The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


1 Comment

Churchyard Cross, St Nicholas’ Church, Grosmont, Monmouthshire, Wales

St Nicholas’ church cross.

OS Grid Reference: SO 40475 24302. In St Nicholas’ churchyard (north-side near the door) at Grosmont in Monmouthshire, Wales, there was a medieval preaching cross which had crudely carved depictions of Christ crucified and Mary the Virgin with baby Jesus. It was locally called Jack o’ Kent’s Cross. There was, and still is, some uncertainty about the age of the cross, but the carved section atop the shaft was thought to date from between the 11th to 13th century, whereas the shaft and eight-sided base are more recent, maybe 14 or 15th century? Due to ‘the recent safety concerns’ the carved fragment of the cross-head has had to be placed in the church, leaving the shaft and base out in the churchyard. Apparently the shaft was originally much taller. There may have been an earlier cross-head on top of the cross shaft. The 13th century parish church of St Nicholas at Grosmont looks rather like a small cathedral with its tall 14th century octagonal spire, which is a landmark for many miles around. It is to be found at the southwest side of the village, be-side the B4347 road, a couple of miles south of Kentchurch and about 6 miles to the northeast of Llanfihangel Crucorney.

Carved cross head at St Nicholas’ church, Grosmont.

Today, however, the churchyard cross looks rather forlorn with its chopped down shaft, but it still stands here on its octagonal base – alas though without the carved cross-head. But ‘this’ carved section is safe and secure in the south transept of St Nicholas’ church after it was stolen some years back. We don’t know with any certainty the age of the carved cross-head or where it came from: the thinking being that it is was perhaps carved between the 11th and 13th centuries, whereas the shaft and base are from the 14th or 15th century? with some damage caused to the shaft in the 16th. Could the carved section have come from a castle, an abbey, or some other church; that we don’t know, or do we* The carved section, now in the church, shows Christ crucified on one side and Mary and baby Jesus on the other with what could be the outline of a bovine animal lower down; the carving of Mary and Jesus seems to be ‘a crude affair’ compared to that on the opposite face suggesting, perhaps, that it was carved at a different date? It was probably a preaching or wayside cross. Locally, it is sometimes called ‘Jack o’ Kent’s Cross – after the giant and magician who lived at Kentchurch Court. He was not, however, buried beneath the cross. In fact, Jack’s body was buried only just outside Grosmont church!

*Chris Barber (1992) alludes to the following bit of interesting information regarding a carved stone found at Llanfihangel Crucorney, 6 miles southwest of Grosmont. He tells that: “When the church was being rebuilt in 1834, with money raised by public subscription, an ancient stone was revealed. On one side is a representation of the Virgin Mary with baby in her arms and on the reverse side is Christ on the cross between two thieves.” 

Cross Ash School children (1985) tell us in their delightful booklet about the local giant, saying that: “Under the wall of the South Transept, according to legend, lies the body of the giant, Jack of Kent, buried half inside the church and half outside the church, where his tombstone can still be seen.” The school children also mention that: “the font probably dates back to 1150. It is one hundred years older than the church itself. This could mean that at one time there was another church on the site. There is a pattern of a rope on the font, which was common in 1150.”

Donald Gregory (1991) says of St Nicholas’ church that: “This non-Celtic dedication probably indicates that this was the first church to be built on that site. Certainly most of what is still visible in the church and churchyard dates from the same time as the stone castle. Gregory adds that: “Near the entrance gate in the northern consecrated part of the churchyard is an early medieval preaching cross, part of whose shaft remains, firmly secured and — unusually — into an octagonal base; it may be noted, though no known inference may be derived from the observation, that the stout tower of the church is likewise octagonal. The shaft was lopped in the sixteenth century, but curiously enough the carved capstone, which was later placed upon it, is definitely of medieval origin, although where it came from no-one knows.” 

Chris Barber (1984) tells us more about the church. He says: “Go into the church and you will immediately feel an atmosphere of antiquity, peace and mustiness. The floor of the now disused nave is well illustrated with engraved stones and there are many interesting tablets to read on the walls. In a corner of the nave can be seen a wooden chest known as the ‘”Grosmont Hutch”‘ and a half finished effigy of a knight, which is reputed to be that of Jack o’ Kent who once resided in this corner of Gwent. Numerous stories are told about his deeds and adventures. Some claimed that he was Owain Glyndwr in disguise.; others accused him of being a wizard in league with the devil. A legend tells that Jack made a pact with Satan that he should have his soul when he died, whether he was buried inside the church or outside. However, Jack cunningly fooled the devil by arranging for his burial to take place under the very walls of the church at Grosmont, so that he was neither inside nor outside. An old tombstone in the churchyard close to the east wall is said to cover his remains and it is claimed that he died at the age of 120 years. A proverb once used in this neighbourhood would describe someone “‘as clever as the devil or Jack of Kent”‘.

Sources and related websites:-

Barber, Chris, The Seven Hills Of Abergavenny, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1992.

Barber, Chris, Exploring Gwent — A Walker’s Guide To Gwent Land Of History And Legend, Regional Publications (Bristol) Limited, Clifton, Bristol, 1984.

Cross Ash School, Churches And Castles — Within the Grosmont Skenfrith and White Castle Trilateral, 1985.

Gregory, Donald, Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, Wales, 1991.

The Church In Wales, Great Churches in the Diocese of Monmouth — a Visitors Guide (Transl. by Sian Edwards), June 2005.

St Nicholas Church

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Nicholas,_Grosmont

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/221965/details/st-nicholas-church-grosmont

https://www.britainexpress.com/attractions.htm?attraction=571

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jack_o%27_Kent

https://www.spookyisles.com/2014/07/jack-okent-the-welsh-doctor-faustus/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.


The Advenctus Stone, St Madoc’s Church, Llanmadoc, Gower, West Glamorgan

Church of St Madoc at Llanmadoc by Richard Law (Geograph).

OS Grid Reference: SS 43889 93439. In the 12th century church of St Madoc at Llanmadoc –  at the far northwestern side of the Gower Peninsula, West Glamorgan, Wales, there is an early 6th century pillar-stone with a Latin inscription in memory of Advenctus. This was probably a grave-cover. There are two more ancient stones in the church – one with a carved cross. The font is Norman. The first church here at Llanmadoc was founded way back in the 6th century AD by St Madoc (Maedoc or Maodhoge), who had come from Ireland to Wales for his education – firstly under St David at Glyn Rhosyn and then under St Cenydd at Cor Llangennith; St Cenydd may have been his cousin? He is probably one and the same as St Aedan (Aidan), bishop of Fearns in Co. Wexford, Ireland, who died in 626. St Madoc was apparently co-founder, with St Cenydd, of the monastic college at Llangennith, a few miles to the southwest of Llanmadoc. To reach Llanmadoc it is best to come off the M4 motorway at Exit 47, then south onto the A483 and west on the A484 through the villages of Gowerton, Pen Clawdd, Crofty, Llanrhidian and Weobley Castle.

On a windowsill in the nave of Llanmadoc church there is a 27′ long graveslab with a crack at the top left-hand corner, and carved into this are Latin/Roman letters commemorating: Advenctus, Avectus or Vectus; the stone is said to date from 500 AD or thereabouts. In Latin the inscription reads: ADVECTI FILIUS GVAN HIC IACIT, which when translated is: ‘Advenctus, the son of Guanus, he lies here’. The inscribed stone was discovered built into the wall of the rectory in 1861, but was brought into the churchyard and then the church. But who was Advenctus? or Vectus? And who was Guanus? These questions ‘we’ don’t know with any certainty; they are names that are now lost in the mists of time. John Kinross (2007), speculates that Guanus was in fact St Govan, and he refers to Advenctus as Advestus! But could Advenctus have been the brother of St Padarn – as his mother was called Guean? It’s all purely speculation, but worth considering. And built into the west wall is a pillar-stone with two carved crosses that is thought to date from the 7th-9th century AD, and close to that a medieval stone pillar that may have been a boundary marker. Kinross also adds that a Celtic-style hand-bell was found in a field near the church; this is now at Penrice Castle! 

The Gower Society (1989), say with regard to the church, that: “The church of St Madoc is reputed to have been founded in the 6th century……and the present building is probably 13th century…..and is the smallest in Gower and the correspondingly small tower has the familiar combination of saddle-back roof and parapets. An extensive renovation in 1865, when the nave and chancel were considerably altered and the tower lowered, has left little of the original building. At that time the graveyard had risen as much as four feet above the floor of the nave, and even the chancel arch had to be reconstructed to level things up. The interior of the church is very dark, and must have been even darker when the east window was a single trefoil light; here are preserved a Norman font and a Roman-Celtic tombstone which was discovered in 1861 built into the wall of the Old Rectory. It is one of the few churches in Gower where traces of the paintings which originally decorated the walls were found when the church was restored. The Rev. J. D. Davies, the 19th century historian of West Gower, was Rector of Llanmadog and Cheriton for over fifty years.”

St Madoc (Maedoc) is a somewhat shadowy figure who was probably born in the North, the son of King Sawyl, in the early 6th century. Sawyl Benisel, father of St Asaph, was buried on Allt Cynadda, west Glamorgan, after he was killed in an attack on his camp, according to Chris Barber. St Madoc spent his early years in Connacht and Leinster in Ireland, but then came to Wales to study scripture under St David at Glyn Rhosyn in Menevia, and later under St Cenydd at the monastic college of Llangennith, which he may have co-founded. Some historians think he was related to St Gildas and St Cenydd (maybe a cousin), but that is questionable. Legend has it that St David died in the arms of St Madoc and, after St David’s passing, Madoc became abbot of Glyn Rhosyn, before returning to Ireland.

St Madoc, also known as Aedan, founded many churches in Wales including those at Bryngwyn, Clytha, Llanmadoc, Llanbadoc, Llanidan, Llawhaden and Great Rudbaxton (where there is holy well named after him). Many historians consider him to be one and the same as St Aidan (Aedan), who became bishop of Ferns, Co. Wexford. In Ireland [as St Aidan] he founded monasteries at Drumlane, Co. Cavan, Rossinver, Co. Leitrim, and Clonmore, Co. Carlow, as well as Ferns. He died aged over 100 at Ferns in 626 or 632 AD. His feast day is 31st January. He was apparently known for his kindness to the poor and was known to have given away his and others’ clothing to the needy, and lived on bread and water for many years, though it seems he was none the worse for this! Some of his relics lie in Armagh Cathedral and The National Museum, Dublin.

Sources and related websites:-

Barber, Chris, More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London, 1987.

Kinross, John, Discovering The Smallest Churches In Wales, Tempus Publishing Limited, Brimscombe Port, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2007.

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

The Gower Society, A Guide To Gower, (Evan Evans, Bernard Morris, T. R. Owen & J. Mansel Thomas Edts), Gower Society, 1989.

Geograph photo no. 2684530 by Richard Law.  http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/

http://www.ggat.org.uk/cadw/historic_landscape/gower/english/Gower_007.htm

http://www.explore-gower.co.uk/llanmadoc-church

http://www.waymarking.com/waymarks/WMKEK0_Pillar_Stone_Church_of_St_Madoc_Llanmadog_Gower_Wales

http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/madocapn.html

http://stainedglass.llgc.org.uk/site/79

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018. 


9 Comments

St Corentin’s Chapel, I’le de Sein, Finistere, (Bretagne) Brittany

St Corentin’s Chapel on I’le de Sein, by Ji-Elle (Wikimedia Commons)

Latitude: 48.041993. Longitude: -4.867500. At the far northwestern side of the I’le de Sein at the sacred place called Goulénez, just 8 kms off the Finistere Coast at Pointe de Raz, (Bretagne) Brittany, stands the restored chapel dedicated to St Corentin (Cury), a 5th century Celtic saint who became bishop of Quimper; he was apparently also the adviser and confessor of King Gradlon le Grand – whose Breton kindom of Caer Ys (or Is) was both legendary and, almost certainly, mythical. Quimper eventually being the location of his new royal palace. The lonely little chapel, of ancient origins but restored in the early 1970s, is a short distance from the rocky seashore of the island’s northwest coast. There is also a holy well/spring and close to that is the ‘Hermit’s Garden’. St Corentin’s Chapel and holy well have long been a place of pilgrimage and veneration for the islanders themselves; but further back into the mists of time the island was home to the druidic priestess, Velleda, and then the Romans probably camped on the island, which ‘they’ were to call: Insula Sena. To reach the site: follow the Route du Phare coastal path around the north and northwest side of the island.

The Insight Guide (1994), says of the island: “Bretons call Ile de Sein Enez Sun, and it is suggested that this helps to identify it as the Isle of the Dead, a burial place of the druids. It is also said to be the Romans’ Insula Sena, a mysterious island where sailors used to consult an oracle tended by nine priestesses.”

The Insight Guide (1994) adds: “The home of King Gradlon, Is, was protected by a dyke and the key to its gates was always carried by the king. His daughter, named variously as Dahut or Ahés, had become attracted by the Devil in the shape of a handsome young man. The Devil requested that she steal the key to the gates that protected a dyke surrounding the king’s palace at Is. At the Devil’s request she stole the key and opened the gates allowing the sea to pour into the city. King Gradlon managed to escape on his horse with his daughter clinging onto him for dear life, but a voice from heaven informed him that he could only be saved if he ditch this evil spirit. He did this, and the sea withdrew, but his kingdom of Is was completely submerged and destroyed.

“The king then chose Quimper as his new capital for the kingdom of Cornouaille, and his statue stands between the two towers of the cathedral. For the rest of his days, he lived a life of holiness and piety, helped by the first bishop of Cornouaille, St Corentin. As for his daughter, Dahut, she became a mermaid (siren) known as Marie-Morgane, and today still lures sailors to watery graves,” according to the Legend.

The Insight Guide (1994) goes on to say that “As for St Corentin, he is remembered for his diet, which consisted purely of the flesh of one miraculous fish. Each day he would eat half of the fish and throw the rest back into the river, only to find it restored to full size the following day. Corentin was one of the first Celtic religious leaders to move to Brittany in the 5th century and, like the others, he became a saint.”

David Hugh Farmer (1982), says of St Corentin that he was: “Cornish founder and patron of Cury in the Lizard. He was a Celtic hermit who later became a Bishop in Brittany. An ancient cross stands near his church; in 1890 a fresco was discovered in Breage (the mother-church of the Lizard), which depicts him in cope and mitre with a pastoral staff. Beside him is a fish, from which he was reputed to have cut and eaten one slice each day, without any diminution in the size of the fish. An ancient Breton cult in his honour was revived by a private revelation in the 17th century, when several old shrines there were restored. His feast (translation?) at Quimper is the occasion for presents of blessed cakes. Ancient feast: 1st May.”

Map of I’le de Sein (North)

St Corentin or Corentinus, was a native of Armorica (Brittany), but he may have visited the southwest of England and maybe Wales at some point. At least one church is dedicated to him at Cury in Cornwall, where he is called St Cury. However, he was more likely a hermit living on the I’le de Sein (440 AD), a small island in the Atlantic, just off the Finistere coast, and later at Plomodiérn near Ménéz-Hom in Crozon. St Guenole (Winwaloe) was his disciple. Indeed, St Guenole also has a church dedication on the island. Corentin established a hermitage and church on the island and imparted his holiness into the waters of a well there. The site being of pre-historic importance. A modern wood statue of the saint stands inside the tiny chapel along with one of the Virgin Mary, and other Breton saints. Eventually, King Gradlon installed Corentin as first bishop of Quimper, in Cornouaille; the Cathedral of St Corentin now stands on the site of his church. He died at Quimper in 460, 490 or 495 AD. His feast-days are 1st May (translation) and 12th December.

Henry Queffélec (1945 & 1972), says of St Corentin’s hermitage on I’le de Sein: “the Chardin an Iarmit, or “‘Hermit’s Garden”‘, was situated on the western end of the ile de Sein next to a small chapel dedicated to St Corentin. Although the chapel has now fallen into ruins the site is still regarded by the people of Sein as a place of pilgrimage and special veneration. Cambray in his Voyage dans le Finistère of 1794 described the chapel and garden.”

Queffélec adds that: “There is no evidence whatsoever that the chapel dedicated to St Corentin was ever destroyed by fire or that its stones were used to build another church on the island. This chapel, unfortunately, has simply been allowed to fall into ruins and very little remains of it today.”  [The chapel was, however, rebuilt in 1971 by the people of the island and the priest.] 

He also adds more information with regard to the History of the island, saying that: “In early times, the ile de Sein was thought to be the haunt of supernatural beings. In the first recorded mention of the island in 43 A.D, in the work of the Roman geographer, Pomponius Mela, we are told that the Insula Sena possessed an oracle which was served by nine vestal virgins who had the capacity to control the elements and cure the apparently incurable. This tradition is later exploited by Chateaubriand in Book IX of Les Martyrs (1809) in his description of the sacrificial activities of the Celtic druidess Velleda some of which take place on the “‘ile de Sayne, ile venerable et sacrée”‘. In the Middle Ages , the ile de Sein is caught up in the Arthurian legends and according to some  storytellers, is the birthplace of two of the most accomplished magicians, the wizard Merlin, and Morgan La Fée.” 

Sources and related websites:

Insight Guide, Brittany, (Ed. by Brian Bell), APA Publications (HK) Ltd., 1994.

Farmer, David Hugh, The Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, 1982.

Queffélec, Henri, Un Recteur De L’ile De Sein, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1972. Originally pub. in French Language (1945) by Éditions Stock.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Ile_de_Sein

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C3%8Ele_de_Sein

http://audierne.info/la-chapelle-st-corentin/

https://www.breizh-poellrezh.eu/bretagne/%C3%AEle-de-sein/

http://www.earlybritishkingdoms.com/bios/gradlmby.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.

 


2 Comments

Saxon Cross in St Peter’s Minster Church, Leeds, West Yorkshire

The Anglo- Saxon Cross in St Peter’s.

OS Grid Reference: SE 30657 33295. In St Peter’s parish church on Kirkgate in Leeds, west Yorkshire, there is a very tall and slender 10th century Anglo-Saxon wheel-headed cross, which stands on the Altar Flat. This very large city centre church is nowadays called Leeds Minster or ‘The Minster and Parish Church of Saint Peter-at-Leeds’. The cross-shaft fragments were discovered in the late 1830s when the tower was being demolished, but much of the present cross is a Victorian reconstruction of the original one, or as near to that as possible. There are several carved (sculptured) panels on the tall cross-shaft whereas other sections have nothing at all; and though it looks to be somewhat “cobbled-together’, it is a fairly credible-looking piece of construction. The church “here” was first mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) which stated that Leeds had a church, a priest and a mill; at this time the ruling overlord of Leeds was Ilbert de Lacy and the underlord, Ralph Paganel (Paynel). There may have been an earlier religious building on this site as far back as the early 7th century AD.

Joseph Sprittles writing in the parish guide book says of the Anglian Cross in St Peter’s that it is: “composed of sculptured stones found in the tower fabric of the old church when it was taken down. These were claimed by the architect who on retiring to Rottingdean caused the stones to be erected in his garden. After the death of Chantrell in 1876 the Vicar of Leeds, Dr John Gott, on learning the house was to be sold sought the purchaser and made him an offer for the Cross and, after much bargaining bought the ancient stones for £25 and  had them conveyed to Leeds where, four years later the cross was re-erected on the Altar Flat. The date of the Cross is thought to be c.925 A.D.” 

The restored cross shows Anglian and Scandinavian workmanship. It seems to be a platform for the Norse Legend of Weland the Smith, who features extensively on the monument. Weland or Weyland is depicted in a panel at the bottom of the cross in his flying machine with his tools of the trade. There are 10 carved sandstone panels but also some empty ones. Also, there is the usual interlacing, scrolls and end-knots, and a number of human figures both male and female as well as birds of prey. We see a cloaked figure holding a sword, a figure with a halo, a female figure held aloft by another figure, a female figure holding a horn, two hands grabbing hair; also Weland abducting the daughter of King Nidlad and Weland with a bird of prey. The wheel-head is considered not to be as old as the rest of the shaft and apparently comes from a different cross altogether. More information on this cross can be found on the Howard Williams (Archeodeath) website (see the link below).

Saxon Cross.

Author Frank Bottomley (1993) says regarding St Peter’s that it is a: “Medieval parish church replaced in 1841 with a significant building marking Anglian revival. Preserves spectacular A/S cross, fourteenth-century effigy, two fifteenth-century brasses and a large number of later monuments. Fifteenth-century font with seventeenth-century cover. ‘Brought in’ medieval glass (east window) and much of nineteenth-century.” Jones & Tricker (1992) add that Leeds is a: “A vast and overpowering town, but a great oasis for churches. The parish church of St Peter is unique because of its cathedral-type musical tradition – and what a place it is, rebuilt in 1841 for its famous vicar , W.F. Hook, to the designs of R.D. Chantrell. The exterior is massive, with a stately (144 ft ) tower. The interior is mighty and dignified, built to accom-modate 2,000 and full of seating and comm0dious galleries, but with the clear early Tractarian feel that it is not just a preaching house.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bottomley, Frank, Yorkshire Churches, Alan Sutton Publishing Limited, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 1993.

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy, County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992.

Sprittles, Joseph, Leeds Parish Church – History and Guide, Tower Publications, St. Marks, Cheltenham, Glos.,

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.

https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2014/11/14/leeds-cross/

http://www.leodis.net/searchResults.aspx?LOCID=9999&DECADE=0&YEAR=&KEYWORDS=%20Saxon%20Cross&KEYWORDS2=&KEYWORDS3=&ANDOR2=&ANDOR3=&RECSPAGE=5&VIEW=1&CURRPAGE=1

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

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2015/08/12/weyland-the-smith-an-article-by-david-mcgrory/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


1 Comment

St Nicholas’ Round Church, Orphir, Orkney Isles.

St Nicholas’ Round Church at Orphir, Orkney Isles. (Photo by T. Kent).

   OS Grid Reference: HY 33494 04429. On Gyre Road at Orphir Bay and a few hundred metres or so north of the shoreline of Scapa Flow, Orkney, are the remains of an early 12th century round church (kirk) of St Nicholas. It was probably originally dedicated to Saint Magnus. Beside the old church are a burial ground and the scant ruins of the Earls Bu, a Viking hall or palace, and also a farmstead and mill. The famous round church was built by Earl Hakon, who had a few years earlier (1111) murdered Earl Magnus (St Magnus). There is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre on the site; while in the burial ground there is an early medieval graveslab, and from the Dark Ages a Pictish symbol stone. The site is best reached from the A964 at the south-side of the island near Houton, then on Gyre Road for a short distance; the Orkneyinga Saga Centre entrance is on the right-hand side of the road.

   The author J. Gunn (1941) says of the round church: “At the churchyard near the shore we may stop to visit as pilgrims the pathetic little ruin at the east door of the church (now demolished). This is the semicircular apse and a fragment of the wall of a circular church, the remainder of which was unfortunately used as material for building the present church. This fragment is older than the cathedral of St. Magnus. It was built by Earl Hakon, the murderer of St. Magnus after his penitential pilgrimage to Jerusalem. 

   Mr Gunn goes on to say that after murdering Earl Magnus he: “……endeavoured to expiate his crime, as the manner then was, by going on a pilgrimage first to Rome and thereafter to Jerusalem. A small but deeply interesting fragment of masonry, still to be seen in Orphir churchyard, is regarded as a memorial of that penitential journey. At the east end of the present church (now demolished) is a vaulted semicircular apse of what was once the Round Church of Orphir, one of the very few churches in Britain built on the model of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It seems certain that this was erected by Hakon on his return to Orkney, and it is therefore the oldest piece of ecclesiastical building in Orkney, except, perhaps, some of the ruins of little Celtic chapels. After his pilgrimage we read that Hakon proved a good ruler, made better laws, and became so popular that “”the Orkneymen desired no other ruler than Hakon and his issue.”” 

   The site entry for Orphir: St. Nicholas’ Church in ‘Ancient Monuments – Scotland’ adds that: “Only the chancel and a small part of the nave remain of this, the single example of a round church known to have been built in the Middle Ages in Scotland. The structure dates from the twelfth century, and appears to have been modeled on Scandinavian prototypes, derived ultimately from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.” Also we have Charles Tait writing in 1999. He adds some more information saying: “The Round Kirk is thought to be the church built by Earl Haakon Paulson, to the plan  of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, on his return  from Jerusalem about 1120, in atonement for the murder of Earl Magnus. Previously known as the Girth House from the Norse grid for sanctuary, or peace, the church was largely demolished in the 18th century (about 1757) to build a new church, itself now gone.”

   Standing close by the round church are the foundation walls of some buildings, many now covered over by grass turf, of the Earl’s Bu or the drinking hall (palace or mansion), which was probably built by Earl Hakon Paulson between 1120-23. The place was mentioned in the famous Orkneyinga Saga. There are also some remains of a farmstead and watermill from the 10th century. The site was excavated three times in the 19th century, and continues today. At the entrance to the site is the Orkneyinga Saga Centre which is run by The Orkney Islands Council. This has displays celebrating the famous Viking Saga, and telling the story of the Norse Earls of Orkney through interpretation boards and audiovisual displays etc. In the burial ground there are stones from the early Medieval and Dark Age periods; one in particular being a 7th century Pictish symbol stone with crescent and V-rod, and an interesting carved graveslab from the 11th century. An inscribed runic stone was found here, but is now on display in the Orkney Museum, Tankerness House, Kirkwall. The Canmore ID number is: 1962. 

Sources and related websites:-

Gunn, J., Orkney – The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons. Ltd., London, 1941.

H. M. S. O.,  Ancient Monuments – Scotland, (Volume VI),  H. M. Stationary Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

Tait, Charles, The Orkney Guide Book, (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait Photographic, Kelton, St Ola, Orkney, 1999. 

https://canmore.org.uk/site/1962/orphir-st-nicholass-church

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

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/or-chrch.htm

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/earls-bu-and-church-orphir/

http://viking.archeurope.info/index.php?page=orphir-earl-s-bu-and-church

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.


St Patrick’s Chapel And Rock Graves, Heysham, Lancashire


St Patrick’s Chapel on Chapel Hill, Heysham.

   OS Grid Reference: SD 40980 61628. On the headland above St Peter’s parish church at Heysham, in Lancashire, stand the ancient ruins of St Patrick’s Chapel, a Saxon building dating from either the 8th or 10th century AD. Also upon Chapel Hill, overlooking Heysham Sands, and just opposite the ruined chapel there are two sets of rock-hewn graves that are said to date from the 11th century AD. It is thought to be very unlikely that Ireland’s patron saint ever set foot on Heysham Head, as much as that makes for a very good story, although beneath the ruined chapel’s stonework there are the foundations of an earlier Celtic-style chapel – maybe dating back to the 6th century AD. To reach St Patrick’s Chapel: from Main Street take the rough track that heads west past St Peter’s churchyard entrance, and then slightly up hill for a while, then take the footpath that veers off the rough track for a few metres up to Chapel Hill and the ruined chapel with the curious rock-cut graves close by.

St Patrick’s Chapel, Heysham, from a different angle.

   The chapel measures 27 feet by 6 feet and is built from large, rough-hewn lumps of sandstone, with thinner rubble coursework sections between and at the top, but the curved Saxon doorway is by far the best part of the structure. According to Richard Peace (1997) the sandstone blocks that make up the chapel are: “fused together by molten shells.” However, a large part of the chapel has now gone through robbery of the stonework, or it has been used elsewhere in the vicinity, or maybe just lost to time. But beneath the ruin there are the foundations of an earlier Celtic-style chapel of the 5th or 6th century AD. It had been thought that the little building dated back to c750 AD, but in reality it probably dates from the 10th century AD, which would make it “contemporary with the earliest part of St Peter’s Church”, according to Eileen J. Dent (2003).

   The original Celtic chapel beneath the present ruin was most likely “due to the efforts of monks from Ireland, acting as missionaries to St Patrick”, says Eileen J. Dent. It’s almost certain that St Patrick of Ireland never set foot in Heysham, although traditionally he was shipwrecked off the Lancashire coast in the 5th century AD. More likely his followers came here. There are, however, a few holy wells named for him in the area. Nikolaus Pevsner (1979) says of the chapel that it is: “A plain rectangle, 27½ by 9 ft. The S doorway has an arch made of one with concentric grooves. Dating varies between the c8 and c9.”                                                                                              

   Author Eileen J. Dent says that: “In 1977-8 archaeologists found decorated plaster among the foundations of the earlier building. From discoveries, it would seem that the chapel was used only for worship and burial, and never used as a place of habitation. For example it could not have been a hermitage. There is no registration of the chapel as a chantry.

   “The chapel and the ground to the south were used as burial places. Some skeletons were found within the chapel and many more in the ground outside. The soil level is very shallow, and although the skeletons were in layers, none was buried deep.

   “G. Grainger, in an as yet unpublished paper [1977-8], says that the skeletons were generally in a poor condition, but there was probably a total of between 78 and 84 individuals, of various ages, and of both sexes. His tests showed that about one fifth of the population died before the age of 10 and that none survived beyond the age of about 45. After examination the bones were re-interred in the present churchyard.”

Rock-cut graves at Heysham, Lancashire

   Opposite St Patrick’s Chapel are six rock-hewn graves that are carved out of a large flat sandstone rock. Two of these are straight-sided and four body-shaped, each having a hole at the top, which might have been for a wooden cross. Close by there are another set of two graves but these look to be of a later, Medieval date, maybe from the 13th century? The set of six graves are thought to date from the 9th-11th centuries AD, but more likely to be of the latter century, which would make them Viking in origin. The question must be then, were the priests that served St Patrick’s chapel buried in these graves? That we don’t know but I would think they probably were. Today the rock graves are often filled with rainwater. The graves are Grade II listed and a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

   Author Eileen J. Dent says that: “The stone-cut graves were also examined in the 1977-8 dig. These are not unique. There are other rock-cut graves in the Isle of Man, and similar ones in Spain (Aragon). Archaeologists say that ‘a primary date is likely’, that is, contemporary with the first occupation of the site, but little is known about them, except that they were more likely to be reliquaries than containers for whole bodies.”

Illustration of the Hog-back tombstone in St Peter’s, Heysham.

   Below Chapel Hill stands the ancient parish church of St Peter parts of which date back to the Saxon period. Beside the pathway to the church there is the stump of an Anglo Saxon cross-shaft, which might be of the 9th century AD. It stands at just over 2½ feet high and is in the form of a house with windows and a door carved onto it – with faces and figures looking out. There is perhaps an association here with the visit of the three Marys to the sepulcher, or the raising of Lazarus, according to Nigel & Mary Kerr (1982). The upper three windows have faces looking out and a shrouded figure in the doorway below. There is also a round-headed panel (west face) with a saint holding a book, and below that and on the sides are foliage scrolls, say Nigel & Mary Kerr. Housed within the church (south aisle) is a hog-back tombstone of the 10th or 11th century AD. This used to stand out in the graveyard but was brought into the church (1961). It is richly decorated with scenes of stag-hunting from the Norse Legend of Sigurd. There is also zigzag carving, and at either end strange creatures cling to the stone, but whether they are hogs or bears is open to question. Almost certainly it was the gravestone of a wealthy Viking warrior.

Sources and related websites:-

Dent, Eileen, J., Heysham – a History, The Rector & Parochial Church Council of St Peter’s Church, Heysham, & Heysham Heritage Association, 2003.

Fields, Ken, The Mysterious North, Countryside Publications, 1987. 

Kerr, Nigel & Mary, A Guide To Anglo Saxon Sites, Paladin (Granada Publishing Limited), St Albans, Herts, 1982.

Peace, Richard, Lancashire Curiosities, The Dovecote Press Ltd., Stanbridge, Wimborne, Dorset, 1997.

Pevsner, Nikolaus, The Buildings of England – North Lancashire, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1979. 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Patrick%27s_Chapel,_Heysham

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1020535

http://www.sandhak.co.uk/html/history_of_heysham.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Peter%27s_Church,_Heysham

                                                                                © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017. 

 


1 Comment

Saxon Sundial at St Gregory’s Minster, Kirkdale, North Yorkshire

Anglo-Saxon Sundial at St Gregory’s Church, Kirkdale, north Yorks.

   OS Grid Reference: SE 67688 85776. Above the inner south door of the the ancient minster-church at Kirkdale near Kirkbymoorside, north Yorkshire, there is an Anglo-Saxon sundial of unique standing that is most beautifully carved and inscribed. It was reputedly carved in 1060 AD, just before the Norman Conquest of Britain. Also in the church which is dedicated to St Gregory are two carved Saxon grave-slabs and a number of fragments of Anglo Saxon cross-heads, and other antiquities most of which probably date from the late medieval period. The church of St Gregory is built on the site of an Anglo-Saxon church and monastery that was perhaps founded by St Cedd, or St Aiden, sometime after 650 AD. Though St Cedd was thought to have founded Lastingham church (659). This secluded church is 1½ miles to the west of Kirbymoorside village and just north of the A170 Helmsley to Kirkdale road. It can be reached on narrow country lanes – one of which is called Back Lane – the church being located at the northern end of ‘this’ country lane and in the opposite field above. 

   The church guide book compiled by Mr Arthur Penn in 1970 is very helpful here. It says  that: “The dial seems to be in its original position, and consists of a stone slab, seven feet long, divided into three portions. The centre one is the dial, while the outer ones contain an inscription recording the rebuilding of the church, and giving a fairly exact date.

   “The dial itself is divided into eight, which accords with the octaval system of time division, common among the Angles. The double cross on the first line denotes ‘daegmael’ or ‘day-time,’ and may be the time of the first service. The inscription above reads:- ‘This is day’s sun marker at every time.’

Kirkdale Sundial by:- Charles J. Wall (1912). Wikipedia.

   “The outer panels are curious in that the lettering on the first is even and well-spaced, while that on the third is compressed and yet it still was not able to hold the whole inscription, which was continued at the foot of the second panel. Clearly the work was never planned out. The inscription in modern language reads:- Orm Gamal’s son bought S. Gregory’s Minster when it was all broken down and fallen and he let it be made anew from the ground to Christ and to S. Gregory in the days of Edward the King and of Tosti the Earl. And Haward me wrought and Brand Priests. 

   “The inscription also tells us that  the work was carried out in the days of King Edward (the Confessor) and of Earl Tosti. Tosti or Tostig, who became  Earl of Northumberland in 1055, was banished for a variety of crimes, including the murder of Orm’s father, Gamal, in 1065, but returned with Harold Hardrada, King of Norway, in the following year. The Norwegian army fought against Tostig’s brother, Harold  Godwinson, King of England, at Stamford Bridge, and there both Tostig and his Norwegian ally were killed. After the battle Harold Godwinson carried out his forced march to Hastings, where he was killed in battle by the Norman army of William the Conqueror. The sundial thus dates the building between 1055 and 1065. Its inscription in Northumbrian English has traces of runic characters, but is not difficult to decipher.”

Kirkdale Saxon Sundial (a close-up of the dial).

   Nigel & Mary Kerr (1982) tell us more about the hours of the day shown on the sundial. They say that: “The lines with cross bars correspond with 6 a.m., noon , 3 pm., and 6 p.m., the uncrossed lines divide each tide into one-and-a-half-hour periods. The line with a cross on it on the left-hand side of the dial  denotes 7.30 a.m., which marked the beginning of ‘day time'”. They also say with regard to the panels at either side of the dial: “that Orm rebuilt the church in the reign of Edward the Confessor, and the central inscription reads, in translation: ‘This is the day’s sun-marking at every hour. And Hawaro made me, and Brand, priest [?].'” 

   St Gregory’s minster-church houses a number of antiquities from the Anglo Saxon period. There are two sculptured coffin lids in the north aisle one of which is called ‘The Ethelwald Stone’ which dates from the 10th century and recalls Aethelwald, King of Deira, while another called ‘The Cedd Stone’ has interlacing and is thought to date from the 10th century. This also has carvings on its side including V-shaped tassels with little ball-ends. This may be a representation of a pall, which was a cloth draped over a coffin. If it was, then the work was doubtless very fine, providing another outlet for the needleworking skills of Anglo-Saxon ladies, say Nigel & Mary Kerr (1982). In the north aisle there are a number of fragments of cross-heads from the 11th century  – one of which has been fashioned from pock-marks rather than the usual design of one continuous line. Also in the north aisle is ‘The Archer’s Stone’, while at the eastern end of the aisle a 14th century fragment with the Virgin and Child carved upon it. The octagonal font is Transitional and 13th century in date.

   Ella Pontefract, writing in 1937, says of the minster that:- “Kirkdale is a satisfying church in a most beautiful situation, and it should not be missed.” Malcolm Boyes & Hazel Chester (1996) also reflect on the beauty of the place and its location in the peaceful valley beside Hodge Beck.

 Sources of information and related websites:-

Boyes, Malcolm & Chester, Hazel, Discovering The North York Moors, Smith Settle Ltd., Otley, West Yorkshire, 1996.

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy, County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992.

Kerr, Nigel & Mary,  A Guide to Anglo Saxon Sites, Paladin (Granada Publishing Limited), London, 1982.

Penn, Arthur (Compiler), St Gregory’s Minster Kirkdale, Parochial Church Council, 1970.

Pontefract, Ella, The Charm of Yorkshire Churches, The Yorkshire Weekly Post, Leeds, 1936-7.

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Gregory%27s_Minster,_Kirkdale

http://greatenglishchurches.co.uk/html/kirkdale.html

http://www.ling.upenn.edu/~kroch/scand/kirkdale.html

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=13357

                                                                                       © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.