The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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. 

 


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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.


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Caerwent Roman Town, Monmouthshire, South Wales, Part 2.

Caerwent Roman Town Walls, South Wales,

Caerwent Roman Town Walls, South Wales.

OS Grid Reference: ST 4692 9062. The Roman town of Venta Silurium, founded by the Romans in 75 AD, is now the modern village of Caerwent in Monmouthshire, and is located just to the south of the A48 road and just west of the M48. It is 5 miles west of Chepstow and 11 miles east of Newport. The modern village is built around the Roman ruins, which are some of the best preserved in Europe. Large sections of the Roman town walls are still in place, according to Wikipedia. The River Severn is a couple of miles to the south. In the village is the medieval church of Saints Stephen and Tathan, an ancient foundation which may date back to the early 6th century AD? Housed in the church porch are two Roman inscribed stones. The Roman legionary fortress of Caerleon is 8 miles to the west.

Continued from part 1:-

Typical Roman shop (illustration).

A typical Roman shop (illustration).

Pound Lane Shops And Houses. Shops:- The remains of these buildings were excavated in 1947-8, part of insulae VII. As is typical of these buildings the commercial part of the property occupies the front and the residential the back. Several phases of construction and re-development are also noticeable. Two narrow-strip buildings occupied the plot in the mid-2nd century separated by a passage. Each had a large work space/shop at the front and 4 or 5 residential rooms at the back. The buildings were single storey. It is uncertain but possible that the upper parts were of timber. The floors of the living areas were of concrete and the roofs were tiled while the walls were plastered and painted. The shop to the west was probably a blacksmith, the one to the east is unknown. At the beginning of the 3rd century both buildings were joined as one with some alterations. Again, it appears to be the blacksmith who had prospered. Towards the middle of the 4th century further alterations show that the blacksmith family who lived here became even more prosperous. The rooms were enlarged, two had mosaic floors, even the roof tiles were re-placed by stone slabs, and columns added a decorative feel to the front of the building, with a courtyard replacing the front of what had been the second shop. This once again illustrates that by the mid 4th century Britain was still a prosperous place to live. The building took on the feel of a very smart townhouse. The house was still occupied by the beginning of the 5th century, but evidence of industrial activity in some of the rooms suggests that its status had declined dramatically in-line with the waning of Roman influence and fortunes.

The Courtyard House: The remains of this building lie to the rear of the shops occupying the northwest corner of insulae VII. Two wings of the house have been excavated. The plan is of standard courtyard design and dating from the fist half of the 4th Century AD. Before this date the area appears to have been just an open space. The West Wing fronts onto a side street today known as Pound Lane. A Total of 13 rooms of varying size with only the lowest courses and foundations surviving are visible. The south wing had 5 rooms as did the west wing but all smaller than the south wing so perhaps they were bedrooms. Most were found to have floors of yellow concrete but one had a mosaic laid on stone-slabs beneath which was found a hypocaust system. The Romans not only invented concrete but also central heating. During the excavation traces of painted wall-plaster were found. It is quite possible that the house had an upper storey, as there was some evidence of a staircase. In keeping with its 4th century origins the house was roofed with stone-slabs. Part of the courtyard surrounding the house was paved and an enclosure to the north suggests a small garden.

Time Team visited in 2008 – their remit to explore the areas that had not been investigated. Mick Aston had hoped to look for medieval remains as he did not like the Roman’s, but was told by the dig’s lead archaeologist that they did not have time. They did ‘goephys’ and dug trenches in Insulae XIV opposite the Romano-Celtic Temple where they found more shops and, Insulae 1, where they found a large town-house with private bathing facilities similar to others found in the suburbs of the town. The best find had to be the penknife handle with two gladiators – someone’s once prize possession and one of only two found in the UK.

Later History: After the Roman occupation ended Caerwent became the administrative centre for the Kingdom of Gwent. The name Caerwent translates from the Welsh as ‘Fort of Gwent’. Post-Roman metalwork (broaches and fastening pins have been found, dating to between the 4th-7th centuries AD). The town is mentioned in the ‘Roman Cosmology’, a treatise written in the 7th century but based on an earlier account. It is then mentioned in the Life of Tatheus written in the first half of the 12th century. The saint came from Ireland and after performing a number of miracles was given the site of the Roman Town by the local king, Caradoc, to set up a monastic settlement. In 1910 a trench was dug just outside the East Gate where 30 skeletons were found within a cist of stone slabs of post roman date across the wall of a Roman building. A number of people thought the bones included those of St Tatheus. And in 1912, with due ceremony, the bones were interred in a coffin in the south aisle of St Stephen’s church. In favour of the reburial was a later discovery that a gift of 3 bones of St Tatheus had been made to Tewkesbury abbey in 1235 and that the note records that: St Tatheus is ‘buried at Caerwent’. Against is the fact that several other cist graves dating from the 4th-9th centuries AD have been found at Caerwent. All are of Christian origin. V.E Nash Williams’ interpretation of a structure built later over the west end of the Public Baths as an early Christian Church, has also now been disproved.

There was certainly some occupation in the Norman Period as a motte can be seen in the southeast corner of the site. The parish church of Sts Stephen & Tathan is also worth a visit for the Roman artefacts in the porch. St Tathan (Tatheus) was the son of the Irish king, Tathalius. He left his father’s court to become a Christian missionary and, after receiving ‘a heavenly vision’, sailed up the Severn estuary, landing in south Wales (maybe at Portskewett) in the late 5th century. He is said to have founded a monastery at Llandathan (St Athan) in south Glamorgan – either soon after his arrival in south Wales or at a later date?

Then sometime after 500 AD Tathan founded a monastic school at Caerwent when the local king, Caradog, or maybe his son, Ynyr, gave him a ‘parcel of land’ there. St Cadoc is thought to have studied for the monastic life at this monastery. St Tathan was not made bishop of Caerwent as some historians have suggested, but he was apparently a renowned miracle-worker. The date of his death is uncertain but it was perhaps sometime after 524 AD and maybe as late as 560? His feast-day is 26th December, a day which coincides with that of St Stephen the proto-martyr. The supposed relics of Tathan lie beneath a large stone beneath the floor of the south aisle of the church. However, another legend claims that he was the son of Amwn Ddu and Anna of Glamorgan, which would make him a close relative of St Tewdric of Mathern. This alternative legend says that St Tathan’s relics were buried at Llandathan (St Athan) in the Vale of Glamorgan.

Roman Inscribed Stone. Drawing by R. G. C., (1924)

Roman Inscribed Stone. Drawing by R. G. Collingwood (1924)

The Paulinus Stone or The Civitas Silurum Stone: The large block of bath-stone is a statue base with a dedication to: Tiberius Claudius Paulinus, a commandant of the second Augustan legion about 214-17 AD. After this he held office in two Gallic provinces. In 220 he returned as Governor of Brittania Inferior (Britain had been divided into two provinces: inferior and superior at the beginning of the 3rd century by the Emperor Septimus Severus). As the inscription does not include this latter information the stone, which is a statue base (pedestal), probably predates this. Of singular importance, however, is the reference to the local civil administration: it tells us that the Silures were administered by a council. The dedication reads:-

To (Tiberius Claudius) Paulinus (once) commander of the second Augustan legion (next) proconsul of the province Gallia Narbonensis (now) Imperial Governor province of Lugdunensis by decree of the council of the community of the state of the Silures.                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The stone was found in 1903 having been re-used as part of a post-Roman construction of blocks in the centre of the village on which the war memorial now stands. It can now be seen just inside the church porch.

Roman altar stone.

Altar Stone.

A second Roman antiquity which also stands in the church porch is a stone made of yellow sandstone. This is an altar-stone dedicated to the god Mars (Ocelus). The inscription reads:-

To the God — Mars (Ocelus) — Aelius Augustinus — optio (a junior officer) — Paid his vow willingly and duly.

 

Caerwent’s earliest mention post-Rome and Medieval is in the works of John Leland (1540) by which time most of the internal buildings had been robbed out to create cottages and the church. In the late 18th and early 19th century the first tourists arrived leaving their impressions—the worst aspect of which, from our point of view, is that what was left of the limestone was being burned for lime!

Octavious Morgan was the first to conduct an archaeological dig in 1855 revealing a small bath-house together with another building in insulae XX. The extant ground plan of the town emerged during further excavations between 1899 and 1913 by the Clifton Antiquarian Club, funded by Lord Tredegar. Finds from this dig, which exposed 2/3% of the town, are now in the Newport Museum. Further digs in 1923 revealed the Public Bath House; in 1925 the walls on the SE side were excavated, while in 1946-7 the Pound Lane Shops and courtyard house; in 1973 the town cemetery outside the East Gate; in 1981 a large courtyard house in the NW corner, and then in 1992 the Forum Basilica was excavated.

Newport Museum and Art Gallery: The museum in John Frost Square is open Tuesday to Friday 9.30am to 5 pm, and Saturday 9.30 to 4pm. Entry is free. The museum houses many of the artefacts found at Caerwent over the years: a 2nd century broach in the form of a hare, a fragment of a painted wall depicting a girl’s face found in 1901, a statue of the mother goddess found near the temple precinct in 1908, a number of mosaic floors including the one found in the mansion, roof finials in the form of a lantern, a pine cone, locks and keys, a pewter bowl scratched with the Christian Chi Ro monogram, pots, coins and agricultural equipment. Other artefacts are housed in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.

Sources and other related websites:-

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

BBC Publication, Roman Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1966.

Brewer, Richard J., Caerwent Roman Town, Cadw Welsh Historic Monuments, 1993.

Evans, J. Barrie, The Parish Church Of St. Stephen & St. Tathan Caerwent – A Short Guide.

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

Wilson, J. A., A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain, 4th Edition, Constable, 2002.

https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/inscriptions/311

https://romaninscriptionsofbritain.org/about/terms-of-use

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Caerwenthttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venta_Silurum

http://maryinmonmouth.blogspot.co.uk/2008/10/in-steps-oif-st-tatheus-of-caerwent.html

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/caerwent-roman-town/?lang=enhttps://museum.wales/1493/

https://museum.wales/1493/

                                                      © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.

 

 


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Caerwent Roman Town, Monmouthshire, South Wales, Part 1.

Caerwent Roman Town Walls, South Wales,

Caerwent Roman Town Walls, South Wales,

OS Grid Reference: ST 4692 9062. The Roman town of Venta Silurium, founded by the Romans in 75 AD, is now the modern village of Caerwent in Monmouthshire, and is located just to the south of the A48 road and just west of the M48. It is 5 miles west of Chepstow and 11 miles east of Newport. The modern village is built around the Roman ruins, which are some of the best preserved in Europe. Large sections of the Roman town walls are still in place, according to Wikipedia. The River Severn is a couple of miles to the south. In the village is the medieval church of Saints Stephen and Tathan, an ancient foundation which may date back to the early 6th century AD? Housed in the church porch are two Roman inscribed stones. The Roman legionary fortress of Caerleon is 8 miles to the west.

Under the Romans Caerwent was known as Venta Silurium (Silurum) or in translation ‘market of the Silures’. The Silures had been an Iron Age tribe occupying south-east Wales and had presented an irritation to the conquest for the Romans. In the early days of the invasion they had sheltered the Romans’ public-enemy-number-one, Caratacus, until he fled to what he thought was the safety of Cartimandua’s Brigantines. She handed him over to the Romans, a good will gesture the Romans would not forget. Gradually following the establish-ment of the legionary Fortress at Caerleon around AD 74 and a series of auxiliary forts across the south – the Silures were subdued. In accordance with Roman Policy of Pax Romana once subdued the Silures were encouraged to settle, although for a time they remained under military rule. The cost of military rule was enormous so it would not have been long before a civil administration would have been established. The administrative capital Venta Silurium was sited astride the mainroad from Gloucester to Caerleon. The town sits on a slight rise in the middle of a valley surrounded by good agricultural land in an area that had been occupied by the Romans since AD 50.

Caerwent Roman Town Walls (Illustration).

Caerwent Roman Town Walls (Illustration).

The Extant Remains:  The total circuit of the wall exceeds 1 mile en-closing an area of 4 acres divided into 20 plots (insulae). The walls are the best preserved of any Roman town in Britain. The internal and external roads would have been of rammed gravel with cambered sides to allow rainwater to run off; and the local civitas (administration) was responsible for repair and resurfacing. The early settlement appears to have had a sprawl of properties along the main road. But the layout we see today is later, possibly even as late as the early third century, which might account for certain oddities – the walls are not square – the insular somewhat jumbled. The actual population was probably about 3800 individuals at its height. Public buildings are of the standard Roman variety.  A Forum Basilica complex occupied the whole insulae VIII; the site of several temple complexes are known and one is visible to the east of the Forum Basilica, another has been excavated to the south in insulae XII, and a third is possible outside the east gate. Whilst the largest houses show evidence of private baths. Public baths have been excavated in insulae XIII.  A mansio which was a kind of inn frequen-ted by members of the Postal Service and other officials has been located in insulae XVIII to the left of the south gate. This was a courtyard building with a forecourt where the weary traveler would have dismounted. Several rooms had hypocausts, at least one having a mosaic floor. A latrine lay in a corner of the courtyard surrounded on three sides by a sewer, suggesting the building was not just a domestic building.

Caerwent Roman Town Wall (photo: Mortimer-Cat - Wikipedia).

Caerwent Roman Town Wall by MortimerCat – Wikipedia).

The Town Walls:  The town had 4 gates. The main ones were the West and East gates opening onto the town’s main thoroughfare. The West Gate originally had a double arched carriageway flanked on either side by a square tower projecting out in front of the wall. Little now survives except part of the south tower and its masonry floor. The west wall, however, built of limestone running from the west gate to the south-west corner survives in places to a remarkable 5 metres (17 feet) and is backed by an earthen bank. From these remains the wall is believed to have been about 7.5 metres in height (25 feet) with a walkway and parapet – none of which survives anywhere along the wall. The wall would also have been originally vertical on both sides. But the method of construction can be determined from this section of the wall. Rows of limestone were laid front and back and the core then filled in with more pieces of limestone and mortar leaving a distinctive herringbone pattern. The wall was clearly built in sections and by different gangs.

Unlike the West Wall the South Wall is not completely straight but bows outwards in its middle section. It also stands to a magnificent 5m (17 feet) in parts. Also, unlike the West Wall the remains of six hollow 5-sided towers (bastions) project from the walls but not bonded to the wall – meaning they are later additions probably 4th century. A new outer ditch had to be made to allow for the towers. The fourth tower from the west is the best-persevered standing to a height of 4m (13ft). Internal joist holes in this tower suggest there were originally two wooded floors beside the ground floor with a top platform also of wood. The South Gate consisted of a single arched carriageway. The piers survive and may originally have supported an overhead chamber. Both sides of the passage were originally recessed allowing the heavy doors to swing back. The carriageway was made up of stones and iron clinker with a slab-lined culvert. At a later date the carriageway was blocked.

The East Wall is also bowed. As with the West Wall there are no external towers. Sadly all that remains of the East Gate, which was constructed the same as the West Gate is the inner angle of the south tower. The East Wall is some 30m shorter than the west wall so avoiding a marshy area and taking advantage of higher ground.

The North Wall is the least well preserved of the four walls. Surviving to just 1.8m (6 feet) in height in parts but it is known that, like the South Wall, it had 5 towers of which little sur-vives. Like the South Gate the North Gate is not centrally placed though the plan is similar with a single carriageway. Sockets for the gates can still be seen. Again and probably in the late Roman Period the North Gate was blocked off – being filled in with rubble from other demolished buildings. The North West Tower of the gate survives to a height if 2.4 metres (8 feet).

Roman Temple at Caerwent by andy dolman (Geograph)

Roman Temple at Caerwent by andy dolman (Geograph)

The Romano-Celtic Temple: The remains of the temple lie to the east of the forum. Excavations were begun in 1908 and concluded between 1984 and 1991. No trace of the deity worshiped here was found. The construction was of traditional Romano-Celtic design. The extant remains show a square inner shrine (cella) with an unusual back projection surrounded by another separate room known as the ambulatory. This would have contained a statue of the deity. The entrance porch would originally have had steps, whilst the small projections at the entrance are probably the bases for pilasters (rectangular columns). The temple stands in its own courtyard surrounded by a boarder wall on 3 sides and an entrance hallway with a central doorway and a tessellated floor on the fourth side facing the main street. Few people actually entered the cella; most of the congregation would have been expected to gather in the courtyard between the hallway and the temple proper.

The Forum Basilica: A central feature of all main roman towns wherever you went in the Empire was the Forum Basilica essentially an administrative assembly hall and market place. The Caerwent example occupies the whole of insulae VIII. Building began in the early second century probably under the auspices of the 2nd Augustan Legion based at Caerleon, as the design is similar to that of the headquarters building there. It was largely rebuilt in the third century probably after structural problems were identified. It continued in use as a forum basilica until after 340 AD when it seems to have been converted into industrial units and was demolished at the end of the 4th Century. It was first excavated in 1907 and again between 1987-1992. The Basilica and the northern end of the forum remain uncovered for public view.

The basilica was 56m (182ft) by 80m (260ft) and would have towered over surrounding buildings but is small by other examples in Roman Britain. Access to the basilica was by steps some of which have survived. There was also access from the side streets. In plan the basilica comprises a great hall, and a rear range of rooms and chambers. On excavation the parts of the walls were found to have survived to 1.8m (6 ft) having been incorporated into early 19th Century farm buildings. The external walls were massive requiring foundations up to 1.8m (6ft) with Corinthian columns rising to a height of about 9.2m (30ft) rendered and painted off-white. It is believed the basilica was in excess of 20m (65ft) in height. The roof initially of tile was partly replaced by sandstone slabs at the end of the third century. The hall would have been used for public meetings and ceremonies. The chambers at each end would have served as tribunals for the local magistrates to hear cases. The rear ranges of rooms were offices for local administrators and their records, while the central room would have held a statue of the reigning Emperor, and the largest room known as the curia would have acted as a council chamber. The Forum is surrounded on 3 sides by a range of rooms entered on the fourth side from the main street through an archway. These rooms would have provided space for shops, taverns and offices, with a larger open front that would have been closed with wooden shutters. A second storey above would have provided yet more rooms.

To be continued………

Sources and related websites:-

BBC Publication, Roman Britain, The British Broadcasting Corporation, London, 1966.

Brewer, Richard J., Caerwent Roman Town, Cadw Welsh Historic Monuments, 1993.

Evans, J. Barrie, The Parish Church Of St. Stephen & St. Tathan Caerwent – A Short Guide.

Wilson, J. A., A Guide to the Roman Remains in Britain, 4th Edition, Constable, 2002.  Constable,

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

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

Photo from Wikipedia website – Click below for further details:   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Venta_Silurum#/media/File:CaerwentWall.jpg

http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/486475

http://cadw.gov.wales/daysout/caerwent-roman-town/?lang=en

https://museum.wales/1493/

                                                     © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


St Fillan’s Holy Well And Chapel, Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland

St Fillan's Holy Well at Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

St Fillan’s Holy Well at Kilallan, Renfrewshire, Scotland.

   OS Grid Reference: NS 38401 6899. The healing well of St Fillan lies at the edge of a wooded area 140 metres to the north-east of the ruined and roofless chapel, also named for the saint, at the east-side of Kilallan Farm, near the village of Kilmacolm in the parish of Houston, Renfrewshire. And 55 metres to the south of the holy well, beside Corsliehill Road, is the famous St Fillan’s Seat, a large rock shaped as such. St Fillan or Foelan was an 8th century saint from Munster in Ireland. The little hamlet of Kilallan (meaning the cell of Fillan) with its old ruined church of St Fillan and graveyard was a holy and sacred site and also a place of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages – as was the nearby holy well and rock-seat. The church was last used for services in the latter part of the 18th century. Although the church is without its roof it does still retain some interesting medieval features, and there used to be a 10th century stone here. The holy well, ruined chapel and stone seat lie just off Corsliehill Road in the vicinity of Kilallan Farm, some 2 miles to the south-east of Kilmacolm, near Houston.

   The holy well of St Fillan was almost certainly a pre-Christian spring that was used by the saint himself in the 8th century for baptismal purposes. It’s water flowed from beneath a rock in the ground and into a round-shaped brick and stone basin. Long ago the holy water apparently miraculously cured children of rickets when they were bathed there; pieces of cloth and rags being hung on trees beside the well as votive offerings, although this ceased at the end of the 17th century when the local priest filled the well with stones. The water was also used for baptisms in the nearby church of St Fillan, which now stands roofless beside Kilallan farm. The well gets a brief mention in Janet & Colin Bord’s work ‘Sacred Waters’.

   St Fillan’s Old Church at the east-side of Kilallan (Kilellan) Farm (NS 38268 68934) is now roofless but the walls you see here are still very sturdy and solid-looking. This building stands on the site of an older, medieval church, but there are still parts of this “older” building in the fabric of the walls. The doorway is said to date from 1635. In the churchyard wall there is a ancient baptismal font, or stoup, from the older church; and there used to be a 10th century stone standing inside the present edifice, but this seems to have been removed for safety reasons. In 1772 St Fillan’s was finally abandoned to the elemants. The British Listed Buildings site says of this: “Church ruin; roofless; walls and major part of gables remain; dated lintel “1635”. Later E gable, thick crowstepped W gable, with bipartite window at clerestory level. N wall with tomb of Fleming of Barochan family. Doorways in N and S walls. Moulded cornice to all but E. 3 doors to S blocked up. Stone stoup built into wall. Early gravestones in kirkyard.” Historic Scotland Building ID is:- no 12897. (See the link below*).

St Fillan's Seat beside Corsliehill Road, Kilallan, Renfrewshire

St Fillan’s Seat beside Corsliehill Road, Kilallan, Renfrewshire

   A little further to the south-east of the ruined chapel, beside the road and opposite the farm building, is a large flat rock of ancient origins that is locally called St Fillan’s Seat or Chair at (NS 38419 68937). Legend records that the holy man sat here and baptized the local children. We don’t, however, know a great deal about the life of the saint other than he was born in (c703) and was a monk at Cluain Moescna, Co. Westmeath, but in his youth (c717 AD) sailed from Ireland to Scotland and was accompanied by his mother, St Kentigerna, and his uncle, St Comgan. We know that Fillan buried his uncle on the Island of Iona. His father was said to have been Feriach. There are though another 14 saints called Fillan, Foelan and Faelan. At least two of these came to Scotland between the 6th and 8th century AD. This has undoubtedly led to confusion, but St Fillan of Kilallan was abbot of Glendochart, Perthshire, and died in 776 AD. His feastday is generally 9th January but sometimes 19th Jan, whereas the other St Fillan was a disciple of St Columba – probably at Pittenweem – in Fife. He died in 593 AD  and is honoured on either 20th or 25th June.

   The author Donald Attwater in his work ‘A Dictionary Of Saints’, adds more to the information but, perhaps, adds to that confusion regarding the 8th century St Fillan. He says that: “Fillan was abbot of a monastery near St Andrews; was a solitary in Perthshire, and was buried in Strathfillan, also in Perthshire.”

Sources and other related websites:-

Attwater, Donald, A Dictionary Of Saints, Burns & Oates, London, 1958.

Bord, Janet & Colin, Sacred Waters, Paladin, London, 1986.

MacKillop, James, Dictionary Of Celtic Mythology, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1998.

The AA, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.

http://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/sc-12897-killellan-kirk-and-churchyard-houston#.WE3p5C975jo

https://canmore.org.uk/site/42250/kilallan-st-fillans-church-and-churchyard

https://canmore.org.uk/site/42246/kilallan-st-fillans-well

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

http://houstonvillage.co.uk/history/

http://www.guard-archaeology.co.uk/news13/kilallanNews.html

                                                                                       © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2016.

 


The Wirksworth Stone, St Mary’s Church, Wirksworth, Derbyshire

The Wirksworth Stone, Derbyshire (Drawing by J. Romilly Allen, c 1889).

The Wirksworth Stone, Derbyshire (Drawing by J. Romilly Allen, c 1889).

   OS grid reference: SK 2874 5394. Near to the centre of the town of Wirksworth, Derbyshire, along St Mary’s Gate stands the ancient parish church of St Mary the Virgin, and housed within is the Anglo-Saxon ‘Wirksworth Stone’, a richly carved sculptured stone with biblical scenes and figures, which is said to date from the 7th-9th century AD; and there is also a stone with a ‘rare’ example of an Anglo-Saxon lead-miner carved onto it, dating from the 8th century? The ancient parish church of St Mary, dating largerly from the 13-14th centuries, is located some 25 metres  south of the B5035 (Wirksworth Moor road) on St Mary’s Gate, close to the centre of the town. The villages of Cromford and Bonsall lie a couple of miles to the north on the B5036 road.

   The Wirksworth Stone is built into the north wall of the nave and is oblong-shaped and chunky; it measures 5 feet x 3 feet but is probably not as long as it originally was (as can be seen at the western edge) – due to damage over the centuries. This richly sculptured stone-slab, which is in fact a coffin lid [from a sarcophagus], is adorned with scenes and figures from the Bible, most of which depict the ‘Life of Christ’. There are numerous angels, apostles, disciples and members of the holy family. Yet these figures look ‘almost’ as if they had been carved yesterday! They were probably carved in 800 AD. The stone was discovered lying upside-down beneath the chancel floor, quite close to the altar, in 1820. The first church on this site was apparently founded by the Northumbrian monk and missionary, St Betti, in c 653 AD. So, could the sculptured stone be from his tomb?

   In Simon Jenkins great tome ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’ we are ‘enthusiastically’ informed about the contents of St Mary’s church: “The contents of Wirksworth include one of the finest Saxon coffin lids extant…..its relief carving portraying eight scenes from the life of Christ. We can discern Christ washing the disciples’ feet, the Entombment and, on the lower tier, the Ascension. This lid is among the most evocative images of Dark Ages art. Its inspiration is similar to the ‘Byzantine’ carvings at Breedon (Leics) to the south. The figures could hardly be more primitive, moor aloof from the Saxon tradition, yet they radiate life.”

   The author Derek Bryce in his antiquarian book ‘Symbolism of the Celtic Cross’ says that: “In Britain there is a unique instance of the Lamb of God on a cross, on a sculptured slab in Wirksworth Church, Derbyshire.” The said ‘Lamb of God’ is depicted on a rather thick cross on the top tier of the slab – with three creatures and a human figure surrounding it.

Carving of lead miner, St Mary's, Wirksworth, Derbys.

Carving of lead miner, St Mary’s, Wirksworth, Derbys.

   Also inside St Mary’s, in the wall of the south transept, is a fragment of stone from maybe the 8th century AD, which has a carving of a lead-miner upon it. This little figure is locally called T’owd Man of Bonsall or just ‘Owd Man’ and is thought to have come from Bonsall church near Cromford in 1876 – the two Derbyshire villages lie a few miles north of Wirksworth. The area around here has always been known for its lead mines, indeed the Romans are ‘said’ to have mined the stuff. In the early 19th century lead had then become such a sellable commodity that a “moot” hall was established in Wirksworth.

   The author Frank Rodgers in his very interesting book ‘Curiosities of Derbyshire And The Peak District’ says of the ancient stones inside St Mary’s: “………other fragments of ancient carving are built into the walls, one in the south transept depicting a lead miner with his tools, a reminder that not far from the north gate of the churchyard is the Moot Hall in Chapel Lane.”

Sources:-

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

http://www.wirksworth.org.uk/x559.htm

Jenkins, Simon., England’s Thousand Best Churches, Penguin Books Ltd., London, 2000.

Rodgers, Frank., Curiosities of Derbyshire And The Peak District, Derbyshire Countryside Ltd., Derby, 2000. 

Romilly Allen J., Christian Symbolism in Great Britain and Ireland before the 13th Century, 1889.

                             


Kilmalkedar Monastic Site, Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, Southern Ireland

Kilmalkedar Church, Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilmalkedar Church, Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Irish grid reference: Q 4030 0620. Just off the R559 Cois Farraige (or the Carrig) road to the east of Murreagh on the Dingle Peninsula, Co Kerry, stands the 7th century Kilmalkedar Monastic Site, also known as Cill Malcheadair. Here we find a small 12th century roofless Romanesque church, a rare Dark Age sundial, an Ogham and Latin inscribed stone and some cross-inscribed slabs, one of which is called ‘the Alphabet Stone’ and, there are some pre-Christian holed ‘balaun’ stones, holy wells and early medieval grave-markers – in what is a ‘very’ beautiful and holy setting in the far south-west of County Kerry, some 5 miles north-west of Dingle on the R559 road.

The first church and a monastery, were established here at Kilmalkedar in c 600 AD by St Maolcethair (Maolcedar), the son of an Irish king (of Ulster). A building called ‘St Brendan’s House’, actually an oratory, can also be found here and, close by the pilgrims’ road (Cosan na Naomh) leads on to Mount Brandon from where St Brendan departed for foreign lands in the mid 6th century. About 1 mile to the south-west of Kilmalkedar is the famous boat-shaped building known as ‘the Gallarus Oratory’, which dates maybe from the 8th century. The Celtic monastery of Kilmalkedar is known from history to have been a renowned school of learning during the early medieval period.

The ancient roofless Romanesque chapel dates from the mid-12th century, though there was obviously an earlier religious building on this site, maybe dating back to the Dark Ages when both St Brendan and, later St Maolcethair were in residence here. There are a number of very beautiful architectural features in the church. It consists of a chancel and nave – the chancel measures roughly 6 metres by 5 metres – while the nave is roughly 8 metres by 9 metres. The church is said to resemble the more famous Cormac’s Chapel at Cashel, County Tipperary.

In the excellent article ‘Marking The Passage Of Time’ by Patrick O’Sullivan for the Ireland’s Own magazine we are informed that the church was: “built in the Romanesque style of the twelfth century, typical features being the round headed doorway and the high pitched gables”. But there are a number of other features too including the barrel-vaulting and a lower section of the corbelled stone roof, and some carved window surrounds have survived. The chancel dates from 1200; and the west doorway has a ‘tympanum’ with carved stone head. O’Sullivan in his article goes on to say: “The original roof of the church has long since given way but the East Window, known locally as Cno na Snaithaide, the eye of the needle, still remains. It has long been the tradition for pilgrims to pass through the window nine times, especially at Eastertime, when it was believed that doing so would grant them the promise of eternal life”.

Standing in the chancel is the famous ‘Alphabet Stone’, dating probably from the 6th century AD, which is 4 feet high, but is broken at the top. On its west face the Latin alphabet and an earlier inscription DNI which is probably ‘domini’. The north face has a thin, damaged cross while the south face has an equally thin Latin cross with scrolled ends. And outside in the graveyard a 6 foot high slender Ogham stone with a little round hole at the top. The Latin inscription on this is: ANM MAILE INBIR MACI BROCANN which is translated as: ‘In the name of Mael Unbir, son of Brocan’, and on the opposite side (along the edge) is the Ogham notch inscription reading the same. This stone is thought to date from the 5th or 6th century AD.

Kilmalkedar Sundial Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kilmalkedar Sundial Co Kerry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Also in the churchyard is a 4 foot high rectangular shaped stone with sundial markings beautifully carved onto it. O’Sullivan says of this: “The beautiful sundial is marked with segments which correspond to the divisions of the monastic day”. He goes on to say: “The northwest face meanwhile is decorated with a cross of arcs, the later now thought to be a symbol of pilgrimage, as it appears on many stones associated with early pilgrimage routes”. And further he says: “While the lines on the Kilmalkedar sundial end in half moons, or semi circles, other examples have lines that end in three pronged forks. There are two decorative fret motifs at the top of the shaft of the Kilmalkedar sundial, everything about it evocative of an age when the pilgrims made their way to the holy mountain. It is the easiest thing in the world to picture some of them stopping by the sundial, telling the time of day from the way in which its face was shadowed by the sun”, he says.

There are a number of interesting early Medieval grave-markers set among the more modern gravestones, these may indicate where monks from the monastery were buried between the 8th-12th century. Also, there are two holy wells – one for St Maolcedir, founder of the monastery here, and the other belongs to St Brendan whose ruined, roofless oratory (St Brendan’s House) stands 50 metres to the north. St Brendan’s holy well is located at the south-east side of his two-roomed oratory.

Also in the churchyard, a hefty and tall slab-cross with a thin (unfinished) cross carved onto it, and a number of early medieval grave-markers in the form of crosses, including a small T-shaped tau cross. These probably mark the graves of the monks who lived at the monastery between the 8th-12th centuries AD.

Some 50 metres to the north, near St Brendans House, there are two pre-Christian balaun stones with several depressions or bowl-like holes in them – though what these were originally used for is uncertain, maybe milk, or some other substance was placed in the holes as a kind of fertility aid, or for healing purposes? During the early Christian period these holes may have been used by missionaries for holy water and, subsequently baptism of the local people. Close by is the pilgrims road (Saint’s Road) which leads from Kilmalkedar to Brandon Mountain from where legend says St Brendan the Navigator sailed across the Atlantic Ocean on his long journey to other lands back in the mid-6th century AD, according to Katharine Scherman in her delightful book ‘The Flowering of Ireland’.

Sources:

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin Books, London, 1974.

http://www.irelandtravelkit.com/irish-romanesque-church-kilmalkedar-county-Kerry/

http://irishantiquities.bravehost.com/kerry/kilmalkedar/kilmalkedar.html

http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kilmalkedar

O’Sullivan, Patrick., ‘Marking The Passage Of Time’, Ireland’s Own, (Various Dates), Wexford, Ireland.

Scherman, Katharine., The Flowering of Ireland, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.