The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sources:

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

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

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

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

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


St Melangell’s Church, Pennant Melangell, Powys, Wales

St Melangell's Church, Pennant Melangell (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

St Melangell’s Church, Pennant Melangell (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SJ 0241 2654. In the valley of the river Tanat, at the foot of the Berwyn mountains, northern Powys, is the lonely and remote hamlet of Pennant Melangell and St Melangell’s Church, which is dedicated to a 7th or 8th century Welsh princess called Melangell or Monacella, patron saint of hares and rabbits. The partly Norman church houses the 12th century shrine of St Melangell as well as her grave; also in the church are two 15th century wood-carvings depicting the saint’s legendary life, two medieval stone effigies, and a Norman font. The church at Pennant, its original name being Llanmelangell-yn-Pennant, has been a place of devout pilgrimage since at least the 10th century. About a quarter of a mile to the south of the remote hamlet amongst an outcrop of rocks is the saint’s so-called stone bed (Gwely Melangell). The hamlet of Pennant Melangell lies just off the B4391, whilst the town of Bala is 8 miles to the north-west, the village of Llangynog is 2 miles to the east, and Lake Vyrnwy 4 miles due south.

According to legend, Melangell was the daughter of King Cyfwlch Addwyn – the very same Cyfwlch who is mentioned in the ‘Tales of Culhwch & Olwen’ as being a member of King Arthur’s court; he was also said to have been related to St Helen of Caernarvon, the famous Helen Llwddog (Helen of the Legions) who married the Roman general, Magnus Maximus (Macsen Wledig), although a few have considered her to be of Irish birth, and perhaps the daughter of a King Jowchell? Melangell fled from her father’s court to avoid marrying an unsuitable partner, wishing instead to seek a life of prayer and devotion to God. She came upon the wooded valley of the Tanat (c590 AD), finding it much to her liking; indeed she lived in a cave at Gwely Melangell to the south of the present-day hamlet that bears her name. Here in an outcrop of rocks the saint’s so-called stone bed is to be found, although the stone is probably a natural-rock feature. Soon local people got to know of Melangell and came to see her, some women even left their babies for her to nurse; to Melangell all wild creatures were very dear to her, even the trees and flowers gave her great pleasure.

But the best part of ‘The Legend’ says that one day a local prince Brochfael Ysgthrog of Pengwern came hunting in the valley, and when one of his hounds gave chase to a hare it ran for protection beneath St Melangell’s robe. When the prince came upon this sight he was literally ‘stopped in his tracks’ at the very sight of such a radiant young woman, his hounds refusing to kill the hare. Prince Brochfael, having inquired as to her name (she informed him it was Melangell), then asked her to marry him, but she told the prince that that was not possible because ‘she only wanted to live her life for Christ in peaceful Pennant’. Prince Brochfael was not really surprised at her answer, so instead he gave her some land at Pennant on which to build a nunnery for local women (c604); the present-day church presumably stands on the site of that building.

St Melangell's Shrine at Pennant Melangell Church.

St Melangell’s Shrine at Pennant Melangell Church.

In the early part of the 7th century St Melangell died and she was buried in the church, or chapel, one of two that had stood here prior to the present-day building, which stands in a circular churchyard, a feature that means it is a sacred site and possibly a Bronze-Age settlement? The yew trees are thought to date back 2,000 years, and some of the foundation stones of the church may date back to 800 AD. Today the building houses The Melangell Centre, but in the chancel stands the shrine of St Melangell, dating from 1170, a Romanesque structure that was beautifully restored in 1958 and, which originally stood at the east side of the church in the Cell-y-Bedd (Cell of the Grave) where the saint was ‘said’ to have been buried. A stone slab believed to have once marked the saint’s grave is now built into the apse floor. Here at this remarkable stone structure pilgrims sought a miraculous cure, offering their prayers and votive messages to St Melangell, which continues today in one form or another.

On the restored oak loft-screen are two 15th century wood carvings which are part of a frieze that depict ‘the legend’ of Melangell and Prince Brochfael, and in the chancel two 14th century stone effigies, one of which is Melangell with a hare at her side, while the other is of Prince Madoc ap Iorwerth Drwynden, son of Owain Gwynedd, king of north Wales. Madoc was treacherously murdered at Bwlchgroes by his own brother’s followers so that his brother, Dafydd, could ascend to the throne of Powys before his time. The carved 15th century rood-screen, now also restored, is a delight as is the 12th century Norman font.

The killing of hares and rabbits has long been forbidden in Pennant Melangell because it is believed they are sacred animals under the protection of St Melangell; the people in the parish still honour this custom. She is patron saint of hares and rabbits, which are known locally as ‘Monacella’s little lambs.’

Sources:

Photo Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eglwys_Santes_Melangell.JPG

Barber, Chris.,  More Mysterious Wales, Paladin, London W1X, 1987.

Jones, Andrew., Every Pilgrim’s Guide To Celtic Britain And Ireland, The Canterbury Press, Norwich, Norfolk, 2002. 

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

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places in Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious, (Unpublished Manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.


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St Tudclud’s Church, Penmachno, Conwy (Bwrdeistref Sirol), North Wales

The Carausius Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

The Carausius Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

Os grid reference: SH 7899 5059. In the village of Penmachno, Conwy, stands St Tudclud’s Church, a rather unassuming Victorian building which houses a collection of Romano-British memorial stones. But these stones are now known to be of great historical importance with regard to Wales at the end of Roman occupation (the early 5th century AD). One of these stones recalls Carausius, a young Irishman who migrated to Wales and proclaimed himself emperor of the Celtic west, the other stone is in memory of the cousin of a magistrate, perhaps the first-known person with the title of a court official. The church is located on Llewelyn street, and is dedicated to the little-known Celtic saint, Tudclud, also known as Tyddud. A Roman camp stood close to where the church is – now alas little more than a few grassy earthworks in a field. The village lies 3 miles to the south-west of the A5 road, 4 miles south of the Conwy Valley and Bettws-y-Coed, 8 miles east of Pentrefoelas, and 12 miles north-east of Ffestiniog.

In the church of St Tudclud there are five very interesting inscribed memorial stones which date from the late 5th to early 6th century. In particular two of these stones, one recalling Carausius, and the other in memory of Cantiorix are of very specific historic importance. The Carausius Stone is a flat-shaped grave-cover inscribed in Latin to the memory of CARAUSIUS HICIACIT INHOCCON GERIESLA PIDUM or ‘Here lies Carausius in this heap of stones.’ Also inscribed on this stone are the Greek letters “X” and “P” the first two letters of the word Christ (Christos), which here form a four-rayed cross known as a Chi-Rho monagram. Legend tells us that Carausius, also known as Crair or Caron, was the hero of the Britons during the 3rd century AD. He proclaimed ‘himself’ King and Emperor of the Celtic west, and stood up to the might of the Roman army who, in turn, regarded him as ‘something of an annoyance.’ A church was dedicated to him at Tregaron, Gwynedd, because he was regarded as a saint in this part of the Celtic fringe.

The Cantiorix Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

The Cantiorix Stone, Penmachno, Gwynedd

Another interesting stone has a Latin inscription (on both faces) recalling Cantiorix the cousin of Maglos. It reads: CANTIORI HIC IACIT VENEDOTTI CIVES FUIT CONSOBRENAS MAGLI MAGISTRATI or ‘Cantiorix lies here, a citizen of Gwynedd, and cousin of Maglos the magistrate,’ The Magistrate Stone was found at Beddau Gwyr Ardudwy near Ffestiniog. It is thought to be the only known example of a person being linked to that of a court official and almost certainly dates from the 5th century. A third stone has the inscription ORIA HIC IACIT which simply means: ‘Oria lies here,’ while a fourth stone reads: FILI AVITORI INTEMPORE IUSTINI CONSULIS or ‘The son of Avitorus in the time of Justinus the Consul,’ which perhaps relates to a consul of Constantinople in the year 540? A large, square-shaped stone has two letters “L” and “R” carved onto it. A couple of these stones were found in the fabric of the church when it was being rebuilt in 1856, but they may originally have come from the nearby Roman camp. The font is thought to be 12th century.

A sixth gravestone is of the 13th century and commemorates prince Iorwerth ab Owain Gwynedd (Iorwerth Drwyndwn), who died in 1174 and was the eldest son of Owain, King of Gwynedd. And another slightly more recent slab-stone, maybe from the 8th century, has only an inscribed cross upon it. The patron saint of this church is Tudclud, or Tyddud, a 6th century monk who was said to have been the son of Seithenyn, King of Cantref-y-Gwaelod (the Lowland Hundred), the drowned kingdom off the Cardigan coast. Not much is known about him other than he founded a monastery here at Penmachno and was the brother of St Arwystyl, who was a monk at Bangor Fawr, and St Collen of Llangollen. There is a legend that says King Seithenyn was so drunk one night that he forgot to close the sea-gates and, by the morning his kingdom had been completely ‘lost to the sea,’ according to Nigel Pennick in his very interesting book ‘Lost Cities And Sunken Lands’ 1997.

Sources:

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

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

Gregory, Donald., Wales – Land Of Mystery And Magic, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Wales, 1999.

Holder, Christopher., Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber, London. 1978.

Pennick, Nigel., Lost Cities And Sunken Lands, (Revised & Updated 2nd Edition), Capall Bann Publishing, Chieveley, Berks, 1997.

The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, edited by Geoffrey Ash, Paladin Books, St Albans, Herts, 1976.

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=16831


Mary’s House, Mount Koressos, Turkey

House of Virgin Mary. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

House of Virgin Mary (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude: 37.912344. Longitude: 27.332818. On the eastern slopes of Mount Koressos (Bulbul Dagi) four and a half miles south of Selcuk and the ancient, classical ruins of Efes (Ephesus) is Mary’s House, the place where the Blessed Virgin Mary came to live after the crucifixion of her son, Jesus. Today there is a Marian shrine here at Meryen Ana Evi and it is a place of ‘devout’ pilgrimage. About half a mile to the north on Meryen Ane Kilisesi road are the Byzantine ruins of The Church of the Virgin Mary (The Council Church), where it’s possible Mary also lived for a short time. The site is reached from the D550 heading south out of Selcuk from the Magnesia Gate, then by turning west onto the Meryem Ane Yolu road for another 4 miles up onto the wooded slopes of Mount Koressos and, the Church of the Virgin Mary and a little further on stands the much venerated Christian site called the House of the Virgin Mary. Here also is St Mary’s Well which is said to have healing properties. According to ‘the Legend’ and documentary evidence: Mary lived a ‘secluded’ life here for several years after accompanying St John from Jerusalem to Ephesus; she is said to have died at Meryen Ane, aged 64? St Paul also lived for a time in Ephesus. The Turkish coast lies 6 miles further to the west.

The foundations of this building [Mary’s House] were discovered in the late 19th century after much painstaking work after the recordings (revelations) of a German nun, Blessed Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), were revealed. She apparently had a vision of the Virgin Mary who informed her of the whereabouts of her home near Ephesus. Catherine recorded what Our Lady had told her in a book called ‘The Life of the Virgin Mary,’ which had been written in French. In 1891 a Lazarist priest and president of Izmir college decided to see if the location and validity of Mary’s house (as given in the nun’s revelations) held any real, accurate credence. Archaeologists searched the mountainside south of Ephesus for many years, but eventually they discovered foundations at Panayir Dagi on the slopes of Mount Bulbul, also called Mount Koressos. They first discovered a round-shaped cistern, an arched wall, and what may have been a pool but better still two clay sarcophagi were found, each containing a skeleton and burial gifts as well as two Roman coins, one of Constantine and the other of Justinian.

Later, other foundations including some walls were excavated close by, and it was these that lead to the final discovery, Mary’s House. A date was arrived at somewhere between the 6th-7th centuries AD, but the discovery of pieces of coal and stonework gave a date of 1st century AD. A church-like building with a dome and cross-shaped plan was eventually built over these scant foundations, the old and new walls were marked with a red line so as to show which were the old 1st century walls.

Statue of Virgin Mary (Photo Copyright: Wikipedia)

Statue of Virgin Mary (Photo Copyright: Wikipedia)

The author Selahattin Erdemgil in his book ‘Ephesus’ says: “An entrance with door-like niches on both sides, leads into a vaulted vestibule whence one enters the hall with an open apse. The statue of the Virgin Mary found in the apse, had been placed there about one hundred years ago. Since the grey area in front of the apse is different from the rest of the marble paved floor, it must have been the location of the hearth”. Erdemgil goes on to say “The small room in the south is known as the bedroom and there is an apsidal niche in its eastern wall.” Inscriptions on the wall are interpretations from the Koran relating to the Virgin Mary; Muslim people revere her and often come to pray in the little room. Outside, to the west a holy water fountain and St Mary’s Well which has long been able to cure the sick. A beautiful statue of the Virgin Mary stands on a rock-base in the garden and, there is a Wall of Supplication. In recent times two popes have visited the shrine and proclaimed it as a place of Catholic pilgrimage. On The Feast of the Assumption 15th August pilgrims from all over the world visit the House of Mary in coach loads.

Sources:

Photos Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_the_Virgin_Mary

Erdemgil, Selahattin., Ephesus, Net Tourist Yayinlar A.S, Istanbul, Turkey, 1986.

Gumus, Dogan., Ancient Ephesus, DO-GU Yayinlari, Istanbul, 1996.

Michael’s Guide, Turkey, Series ed. Michael Shicor, Inbal Travel Information Ltd., Tel Aviv, Israel, 1990.

http://www.toursofephesus.com/house-of-mary-history-information-kusadasi-turkey-selcuk-ephesus.php


St James’ Church, Avebury, Wiltshire

OS grid reference: SU 0991 6990. In the village of Avebury close to the manor house and just 100 metres west of the famous stone circle, stands St James’ Church, a building that is of Anglo-Saxons origins. Located on Church Walk, just north of High Street, in the centre of this charming village, but outside of the pagan stone circle. Christianity came late to Avebury – due, perhaps, to the allure of the 3 pagan stone circles standing within a sizable circular enclosure, covering 24 acres, 1,400 feet across, and nearly 1 mile in circumference which virtually surrounds the village, its grassy bank being upto 5 metres high and the ditch about 25 metres wide. The stone circles date from the late Neolithic between 2,900 to 2,500 BC. When Christianity did finally arrive here in about 1000 AD the people were ‘still very slow’ in adapting from their heathen ways to something much more profound, fulfilling and everlasting. The church houses a beautiful medieval tub font which is carved with a superb dragon, a depiction of paganism (the Devil) being stamped on and a new religion, Christianity, being heralded in. There is also a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon cross and a number of other ‘quite delightful’ architectural things to see inside the church. Avebury is 6 miles east of Marlborough on the A4 (Bath Road) and 8 miles from the town of Chippenham in the west, again on the A4 road. Stonehenge is 17 miles south, close to the A303 road, near Amesbury.

St James parish church is largely Norman although there are some earlier, Saxon features, in particular the two round-headed windows in the Saxon nave wall, while the three rather odd-looking circular, porthole windows at a higher level, are late Anglo-Saxon or perhaps early Norman? There’s also a very interesting squint hole. The church was probably added to in the 12th century. Also, there is a partly restored 15th century rood loft, but sadly the rood itself was destroyed during the atrocities of the Reformation. At the north-west corner embedded in the wall part of an Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft with carvings. The tower with its stair-turret is 15th century Perpendicular. At the south-side a superb Norman doorway which, according to the author Simon Jenkins in his delightful book ‘England’s Thousand Best Churches’, 2000, “offers a lovely composition of foliated capitals and a zigzag arch beneath an empty saint’s plinth.” But the best antiquity here is undoubtedly the 12th century tub font with its beautiful early Norman carvings. Restoration to St James’ was carried out in the 19th century.

The font dates from the early 12th century and is exquisitly carved with a Christian figure that appears to be ‘stamping out paganism’ and heralding in the new religion with “one” eternal God. A bishop or ecclesiastic wearing a “short skirt” is depicted with his crozier in one of the intersecting arches stamping on a winged serpent (dragon) with a long never-ending curling tail which, at the same time is biting his foot or cloak; this is an obvious reference to the battle between the established ‘serpent-power’ worship of the pre-Christian temple at Avebury, and the new Christianity, according to Janet & Colin Bord in their book Mysterious Britain, 1984. Quite clearly it can be seen as ‘the Devil’ getting his final come-uppance and Christianity securing its position as the true and everlasting faith. There is a second serpent with a long curling tail. The font is also adorned around the bottom with columns that have bands or cords shooting out from their tops to form the intersecting ‘domed’ arches.

Sources:

Janet & Colin Bord, Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing Ltd)., London, 1984.

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

Darvil, Timothy., Ancient Britain, AA Publishing Division, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988.

Anderton, Bill., Guide To Ancient Britain, W. Foulsham & Co Ltd., London, 1991.

Ashe, Geoffrey., Mythology Of The British Isles, Methuen, London, 1993.

Click on for images of the church  http://greatenglishchurches.co.uk/html/avebury.html

Click on for images of the church  http://www.anglo-saxon-churches.co.uk/images/avebury.pdf


St Brynach’s Church, Nevern, Pembrokeshire, Wales

   Nevern Cross (After Westwood)

Nevern Cross
(After Westwood)

Os grid reference: SN0834 4002. Situated in the very pretty and largerly unspolt village of Nevern (Nanhyfer), between Cardigan and Fishquard, is the cruciform-shaped St Brynach’s Church, standing proudly in front of a large tree-covered mound where, long ago, early Welsh chieftains and, later possibly Norman barons, lived in a fortifified stronghold, or castle, from the mid 6th century to the early 12th century; and where beside the Caman brook, the Celtic monk, Brynach, came to build his monastery at the beginning of this period which, historians often call the Dark Ages. St Brynach, an Irishman, became a friend of St David. Here we see the beautifully carved Celtic churchyard cross and an inscribed memorial stone and, there are two other ancient stones, indeed inscribed stones from the the 5th or 6th century AD housed inside that are well worth a look at because of what they can tell us about this sacred and holy site, all making for a fascinating little collection of Dark Age antiquities. The churchyard has an avenue of ancient yew trees, and just short walk south from here and we can see the famous Pilgrims’ Cross and stone at the side of the river Nyfer. The A467 is 1 mile south of Nevern, while the village of Newport is 2 miles to the south-west and Fishguard is a further 5 miles in the same direction. Cardigan is 9 miles to the north-east.

Maglocunus Stone (After Macalister), 1945.

Maglocunus Stone (After Macalister), 1945.

There was quite probably a monastery here c 540 AD, and maybe even some sort of ecclesiastical centre, but then in the 12th century a Norman church was built on the site, today only the tower of that building remains, the rest being from the 14th and 15th centuries onwards through to 1864 when restoration took place. The nave has a stone vaulted roof. Two flat stones acting as windowsills in the south wall of the nave are quite interesting, one in particular, from the 10th century, is quite unusual. It is 62 inches long and has an intertwinning cord carved onto it (in relief) that forms a Celtic-style cross – though there is no inscription on this. The other stone has a Latin inscription in memory of Maglocunus (Clechre) who has been identified with St Clether, son of king Clydwyn of Carmarthen – who lived in the fortification behind the church in the early part of the 6th century and was a relative of St Brynach, who died in 580 AD and was also the founder of a church at Braunton, in Devon. Legend says that St Brynach used to climb to the top of Carn Ingli, an Iron Age hillfort 2 miles to the south-west, in order to converse with angels.

The Latin inscription is MAGLOCVNI FILI CLVTOR – ‘The Stone of Maglocunus son of Clutorius. Some historians think Maglocunus was the famous Maelgwyn (Maelgeoun), king of Gwynedd, though this is very uncertain. There are also Ogham notches on the front edge of this stone – giving a similar pronouncement, so no doubt there is an Irish (Goidelic) connection here; these two stones are thought to have come from the churchyard – they are now preserved from the elements of wind and rain, something quite common in this part of south-west Wales! In the Chancel there is a photo of an old stone that went missing. It was 10 feet long by 3 feet wide and had a Greek cross inscribed on it, “an early relic of British Christianity”, according to the church guidebook of 1980.

The Vitalianus Stone, Nevern.

The Vitalianus Stone, Nevern.

Outside the church at the east-side of the porch stands the 5 foot (1.5 metre) high Vitalianus Stone, a Romano-British gravestone from the 5th century AD that has a faint Latin inscription in memory of VITALIANI EMERETO – ‘The stone of Vitalianus discharged with honour.’ Again there are Ogham-script notches on the edge, making this a bi-lingual inscription. According to the author Chris Barber in his book ‘More Mysterious Wales’ Vitalianus is Vortimer, the son of King Vortigern and, says Barber: “and it is feasible that it is his memorial stone that can be seen here at the church of St Brynach”.

St Brynach's Cross, Nevern.

St Brynach’s Cross.

At the south-side of the church stands the famous Great Cross of St Brynach. This lovely carved cross is 13 feet tall (3.9 metres) and 2 feet (0.9 metres) wide, and is thought to date from the 10th or 11th century AD. It is from the the top of this cross that, according to ‘tradition,’ the first cuckoo of the Spring perches and sings its heart out on the saint’s feastday 7th April, and no doubt it does without failure every year! The cross is “superbly” decorated with all manner of Celtic pattern-work inside sections of various sizes; there is “a differently arranged ribbon, the endless interlacing symbol of eternity”, according to the church guide book. There is knotwork, cord-plaitwork, fretwork, ring-work and Greek swastika and diagonal key-patterning, with geometric designs on all four sides, possibly Scandinavian, rather than Celtic. Both faces E.W. have a small panel with alphabetical-type inscriptions which are recorded as: dns (dominus) and haneh (halleluiah), and also on the east face two primitive-style crosses with long, angular arms. The cross-head is a ‘seperate’ part to the rest and is a typical five-holed wheel-head, quite common in Wales. On the outside north wall of the church a fragment of stone, acting as a windowsill, has a broken Latin inscription TVMIM in memory of someone called Tumin or Tuminius? while a faint consecration cross can be seen on the east wall of the Glasdir Chapel.

An avenue of ancient yew trees forms the pathway upto the church. One of these bleeds red sap from a broken branch; this apparently signifies ‘unrequited love‘. Local legend says the red sap (resin) will continue to ooze from this tree until ‘the castle on the hill is once again occupied by a Welshman’. Another legend says that a monk from the early Celtic monastery was hanged from the yew tree, which may mean these trees were here before the present day church! About 1oo yards to the south-west of the church, along a footpath beside the river Nyfer leading off the Frongoch road, in the direction of Glandwr is the famous Pilgrims’ Cross built into a rock face and, below that a ‘very’ well-worn stone bearing a small incised cross. These mark the pilgrimage route between Holywell and St David’s – Nevern being one of the places where medieval pilgrims would stop, and kneel down to say prayers, before continuing on their long, ardous journey to where St David, patron saint of Wales, lay buried.

Sources:

Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

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

Allen, J. Romilly., Early Christian Art In Wales, Archaeologia Cambrensis, 5th series, vol xvi, 1899.

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

Macalister, R.A.S., Corpus Inscriptonum Insularum Celticorum, Vol 1, Dublim, Ireland, 1945.

http://sitesandstones.blogspot.co.uk/2009/02/church-of-st-brynach-nevern.html

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places in Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious, (Unpublished Manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.


Clonmacnois Monastic Site, County Offaly, Southern Ireland

Clonmacnois Cathedral (photo credit: JohnArmagh - Wikipedia).

Clonmacnois Cathedral (photo credit: JohnArmagh – Wikipedia).

Irish grid reference N0099 3066. The monastic site of Clonmacnois or (Cluain Mhic Nois) meaning ‘the fields of the hogs of Nos’, stands within a walled monastic enclosure beside the banks of the River Shannon near Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly, Southern Ireland. It dates from 545 AD when St Ciaran (Kieran) 512-545, son of a chariot-maker from Rathcrogan, Co. Roscommon (Connaught), founded a great monastic establishment here, surrounded on the landward side by boggy land. There are three 9th century crosses, two round towers (one of which is still intact), upto 200 grave-slabs from the 8th-12th centuries, the ruins of eight roofless churches and also St Ciaran’s Cathedral, and many other interesting antiquities. Clonmacnois was once referred to as ‘a monastic city’ that originally had 105 monastic buildings, before the Vikings and, later the Normans came here in 1179 and, very sadly, destroyed many of them. In 1552-3 the site and it’s remaining buildings were badly damaged by the terrible atrocities following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ’caused by’ the “English”. Clonmacnois lies just north of the R444 ‘Back Road’ between Moate and Shannonbridge, while the town of Athlone is 4 miles to the north on the M6/R446 roads.
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Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnois.

Cross of the Scriptures.

Perhaps one of the finest and best preserved of the the high crosses (now partially restored) is that called ‘The Cross of the Scriptures’ (the Western Cross), dating from the early 9th century AD, near the west door of the cathedral. It stands at 4 metres (13) feet high and is made of sandstone; the front face shows scenes from the Life of Christ and other biblical scenes. The bottom panel (front) shows King Dermaid, son of Fergus, or of Aed? of the southern Ui Neill clan, helping St Ciaran the disciple of St Finnian of Clonard to build the first section of his monastery in AD 545 – with what could be a tree in between them? At the base of the cross there are scenes showing horses pulling a cart and, warriors riding on horses. An inscription recalls ‘a prayer for Colman who made this cross for King Flan’. The other two 9th century scultured high crosses – ‘the North Cross’ is badly damaged and the South Cross beside Temple Dowling is also quite damaged, but both still very rich in Celtic-style carvings.

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One of the two round-towers stands to it’s original height of 17 metres and was used as a bell-tower for Temple Finghin (or St Finghin’s church), while the other, O’Rourke’s Tower, is damaged at the top, but is still some 20 metres high. Of the remaining churches The Nuns’ Church is perhaps the best. This dates from 1167 and is Irish-Romanesque in style; the carved chancel arch has beautiful geometric design-work; also the ruined St Ciaran’s Cathedral, which replaced an earlier 9th century cathedral, probably dates from the 13th or maybe 14th century, and has some beautiful carved figures of saints above the north doorway; the west doorway dates from 1200. The collection of 200 grave-stones inscribed with crosses and inscriptions in prayer-form are now housed in the visitor centre at the site, and there are another 500 smaller stones, some very fragmented. One stone, in particular, is round-shaped with a hole in the centre and a large incised-lettered inscription to the memory of SECHNASACH, an abbot who died in 928 AD; and another grave-slab with an elaborate Latin cross has an inscription in prayer-format to the memory of MAELFINNIA, an abbot of Clonmacnois who died in 921 AD. These stones would have marked the graves of former abbots of the 7th-9th centuries AD and, also a number of high kings of Mide, Brefni, Tara and Connacht. There are also three richly carved cross-shafts with Celtic ornamentation, but they are without their cross-heads.

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Cross of the Scriptures (panel), Clonmacnois.

Cross of the Scriptures (bottom panel)

St Ciaran, however, only lived for another seven months after the foundation of his monastery, dying at the age of thirty-three in 545 AD, or possibly 549 AD of yellow fever, according to some historians in the field of Irish monasticism. But undoubtedly this is one of Ireland’s “greatest monastic centres”, with much still remaining from the Early Christian period, although many of it’s monastic buildings are now in a somewhat ruinous state. Clonmacnois was regarded as ‘A Cradle of Celtic Christianity’ for 600 years. A hoard of Hiberno-Norse coins, dating from the late 11th century, was dug up close to the site in 1979 by a group of school children, and a number of other monastic antiquities including implements, bones and an ornamental twisted gold rod and copper-alloy ring, thought to be Hiberno-Norse. To the west of the monastic site and just north of St Ciaran’s National School, are the earthworks and walls of a Norman castle. The famous Clonmacnois crozier is now displayed in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin.

Sources:-

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

King, Heather.A (Editor)., Clonmacnois Studies Vol 1 Seminar Papers 1994, Duchas The Heritage Service, Dublin, 1998.

Scherman, Katharine, The Flowering of Ireland – Saints, Scholars & Kings, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.

Reader’s Digest., Illustrated Guide To Ireland, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing), London, 1984

With thanks also to ‘The Megalithic Portal’ http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=27062


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St Govan’s Chapel, Bosherston, Pembrokeshire, Wales

St Govan's Chapel in Pembokeshire c.1972

St Govan’s Chapel in Pembokeshire 1970s

OS grid reference SR 9669 9296. At the church of St Michael & All Angels in Bosherston village take the road opposite (Buckspool lane) out of the village for about 1 mile. If there is an MOD sign displayed you may not be able to proceed any further for a few hours due to military training on the firing range. There is a car-parking area on Travallen Downs by The Pembrokeshire Coast Path – just above the medieval chapel of St Govan which nestles down on the rocky shoreline below the precipitous cliffs of St Govan’s Head. A flight of stone steps leads down between a large ravine in the cliffs into the ancient little building; the number of steps varies between 50-70 but there are said to be 52 steps all told. However, it is difficult to count the exact same number coming back up again! Near the chapel there is a dried up holy well called Ffynnon Govan (St Govan’s Well). The place has been regarded as a sacred and holy pilgrimage site since the Middle Ages, a place where miracles of healing were wrought in past times; even the soil is said to be curative. The county town of Pembroke is roughly 7 miles to the north on the B4319.

The little chapel solidly built of limestone is said to date from the 13th century – being restored at that time, so I think we can assume that there was an earlier chapel on this site, possibly one founded by the saint himself. Inside the building measures 18 feet by 12 feet and it’s roof is vaulted. At the eastern side an entrance leads to a hermit’s cell in the cleft of a huge limestone boulder. According to the often-told legend: the saint was pursued here by marauding sea pirates; he hid in the cleft of the great boulder which then closed up, hiding him from view, or his hermit’s attire matched the rock thus he became invisible. You can still make out some marks in the boulder that were made by the saint’s fingers when he hid here back in the 6th century AD. If you make a wish while standing in the cleft of the rock, facing the wall, your wish will be granted, hopefully!

At the side of the hermit’s cell is a stone altar beneath which, according to legend, St Govan is buried. A holy water stoup (piscina) is built onto the wall and, beneath this a spring of water runs out of the ground but is never said to run across the chapel floor, though it has been known to happen! The spring is said to have miraculous healing properties. There is a recess in the wall (aumbrey) that may have been used for sacred vessels or perhaps relics, and there are some solid looking stone seats up against the wall. The little bellcote on the roof did once possess a bell but this was long ago lost to the sea; it can apparently still be heard ringing on stormy nights from beneath the turbulent waves off shore, foretelling an impending disaster at sea. Another tale put forward says the bell was stolen by pirates, but later rescued by sea nymphs who placed it inside a rock near the chapel. It was said that if you struck the rock the bell would ring out.

Ffynnon Govan (St Govan's Well)

Ffynnon Govan (St Govan’s Well)

Some steps lead down below the chapel to a rock strewn area and St Govan’s holy well (Ffynnon Govan) covered over by a stone hood. However, this well has been dry for a long time now, but up until the mid 19th century it was the site of many healings with crutches being left by previously crippled pilgrims as a votive offering. Red soil that is found around the chapel site was used in a poltice form to cure sore, itchy eyes, and it is still said to be effective today! Francis Jones in his well-known work ‘The Holy Wells of Wales’ says about this well: “On the cliff side by St. Govan’s Chapel, Bosherston parish : especially famous in the cure of failing eyesight, lameness, and rheumatism.” “Near the well is a deposit of red clay formed by rock decomposition, and great virtue was attached to it : a poultice of this was applied to limbs and eyes, and the patients then lay there for several hours in the sun.”

So who was St Govan? It is strongly believed that he was St Gobhan who founded the monastery of Dairinis-Insula near Wexford, Ireland, about the year 530 AD and was a follower of St Ailbhe, bishop of Emlech (Emily) in County Tipperary. Gobhan (Govan) came as a missionary to south-west Wales in old age and became a friend of St David. He may have been present when St David died in 589 AD? Gobhan became a hermit in south-west Pembrokeshire and lived out the rest of his life in a cell beside the rocky cliffs, now known as St Govan’s Head. His feast-day is celebrated on 26th March. He died towards the end of the 6th century, and is patron saint of builders. However, some individuals have tried to link the name Govan with Gawain, King Arthur’s knight who supposedly retired to this hermitage after the death of Arthur, or to a St Cofen, daughter of King Brychan. This is unlikely. And St Ailbhe, mentioned earlier, also came to Wales and baptised Wales’ future patron St, David, at Porthclais. He is called Aelbyw or Elvis and was said to have dwelt in the area to the east of Solva at St Elvis farm, now named after him.

At Bosherston in the medieval church of St Michael, a stained-glass window shows St Govan as a bearded old man holding a model of his chapel; another window shows St David, patron St of Wales. The churchyard has a 14th century preaching cross with a tiny carved head near the top, which is thought to represent Christ. It stands on two-tiered steps that enabled it to be used as a sort of stone crucifix. The cross was found in the 16th century having survived the Reformation; the head was placed on top a standing stone that may date back to pre-Christian times or the Dark Ages?

Sources:

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places In Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious, (Unpublished manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.

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

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

Barber, Chris., Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

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St Anno’s Church, Llananno, Powys, Wales.

English: St Anno's Church, Llananno This churc...

St Anno’s Church, Llananno (Photo credit:  Ann Roberts, Geograph)

OS grid reference SO 0956 7434. Roughly half-way between Llanbadarn Fynydd and Llanbister on the busy A483 Newtown to Llandridod Wells road, in the Ithon Valley and formerly in Radnorshire, but now Powys, is the hamlet of Llananno with its little parish church of St Anno, which is situated above the eastern bank of the river Ithon. The church is a rebuilt 19th century building on the site of a medieval church and, possibly an even earlier Celtic monastic foundation. But the beauty is inside the charming little church. This is a late medieval carved wooden rood screen and loft, which is said to be the best example of its kind in the whole of Wales. Nothing much is known about St Anno, Annu, Wanno or Wonno to whom the church is dedicated, but there are one or two theories about him/her. It could also be a dedication to St Anne, mother of the Virgin Mary? The town of Rhayader is 10 miles to the south-west and Newtown is 14 miles to the north of Llananno.

Llananno Rood Screen (Engraving by Whitman & Bass Collections) 1874.

Llananno Rood Screen (Engraving by Whitman & Bass Collections) 1874.

In 1876-77 the church was rebuilt and the interior restored to what we see today – stonework from the older church being incorporated into the newer Victorian-style building. The famous carved rood screen and loft was taken out and completely restored by craftsmen. In 1880 it was returned to the church and put back exactley as before, but more beautiful than ever with all the intricate wood carvings looking as though they had just been carved. Historians originally thought the screen had come from Abbey Cwmhir at its dissolution in 1536 but, in fact, it was made in about 1500 by the Newtown school of woodcarvers, and so it is Late Gothic in style and had survived the Reformation.

The screen is richly carved with vines and fruits, including pomegranates, oak leaves and acorns, trees, plant stem foliage and berries; the fine tracery work is also beautifully and delicately carved. There are also two scaly, serpent-like animals – having a Greek mythological look about them. The rood loft, above, (sometimes called a gallery) has a long line of canopied niches containing carved figures. Christ is in the middle, while at either side there are apostles, saints and angels. More recently further work was carried out on the rood screen, a process which was finally completed in 1960.

Also of interest in the church is the medieval holy water stoup beside the door for the use of parishioners to dip their fingers in when entering the church, the medieval piscina (for the washing of sacred vessels) on the wall near the altar, and the carved pews with bench ends are from the 17th century; the font is of the 15th century. The churchyard is rectilinear in shape but appears to be built over and on an earlier curved enclosure, which still shows at the north and south sides, suggesting that the site is an ancient one dating back to before the Norman Conquest. All in all a very nice place to visit, if only to walk around the churchyard or sit in the church itself where peace and quiet can be found and, to be astounded by the lovely carved, late medieval rood screen. What a delight!

The dedication of the church to Anno (Annu), an 8th century saint with a feast-day in some calendars on 20th May, is somewhat uncertain, but he could be one and the same as St Wanno or Wonno, whom has a second dedication at Newborough, Anglesey, and to be identical with St Wonno or Gwynno of Wonastow, near Monmouth, who died in 629 AD and is recorded as being a Celtic missionary in Cornwall under the name of St Winwaloe at the village of Gunwalloe and, to have eventually become an abbot in Brittany, but this is by no means a certainty because “his” feast-day falls on 3rd of March. We may never really know.

Sources:-

St Anno's Church, Llananno

Zaluckyj, Sarah & John., The Celtic Christian Sites of the central and southern Marches, Logaston Press, Herefordshire, 2006.

Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Garreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, Wales, 1991.

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

Whitman & Bass., (Collections), Historical & Archaeological Relating to Montgomeryshire and its borders, Vol VII, p 61, Powys Land Club. 1874.

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St Materiana’s Church, Tintagel, Cornwall

Roman Milestone, Tintagel, Cornwall

Roman Milestone, Tintagel, Cornwall

OS grid reference SX 0506 8845. On Vicarage Hill Lane at Glebe Cliffe close to the seashore and just to the west of the famous Arthurian village of Tintagel, north Cornwall, stands St Materiana’s church, also called Mertheriana’s, an ancient religious foundation that is now the parish church. At the west end of the south transept there is a Roman milestone commemorating the Emperor Licinius which dates from the 4th century AD. The inscription on the stone reads IMPCG VAL LICIN (the Emperor). This would be Caesar Galerius Valerius Licinianus (308-24 AD). This milepost was originally built into the church lychgate (Lower Church Stile) where it had been used as a coffin rest! but in 1888 it was brought inside the church for safety. Another Roman milestone was found at nearby Trethevy village. This has a Latin inscription: IMP C DOMIN GALLO ET VOLUSIANO honouring Gallus* and Volusianus (AD 251-253). *The Roman emperor Gallus ruled together with his son Volusianus.

Also housed inside the church at the west end of the nave is a very fine Norman font bowl which is said to have come from St Julitta’s Chapel in the grounds of Tintagel Castle. The church dates from about 1080 AD and was built on the site of a Saxon or Dark-Age settlement. Much of it’s wonderful carved stonework is from the Norman and medieval periods, especially the north doorway (1080) and the south doorway (1130). The building was restored in the 1870s by J.P.St Aubyn.

St Materiana (Madryn or Madrun) was a 5th century princess from the south-east of Wales who came to live in the area as a nun with some female companions. She founded the first church and, possibly a monastery, at Minster (Talkarn) near Boscastle (SX 1105 9046) some 5 miles to the east of Tintagel. She was eventually buried at Minster with her feast-day on 9th April. Her tomb existed in the ‘mother church’ of Boscastle (which is also dedicated to her) in Minster Woods about half a mile east of that village, in the Valency Valley, up until the Reformation.

According to the ‘Legend’, Materiana was the daughter of Vortimer the son of the British King Vortigern (of Wales), and later she married Ynyr, King of Gwent. However, she decided to lead a religious life and with her companions Marcelliana and Uliet (Juliot or Julitta) sailed to north Cornwall where they set about their mission to covert the local people to Christianity. St Uliet (Juliot) founded a small monastery on the eastern promontory of Tintagel Head, opposite Tintagel Castle, circa 500 AD, which was excavated by archaeologists in the 1930s. There is a church dedication to St Uliet at Llanilid in Mid Glamorgan, south Wales, where she is described as being one of the many daughters of King Brychan of Brecknock (Brecon) whose second wife was called Marcella – maybe St Marcelliana? St Materiana’s holy well can still be seen in Minster churchyard.

Aelnet's Cross, Tintagel, Cornwall

Aelnet’s Cross, Tintagel, Cornwall

Back in the village of Tintagel itself and in the grounds of the former Wharncliffe Arms Hotel (now new flats) on Fore Street stands a 5th-6th century Celtic cross. Although the cross dates from that time the carvings and an inscription are thought to have been carved in the 10th or 11th century? Originally the cross, which is just over 4 feet high, stood at nearby Trevillet where it had been used as a farm gatepost and has therefore suffered some damage.

It has wheel-head crosses on both faces and also Latin inscriptions. On the front face there is the inscription: AELNET FECIT HAN CRUCEM PRO ANIMA SUA or ‘Aelnet made this cross for the sake of his soul’. On the opposite face the names of the four Evangelists MATHEUS, MARCUS, LUCAS AND JOHANES with their beaded faces being carved into the angles of the expanded cross-arms.

Sources:-

Pevsner, N & Radcliffe, E., The Buildings Of England, Cornwall, Penguin Books, 2nd edition, 1970.

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

Ashe, Geoffrey., The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, Paladin Books, St Albans, Herts, 1971.

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The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

OS grid reference: NY 0720 0360. At the north side of Gosforth village on Wasdale Road, Cumbria, stands the ancient parish church of St Mary and, in  the churchyard the equally ancient and famous Gosforth Cross. The monument is a very tall, slender Anglo-Norse (Scandi-navian) high-cross made from red sandstone, dating from the 10th century. It is richly decorated with some very exquisite carvings of Norse gods, Christian symbolism and mythical beasts. The ancient church houses two hog-back tombstones and another carved stone. Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast is 12 miles to the north-west and the A595 is three-quarters of a mile to the west of Gosforth village. Seascale the attractive holiday town is 2 miles to the south on the B5344.

The Gosforth Cross stands at 4.4 metres (14 feet 5 inches) high and is very well-preserved for its age, which is probably 950-1000 AD, the late Anglo-Saxon age. It’s slender shaft tapers away towards the ornate, four-holed cross-head that is also in a relatively good state of preservation. Three-quarters of the cross-shaft N, W, E and S faces are richly ornamented with scenes (in panels) bordered by roll-moulding showing Norse gods like Thor, Odin, Loki, Mimir and Heimdallr, all of whom figure strongly in the famous Norse poems of Edda, but there are also Christian figures too like Christ crucified and symbolism from the early Christian period.

English: Gosforth Cross outside St. Mary's chu...

Gosforth Cross(Photo credit: English Lakes – Wikipedia)

Thor is depicted fishing for the Midgard serpent Jormungandr, Heimdallr is holding his customary horn, Loki appears chained and bound with his protective wife, Sigya below him, and Vioarr is attempting to open the fearsome jaws of Fenrir. Christ appears crucified and also in majesty, a sign of his victory over the pagan gods. There are many strange mythical beasts’ heads that are joined together with interlacing, including a dragon (Surt) and numerous serpents, and also animals such as wolves and deer.

A number of human figures also appear, one is holding a spear, while another has his arms and legs chained with a knot-work cord around his neck in the form of a snake; also a female figure holding a bowl. Horsemen are also quite prevelent with spears. The lower rounded section of the shaft has much plainer chevron-style pattern-work representing the tree of Yggdrasil, while below that the bottom of the shaft is largerly devoid of carving. The significance and symbolism of the carvings were first identified by Mr Charles Parker, the antiquarian, in 1886, who later wrote about his findings in a book.

Inside the church of St Mary, a Norman foundation on a Saxon site, there are two carved hog-back tombs (shaped like houses) from the Viking Age, one of which shows Thor once again fishing for the Midgard Serpent, as well as battle scenes and other carvings. Another Anglo-Norse stone in the north aisle called the Fishing Stone, may be part of a cross-shaft or part of a Anglo-Norse frieze? This depicts a deer trampling on the fearsome serpent Jormungandr and dates from the 10th century AD.

Sources:-

Parker, Charles., Ancient Cross of Gosforth in Cumberland, Elliot Stock, 1896.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books (Harper Collins), 1991.

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

Maxwell, Fraser., Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen, London, 1939.

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The Whalley Crosses, Lancashire

OS grid reference SD 7323 3616. In the churchyard of St Mary & All Saints parish church, off King Street, Whalley, in the Ribble Valley are three late Anglo-Saxon sandstone crosses, one in particular is richly carved, but the other two are now showing signs of erosion and, even damage. They all date from the 10th-11th centuries and are often referred to as being Anglian, though two of the crosses display what is probably Norse influence. The three crosses are often thought to be associated with St Paulinus who came to Whalley in the 7th century AD and used them as preaching crosses, but this is thought unlikely. He may, however, have established the first wooden church here on this very site, though the present-day church is largerly a medieval structure, dating from the beginning of the 13th century.

It is well-worth having a look inside the church because there is, amongst it’s many treasures, a Roman altar with a carving of the god Mars, a grave-stone ‘supposedly’ belonging to John Paslew the last abbot of Whalley abbey who was executed at Lancaster in 1537 for taking part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and also the tombstone of Peter de Cestria, the only rector of Whalley (1235-96). There is an inscribed Roman stone set into the inner archway over the north doorway that has an inscription: FLAVIUS VOT OMPOSU and is probably from the late 3rd century AD. The yellow gritstone font is 15th century. Outside the church adjacent to the south porch there are two hollowed-out stone coffins from the 13th century and near those a large stone block that may be the base of a Roman pillar. The churchyard sundial on a stepped base bears an inscription: LAT 53 40 AD 1757 and another date 1737 – the dial was purchased in 1738.

The three crosses are as follows:-

Whalley Cross No I

Whalley Cross No I

Cross No I (The Western Cross) is decribed as a panelled cross and is just under 3 metres high (9 foot 6 inches). This cross dates from the late 10th to early 11th century and is the earliest of the three. It may have replaced an earlier wooden, painted cross. It displays a strong Anglo-Norse influence in it’s carvings, although now rather worn. There are six panels on the east face – the third middle panel shows a saint in prayer with up-raised hands, or it may be Christ, standing between serpents; another panel has a pelican and another shows the symbol of eternity ‘The Dog of Berser’ the Christianised Scandinavian emblem representing the creator. In the top panel there is a dove representing the Holy Spirit. And there is also the usual interlacing and pattern-work. The head of the cross, now badly damaged, seems not to be the original though it looks about right for this particular cross; it may, however, have been the cross-head for Whalley cross no III? The base of this cross is now set beneath the ground perhaps to stop the lean!

Whalley Cross No II

Whalley Cross No II

Cross No II (Near the porch) is by far the best preserved of the three at 2.2 metres high (7 foot 2 inches) and dating from the late 10th to early 11th century. This sandstone cross stands on a large base-stone that is more recent in date. Part of the shaft is apparently missing at the top and the cross-head is badly mutilated although it’s central, carved boss is still quite prominent. The shaft is richly decorated with what is said to be ‘The Tree of Life’ or ‘The Tree of Calvary’ with vine branches going off in both directions and ending in S-shaped scrolls, and there is more scroll-working and zig-zag patterning on both faces and the edges. It’s base-stone also has zig-zag decoration on it’s upper surface. This is undoubtedly a very nice cross to look at and good to photograph when the sunlight is in the right place!

Whalley Cross No III

Whalley Cross No III

Cross No III (the Eastern Cross) is 2.1 metres high (6 foot 10 inches) and stands in a large oblong base-stone that has two other square-shaped socket holes. Were there originally three crosses similar to a calvary here? The cross is now heavily eroded but traces of Anglo-Saxon carving can still be seen (with a keen eye) on the front (west) face, whereas the opposite face is worn away and showing some damage. The cross-head is not the original – this one being a 14th century Gothic head. Fragments of the original cross-head can be seen in the interior walls of St Mary’s church. The shaft has two figures with haloes stood together half-way up with scroll-work and interlacing above and below all in a pelleted edged-border that show signs of Norse origins. The Gothic head is very ornate and has the letters I.H.S in the centre and a crucifix on the opposite side.

Sources:-

Dixon, John & Phillip,  Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume Nine) The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Snape, H.C. Rev., The Parish Church Of Saint Mary All Saints Whalley Lancashire England, Church Guidebook (6th Edition), 1978.

Fell, Jimmy,  Window on Whalley, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1979.

 


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St Illtyd’s Church, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan, Wales.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

St Illtud’s, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan (Photo credit: John Salmon Wikipedia)

OS grid reference SS 6990 9580. The Norman parish church of St Illtyd (Illtud) is located on Church Lane at the western-side of the town of Llantwit Major or, in Welsh, Llanilltud Fawr, in the Vale of Glamorgan. This large three-sectioned Norman church, one of the oldest in Wales, houses three very interesting Celtic stones with Latin inscriptions in memory of saints and kings that were associated with a monastic college founded here by St Illtyd at the beginning of the 6th century AD. There are also two medieval grave-slabs, one belonging to an ecclesiastic, some medieval wall paintings and two other ancient stones. At the far west-side of the church the Ragland Chantry Chapel stands in a ruined state. The town of Llantwit Major is 9 miles south-east of Bridgend and 15 miles south-west of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Close-by the church are the earthworks of the Roman villa of Caermead, dating from the 1st century AD.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

Celtic crosses (Photo credit: John Salmon -Wikipedia)

Housed within the Galilee Chapel of the 13th-15th century church, the old western part that dates from c1100, are three very interesting antiquities: a Celtic cross and two memorial stones with carved decoration and Latin inscriptions. These date from between the 9th-10th centuries and originally stood outside in the churchyard. Cross no 1 ‘The Illtud Cross’ or Samson’s Cross stands at just over 6 feet high and dates from the 10th-century. Although only the base of the gritstone cross remains the decoration is very good, and there is interlacing and key-patternwork with inscriptions in the middle and at the top. The top inscription (front) reads: SAMSON POSUIT HANC CRUCEM PRO ANIMA EIUS or ‘Samson placed his cross for his soul’ and on the reverse side: ILTUTI SAMSON REGIS SAMUEL EBISAR or ‘for the soul of Illtud, Samson the King, Samuel and Ebisar’. Samuel was probably the carver of the cross.

Cross no 2 is ‘Houelt’s Cross’, a 6 foot high disc-headed or wheel-head cross from the 9th-century AD. This has fretwork and patternwork on its lower front section and Celtic-style knotwork, interlacing and key-patterning on the wheel-head, but on the base there is a Latin inscription recalling Houelt (Hywel) the son of Res – probably Rhys ap Arthfael, King of Glamorgan, who died in 850 AD. The inscription reads: ‘In the name of God the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’. ‘This cross Houelt prepared for the soul of Res his father’. And no 3 ‘Samson’s Pillar Cross’ is 9 foot high and of the 10th-century. On both sides of this there is a long-winded inscription which reads: IN NOMINE DI SUMMI INCIPIT CRUX SALVATORIS QUAE PREPARAVIT SAMSON ABATI PRO ANIMA SUA ET PRO ANIMA IUTHAHELO REX ET ARTMALI ET TECANI and when translated ‘In the name of the most high (God) begins the cross of the (Saviour) which Samson the Abbot prepared for his soul, and for the soul of Iuthahelo (Judwal) the King and of Arthmael and of Tecan’. There is also a 7 foot-high carved cylindrical, pyramidal-shaped stone that may have originally been part of a pagan altar, and two smaller stones that are now worn and damaged but may once have been crosses bases.

St Illtyd or Illtud (450-530) may have been a native of Brittany, though some historians think he hailed from Breconshire. However, by about 460 he was living in south Wales and eventually, after a few years, entered in to the service of King Arthur as a knight and was, according to the legend, one of the keepers of the Holy Grail. At some stage he became a Christian and retired from the world to live as a hermit beside the River Hodnant in south Glamorgan. Here he met St Garmon, his uncle, and together they re-established a monastic school (Bangor Illtud Fawr) where an earlier monastery known as Cor Tewdws (College of Thedosius) had fallen in to decay. The date of the foundation of this monastery is uncertain but it’s beginnings were c480 AD and, certainly by 500 AD the monastic school was flourishing as a renowned centre of learning with many saints being trained there, including St David. A monastery continued to exist uptil the early 12th-century but then fell on hard times, but it was later reformed as a Benedictine house of Tewkesbury and lasted until after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1547.

As for St Illtyd he is thought to have died at Dol in Brittany about 530 AD. However, Welsh historians have always claimed that he died at his monastery in south Glamorgan, or maybe he died at Bedd-Gwyl-Illtyd near Libanus, Brecon, in southern Powys? We may never really know.

Sources:-

Allen, J. Romilly., Celtic Crosses Of Wales, Llanerch Publishing, Felinfach, Dyfed, 1989 (text originally published in Archaeologia Cambrensis 1899).

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Illtyd%27s_Church,_Llantwit_Major

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

Barber, Chris & Pykitt, David., Journey To Avalon, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1993.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, 1994.


The Shrine Of Rocamadour, Perigueux, Midi-Pyrenees, France

English: Rocamadour Deutsch: Rocamadour

Cave of St Amadour at Rocamadour, France (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Latitude 44.799682. Longitude 1.617066. Located at over 1,600 feet up in the foothills of the Pyrenees, Causse de Gramat, Dordogne, in south-west France is The Shrine of Rocamadour, a place of pilgrimage since medieval times, if not before that. Roc means ‘Cliffe’ and Amadour (meaning ‘pure’) is the name of a Biblical saint of the 1st century AD who is otherwise known as Zacchaeus. In the steep-sided gorge above the river Alzou (on the right bank) stands ‘The Sanctuary of The Blessed Virgin Mary’ with a 12th century cave-church dedicated to St. Amadour and, on the hilltop above stands the pilgrimage church of Notre Dame, which houses the famous and much venerated cult figure of the ‘Black Madonna’ and another church of St. Sauveur that has numerous paintings and inscriptions recalling pilgrimages over the centuries. The town of Perigueux is 12 miles to the north-west and Cahors is 10 miles to the south on the E9 highway.

According to tradition and legend, Amadour or Zacchaeus was a native of Galilee or Jericho in the Holy Land and some scholars think he was the husband of St. Veronica. It was St. Veronica who wiped Christ’s face in a cloth when he was being taken to his crucifixion on Golgotha. Earlier, Zacchaeus had climbed a sycamore tree in Jericho in order to see and hear Christ preaching. After the crucifixion he accompanied other members of Christ’s family, including the three Marys, and other close relations to Gaul bringing with him a sacred wooden image of the Blessed Virgin Mary made from wallnut that was, perhaps, carved by St. Luke the Apostle, or maybe by Zacchaeus (Amadour) himself? Though it is claimed by some authorities that the image dates from the 8th or 9th century AD. He also brought with him some drops of the Virgin Mary’s breast milk.

The Black Madonna, Rocamadour, France.

The Black Madonna, Rocamadour, France.

Amadour lived the life of a hermit in a cave at Rocamadour and placed the wooden image in there. Today the cave in the Alzou gorge houses a church that is dedicated to the hermit saint and contains his relics which were placed here by Benedictine monks in 1166, after they had found his body to be still incorrupt. St. Amadour’s feast-day was placed on the 1st May, and he or another saint called Amadour is venerated at Lucca in Italy where is kept the so-called ‘Holy Face’ – the famous cloth belonging to St. Veronica. Amadour according to legend, visited Rome at the time of St Peter’s martyrdom there and also, perhaps, Constantinople. He died about 70 AD. Today the wooden image of the Black Madonna with the Christ child seated on her knee is safely housed in The Chapelle Miraculeuse inside The Church of Notre Dame on the hilltop above the cave-church, which has been a place of veneration and pilgrimage since the middle-ages and remains so today. There is also a chapel dedicated to St. Michael the Archangel and what is said to be a miraculous bell.

Also in the this Pyrenean town near the Church of Notre Dame is the 11th-13th century Basilica of St. Sauveur (Saviour), another place of pilgrimage down the centuries and, to which many kings, princes, saints and noblemen have payed homage. St. Bernard and St. Dominic are said to have come on pilgrimage here, as did Emperor Charlemagne. Many of these rich pilgrims have left inscriptions upon the walls and arranged for wall paintings to be initiated as a sign of their benevolence to the Blessed Virgin Mary and Christ the Saviour.

Sources:-

The Shrine of Rocamadour – [The Black Madonna copyright image].

Begg, Ean., The Cult Of The Black Virgin, Arkana, London, 1985.

 


San Miguel de Arrechinaga, Markina-Xemein, Biscay, Northern Spain.

Latitude 43.267458. Longitude 2.49396. The little Basque town of Markina-Xemein in the Pais Vasco, province of Bicay, north-eastern Spain is much like any other town in the Basque country, but here we have a very curious site. The little church and hermitage of San Miguel de Arrechinaga stands just across the bridge at the western-side of the town on the Xemein Etorbidea road. It is built around three huge megaliths or, a dolmen? The town is situated on the main B1 633 road running north-east to south-west. Bilbao is some 26 miles to the west, while the town of San Sebastian is about the same distance to the east.

San Miguel de Arrechinaga, Markina-Xemein, Spain

Although the huge stones within the sanctuary of San Miguel’s church have often been referred to as a prehitoric dolmen, it is almost certain they are not. In fact, they owe more to geographical history. The three odd-shaped, gnarled and distorted boulders are probably the eroded remains of a huge rock outcrop from the hill-side that was formed in the Tertiary period many hundreds of millions of years ago, perhaps 40 million years ago? At least that is the general consensus. So, in other words they are a natural feature, and nothing to do with prehistory.

In the middle-ages, according to legend, a local hermit came to live here and built his cell beneath the huge stones. His name was perhaps St Pollonio. Later, a church was built around the three stones and the hermitage, a site that was by that time revered as a place sacred to St Michael the Archangel – patron saint of high places. In the 18th century a new church was built around the curious stones. The three stones support each other in an interlocking sort of way; the largest of the three at the back lies over the top of the front two stones, supporting the whole structure. At the front and between the stones stands the main altar and a shrine inside which stands a very nice statue of St Michael (San Miguel) and a reliquary of St Pollonio – the whole thing looking as though it were made to be this way. A 14th century altar-piece can be seen in the church – though this is often locked away for security reasons. The floor of the church is hexagonal, while the roof is pyramid-shaped with a cupola in the centre of the ceiling and a rather large, radiating key-lock boss. St Miguel’s entrance door has an upper axis over which stands a belltower.

Legend says that a young man must pass three times underneath the huge stones if wishing to be married the following year; this is said to still take place even today. One rather far-fetched local legend claims that St Michael killed and then buried the devil beneath the boulders long ago before the church was built on the site – something that is said of other churches with a dedication to this saint located upon high places or rocky outcrops.

Sources:-

Fergusson, James., Rude Stone Monuments In All Countries, London, 1872.

Click on the following link  http://www.blogseitb.us/basquetourism/2010/11/28/san-miguel-de-arretxinaga-a-very-peculiar-church/

Click on the following link  http://hispanismo.org/senorios-vascongados/5613-curiosidades-san-miguel-de-arrechinaga-marquina-vizcaya.html