bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the king who slew the king of the Romans and
7. Convarch (Cynfarch) painted this writing at the command of his king Concenn
8. The blessing of the Lord (be) upon Concenn and all members of his family and upon all the land of Powys Until the day of judgement or doom. Amen”.
The sandstone pillar or pillar-shaft stands upon a large square-shaped base-stone which sits on top of a tumulus — a Bronze Age burial mound or cairn inside which were found, during excavations in 1803, the remains of a body, perhaps that of a Romano-British or Dark-Age chieftain (possibly the remains of Eliseg?), with what were described as “blue stones” both beneath and on top; the cremated body lying within a stone-slab chamber along with a silver coin. But the ancient pillar monument itself is much later in date — probably mid-9th century AD, though there has been speculation by some historians that the pillar was actually a tall cross, alas without its head, dating from a couple of centuries earlier, with the inscription being carved onto it sometime between 840-845 AD. It was erected by Prince Cyngen fab Cadell (Concenn) about the year 844 AD in memory of his great-grandfather, Eliseg or Elise.
The picturesque ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey (the name Valle Crucis meaning ‘Valley of the Cross’) lie a ¼ of a mile south of Eliseg’s Pillar. It was founded in 1201 for Cistercian monks by Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, Prince of Powys, but dissolved in 1538. There are considerable remains, especially of church and east range, according to Frank Bottomley. Well worth a visit.
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Barber, Chris, Mysterious Wales, Paladin Books, London, 1983.
Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., London, 1981.
More info here on TNA: https://www.thenorthernantiquarian.org/2011/07/01/pillar-of-eliseg/
More info here: https://pastplace.exeter.ac.uk/2014/04/the-pillar-of-elisegs-topography-of-memory/
Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2022.