The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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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.

 


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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.


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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. 

 


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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.