The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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St Columba’s House, Kells, Co. Meath, Southern Ireland

Irish Grid Reference:- N 73908 75963. At the side of Church Lane, opposite the monastic site, in the town of Kells (Ceanannas Mór), Co. Meath, Southern Ireland, there is a curious little ecclesiastical building that is called ‘St Columba’s House’ or ‘the House of Columcille’ (Teach Naomh Cholumba), which dates back to the 9th-11th Centuries AD, although its sloping roof was probably rebuilt in more recent times. The chapel/oratory was probably built by one of the abbots. Traditionally, it was here that the famous illuminated gospels known as ‘The Book of Kells’ was written by a monk from St Columba’s Abbey in 800 AD and, the body of the Irish saint, may have been housed in this very building (or one before it) after being brought from Iona in Western Scotland in the late 9th Century. The monastic enclosure and graveyard on the other side of Church Lane has a 100 foot-high round-tower, and three sculptured Celtic high crosses, of the early Medieval period; and the Market Cross in the market square. Legend attributes the founding of the abbey at Kells to St Columcille (550 AD), although there has always been some uncertainty about that. 

St. Columba’s House, Kells, in Co. Meath, by Peter F. Anson

Peter F. Anson (1952) tells us about St. Columba’s House, saying that: “It is quite possible that in this curious little building with an upper chamber hidden away above the barrel vaulting of its roof, was written the famous Book of Kells, the great treasure of the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Who wrote this and illuminated this most perfect expression of Christian art which has survived the centuries of war and strife in Ireland ? Tradition has it that the artist was an unknown monk of the abbey of Kells, in Meath. Anyhow, whoever he was he must have been one of the greatest book illustrators and masters of penmanship the world has ever known, and for this reason I had always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Kells. When this marvelous work of art was being produced in what is now no more than a sleepy little country town, ‘London was a haunted Roman ruin on a hill with the brambles over London Wall and the camp fires of the East Angles shining on the marsh beyond the city which they were afraid to enter,’ writes Mr. H. V. Morton, ‘Paris was a desolation and the sun was setting over Rome.’ But Ireland, thanks to her isolation, remained a stronghold of learning and culture. What is left to-day of the ancient glories of Kells? There is this little building, known as St. Columba’s House, a dreary neglected churchyard containing some magnificent Celtic crosses, and that is all.”

The Wikipedia website says: ‘St. Columb’s House is today thought to mostly date from the 10th century. It is named after Columba (Colm Cille), whose relics it may once have housed. The roof was modified at a later date. The house was used by monks to say the Liturgy of the Hours, or possibly as a shrine church or burial place of an abbot. It once contained a large flat stone called “St Columb’s Bed”, possibly a grave slab. His relics were brought to Kells in 878, and moved to Skryne Church later before finally going to Downpatrick, according to Wikipedia. See Link, below.

Katharine Scherman (1981) says regarding the Book of Kells that: “Argument, often stormy, surrounds the history of the Book of Kells, there being strong claimants for its generation in Ireland, Iona, Lindisfarne or other insular foundations of Irish origin and mixed personnel. The answer will probably never be known, though some experts reason that evidence favours its inception at Iona in the late eighth century and subsequent removal to Kells, where it was completed in the first quarter of the ninth century.

“In 795 Iona was pillaged by Norse raiders; in 801-802 they came again and burned the monastery to the ground; returning in 806 they murdered sixty-eight monks….. In 807 the abbot, Cellach, with the remaining monks, moved to Ireland taking with them the bones and other relics of St Columba and whatever valuables they had managed to hide from the ravag-ers—among them, presumably, the unfinished manuscript. They went to the site of one of Columba’s monasteries at Kells, County Meath, and built there a new monastery, to be the headquarters of the league of Columban houses.

“Kells, being inland, was considered safe from the marauders, who, in the early years, limited their invasions to hit-and-run assaults on the monasteries immediately accessible by sea. But Kells was struck the year after its founding and its church destroyed. A new church was completed in 814 and the monastic village, probably fortified, succeeded in fending   off subsequent attackers. Undoubtedly, also, successive abbots paid tribute for the privilege of being left alone. At any rate, the monastery of Kells had years of peace in the early ninth century — time enough for the production of the great book. For the creation of such a complex, profound and subtle work of art is a luxury that presupposes a number of conditions: security from outward disturbance; wealth to afford the years of dedicated specialization of a corps of scribes and painters; a scholarly intimacy with the Christian thought of the time; and a large library of books from abroad, which, being rare, would take years to accumulate. The scriptorium at Kells, fortunate in its relative tranquillity, could meet these conditions and finish — though it was never absolutely finished — the work that had begun at Iona. But the monastery was not permanently inviolate. The Norse sacked it in 919, 950 and 969, and in the following century it was raided repeatedly by the Irish themselves. In 1170 it was burned to the ground by the Anglo-Normans at the instigation of their Irish ally, Diarmait Mac Murrough.

“Despite the brutal history of Kells, the manuscript survived almost intact. In 1006 it was stolen, and turned up two and a half months later buried “under a sod” with the gold of its wood-and-metal cover wrenched off. The inside pages were unscathed, though some missing leaves at the beginning and the end may have been torn off at this time.

Andrew Jones (2002) tells us that: “The first probable record of the existence of the Book of Kells is an account of the theft of ‘the great Gospel of Columkille, the chief relic of the western world’ from the great stone church of Kells in the year 1007. The book was found buried in the ground almost three months later, and presumably remained at Kells until it was brought to Dublin and presented to Trinity College by Henry Jones, Bishop of Meath, some time after the year 1661. It has been in the College Library ever since as its greatest treasure.”

Greenwood, Connolly, Hawkins & Wallis (1999) tell us a lot about the Kells monastic site, saying that: “The Round Tower in the churchyard is known to have been here before 1076, for in that year Murchadh Mac Flainn. who was claiming the High Kingship, was murdered within the tower. It’s a little under 100ft high, with five windows near the top, and missing only its roof.

“Near the tower is the South High Cross, the best and probably the oldest of the crosses at Kells, carved as ever with scenes from the Bible. Here you’ll see, on the south face, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel; then the three children in the fiery furnace; then Daniel in the lions’ den. On the left arm of the wheel Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, and on the right are SS. Paul and Anthony in the desert; at the top is David with his harp and the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There are two other complete crosses in the churchyard, and the stem of a fourth (behind the church back-entrance door) with the inscription Oroit do Artgal, A prayer for Artgal. This has several identifiable panels. The near side shows the baptism of Christ, the marriage feast at Cana, David with his harp again, the presentation in the Temple, and others to worn to make out. On the other side are a self-conscious Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and others hard to identify accurately. There are sculptured stones embedded in the walls of the bell tower.

“In the central market square there’s another fine high cross, discoloured by traffic fumes, said to have been placed here by Jonathan Swift. In 1798 it served as the gallows from which local rebels were hanged. Yet again, it is liberally festooned with fine stone carving. The base shows horsemen and animals in a battle scene; on the west face are the adoration of the Magi, the marriage at Cana and the miracle of the loaves and fishes, all surrounding the Crucifixion in the centre of the wheel; on the east are Christ in the tomb, Goliath, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, with Daniel in the lions’ den occupying centre stage.”

Sources and related websites:-

Anson F., The Pilgrim’s Sketch Books — No. 4 — An Irish Pilgrimage, Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., London, 1932.

Greenwood, Margaret, Connolly, Mark, Hawkins, Hilda & Wallis, Geoff, Ireland — The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., London, 1999.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Columb%27s_House

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

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Columb%27s_House#/media/File:St._Columb’s_House,_Kells_2018-07-24_

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Kells%20Monastery,%20Meath.html

http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2013/06/saint-columbas-well-kells-county-meath.html

http://www.heritagetowns.com/kellslarge1.shtml

http://www.archaeologicalconsultancyservices.com/index.php/archaeological-consultancy-services-blog/47-archaeologist-from-acs-ireland-at-st-colmcilles-house-kells-co-meath

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 


St Columba’s Chapel at Skeabost, Isle Of Skye, Highland Region, Inner Hebrides

Ruined Chapel on St Columba’s Island, Skye, by Gordon Hatton (Geograph)

OS Grid Reference: NG 4177 4852. On the little island of Skeabost in the Snizort river, near Ken-saleyre, Isle of Skye, Highland Region, are the ruins of St Columba’s Chapel, an 11th century building, and there is a cemetery with  interesting 16th century gravestones. Near the ruined chapel is St Columba’s Rock from which the saint is said to have preached. The first chapel here at Eilean Chaluim Chille (St Columba’s Isle) on the Snizort river was founded in the 6th century by St Columba (521-97) whilst visiting Pictish settlements, and probably after founding his famous monastery at Iona (563 AD).  He also founded a chapel at Kilmuir a few miles to the north.  The larger ruined chapel at the eastern side of the island was known as ‘Skeabost Cathedral’. However, St Columba’s Chapel was partly destroyed in the early 16th century after which it fell into ruin – although the graveyard has been restored. The A850 from Portree to Uig runs just southwest of the island, which is  6 miles northwest of Portree. You can take the car ferry from Fort William or Mallaig to Armadale to reach Skye, or by car on the Skye Road Bridge from Kyle of Lochalsh to Kyleakin. A footbridge over the river Snizort gives the visitor or pilgrim access to this “holy” island.

There are two medieval chapels on the island, the 11th century chapel at the western side lies in ruins, whereas the other chapel ruin over to the east has a large rectangular enclosure surrounding it; this was probably the old parish church or Cathedral and of a 14th-15th century date? There is a third building at the southeast which was an enclosure.  The ruined chapel of St Columba, with its roughly built walls is now roofless, but its end gables still stand up to 11 feet high, and the building’s inner space measures 16 feet in length and 9 feet in width. The walls in between are 6-7 feet high. Only one window remains; and 13th century carved stonework can be seen higher up in the walls. There might have been a monastery here at some point, but more likely a bishop’s residence; the little island apparently being the seat of ‘the bishops of the Isles’. The larger chapel and its associated buildings in their heyday would have been the size of a small cathedral – hence the name Skeabost Cathedral. We know the first chapel here was established by St Columba (Columcille) after 563 AD, but the chapel that we see today was built either in the late 11th or the early 12th century. Columba was thought to be visiting Pictish settlements on Skye around this time and no doubt on a mission to Christianise them; the saint apparently preached from a large rock near his chapel.

Aerial view of St Columba’s Island by John Allan (Geograph)

Jonathan MacDonald tells us more about the place saying that: “On an island in the Snizort river is an ancient cemetery and site of Saint Columba’s Chapel, which is believed to have been built by Saint Columba during his visit to Skye and to have been the first Christian church on the island followed by the chapel at Eilean a’ Loch in Kilmuir. The biographer Adamson records how Saint Columba saw a vision before arriving in Skye of being greeted by an old man who would ask for baptism and on receiving it would die. The story goes on to tell how the Saint and his monks were met on landing near Skeabost by a group of men carrying an old and feeble man called Artbrannan who had heard of Columba’s message of Christianity and who was determined to be alive until he could meet the saint. Saint Columba duly took water and with the assistance of his monks baptized Artbrannan who, as soon as the sacred water touched his forehead, fell dead at the saint’s feet. His body was soon carried on a bier to the little island on the river and buried there by Columba and his men. It is said that this was the first Christian burial in Skye. Today, through the efforts of local people and organisations the old churchyard where countless local people including many chiefs of the Nicolson clan lie buried has been brought into a presentable appearance thus making it possible for people to visit this sacred and historical spot.”

Norman Newton (1992) tells us about St Columba’s monasticism on offshore islands. He says that: “Many traces of early Christian monasteries survive on our offshore islands, which were established by Columba and his contemporaries, for he was only one of many men who were spreading the Christian message. Undoubtedly, he was the most charismatic of the early English saints and, from the point of view of posterity, the most fortunate, because it was one of his successors at Iona, the abbot Adomnan, whose Life of St Columba, written in the 680s, is distinguished from all the other lives of early saints by its racy style and fascinating detail of the people and places of Columba’s time. Adomnan was supremely skilled in public relations, for he purveyed a heady mixture of fact and the supernatural which is compelling reading even in these skeptical times.”

There are some interesting graves in the ‘now tidy’ churchyard on St Columba’s Isle, but those in St Columba’s Chapel which was put in to use as a Mortuary Chapel, are of the clan chiefs MacNicol (MhicNeacail) or Nicolson, 28 of whom apparently lie here in what has been called ‘The Nicolson’s Aisle’. Most of the graveslabs, some of them having carved effigies, are probably of the 16th century. There are said to be gravestones here that date from earlier times maybe the 11th century? And there are are other clan graves out in the cemetery and in the second ruined chapel although these are probably not of the clan Mac Nicol.

Sources and related websites:

MacDonald, Jonathan, Discovering Skye – A Handbook of the Island’s History and Legend, J. MacDonald, Upper Duntulm, Kilmuir, Skye.

Newton, Norman, The Shell Guide To The Islands Of Britain, David & Charles, Newton Abbot, Devon, 1992.

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

Photo (top) by Gordon Hatton:  https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/3956554

Photo (middle) by John Allan:   https://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/4844681

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

https://www.britainexpress.com/scotland/Skye/skeabost-chapel.htm

http://www.theskyeguide.com/see-and-do-mainmenu-35/42-interesting-places/110-st-columbas-isle

https://canmore.org.uk/site/11282/skye-skeabost-island

https://www.scorrybreac.org/st-columbas-island.html#

https://www.clanmacnicol.org/saint-columba

http://www.academia.edu/20262543/From_cathedral_of_the_Isles_to_obscurity_-_the_archaeology_and_history_of_Skeabost_Island_Snizort

https://her.highland.gov.uk/monument/MHG5135

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2018.

 


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St Robert’s Cave-Chapel And Holy Well, Knaresborough, North Yorkshire

St Robert’s Cave by Storye book (Wikimedia Commons).

OS Grid Reference: SE 36083 56059. In a secluded wooded area near Grimbald Bridge between Abbey Road and the River Nidd at Knaresborough, North Yorkshire, is St Robert’s Cave & Holy Cross Chapel. Nearby, another chapel, but a 15th century wayside chapel and shrine, hewn out of the rock, which is today dedicated to Our Lady of The Crag. This particular chapel is not how-ever associated with St Robert. About 470m to the north is St Robert’s holy well, a healing spring resorted to by the faithful in times past. Robert Flower (1160-1218) was a hermit who spent many years here – more especially his latter years – but also at a number of other monastic sites across Yorkshire. He was said to have performed some miracles and devoted much of his time to the poor, though he was never canonised by the Church.  You can reach St Robert’s Cave from the newer bridge on Wetherby Road (B 6164). Go down the steps onto Abbey Road and a bit further south beside the river is the cave. The medieval Chapel of ‘Our Lady of the Crag’ is ½ a mile to the west at the other end of Abbey Road. St Robert’s Well was located on Monkswell Park Road about a ¼ of a mile north of town.

David Hugh Farmer (1982) says that St Robert was: “The son of an important townsman of York and became a cleric early in life. As a subdeacon he was a novice at the Cistercian abbey of Newminster, but stayed only a few months. He then chose to live as a herm at Knaresborough in a cave where another hermit, also in residence, was a knight in hiding from Richard I, on whose death (1199) he returned to his wife. Robert continued there for some years, until a wealthy widow offered him a cell and chapel at Rudfarlington, near by. A year later this hermitage was destroyed by bandits, so Robert lived at Spofforth under the church wall for a few months, then at Hedley near Tadcaster, where he found the monks to easy-going, before returning to Rudfarlington. Here he had four servants and kept livestock, but was soon in trouble with William de Stuteville, constable of Knaresborough Castle, for harbouring thieves and outlaws. The charge may have been true, for Robert was well known for charity to the destitute. The hermitage was destroyed by William; Robert returned to his cave at Knaresborough, where he lived for the rest of his life.

Farmer goes on to say of St Robert: “His benefactors included King John who gave him forty acres of land in 1216, which he eventually accepted for the poor  and so refused to pay tithes on it. William de Stuteville also gave him land and cows. Robert had a companion called Yves, who  remained with him for the rest of his life.

Farmer also adds that: “Robert’s death, like much of his life, was controversial. Cistercian monks from Fountains tried unsuccessfully to aggregate him to their Order on his death-bed and, after his death on 24th September, to bury his body in their church. But he refused the first and foiled the second by arranging for his burial at the chapel beside his cave. Later the Trinitarian house at Knaresborough acquired the hermitage: papal records for 1252 offered  an indulgence for ‘Building the monastery of St. Robert at Gnaresbur, where the saint’s body is buried’. This document followed his translation, but preceded any official process of canonization, for which a book of Lives and prayers was prepared. Official canonization never took place, but implicit approval was given to the cult. The chapel became a place of pilgri-mage, where oil flowed from the tomb. Matthew Paris regarded Edmund of Canterbury, Elizabeth of Hungary and Robert of Knaresborough as outstanding saints of the early 13th century.”

Sign at St Robert’s  Cave by Caruso 308 (Wikipedia)

St Robert’s Cave on Abbey Road, with its connecting chambers and the grotto-like inner chapel, were carved out of the solid Limestone cliff beside the river Nidd. It’s thought the saint himself enlarged the chapel and hermitage which has a stone altar, stone seat, two alcoves, medieval carved cross and more recent graffiti; building this structure must have taken a considerable amount of both energy and time. The chapel was dedicated in honour of the Holy Cross and maybe also St Giles? Pilgrims visited the hermit-saint knowing him to be a miracle worker, and even some eminent local people were known to seek his good council. However, the cave and chapel were frequently flooded by the river Nidd and for long periods remained uninhabited and cut off – this more so in recent times. After the death of St Robert in 1218 his body lay in a tomb that was located in the cave-chapel. There is a church dedicated to him at Knaresborough and another at Pannall, north Yorkshire. Morley church, Derby-shire, has some very nice stained-glass windows depicting the Life of St Robert of Knaresborough. His feast-day is 24th September.

There used to be a holy well named for St Robert 470m to the north of the saint’s cave (at SE 3629 5650), but today that holy spot is the Monkswell Business Park, Manse Lane. However, the last vestiges of the said well/spring can still be seen although today it is a ‘wishing well’ into which locals throw coins! Robert Charles Hope (1893) said of this well that: “A short distance above Grimbald’s Bridge, in a field called Halykeld Sykes, on the north side of the river Nidd, is “”St Robert’s Well.”” There is also a chapel of St. Robert of Knaresborough, which was confirmed by charter to the Brethren of the Order of the Holy Trinity at Knaresborough by Richard, Earl of Cornwall.” Another holy well, said to be named after St Robert, can still be seen just to the southeast of Levisham, north Yorkshire.

Our Lady of The Crag, Knaresborough. (Drawing)

About ½ a mile to the west, at the other end of Abbey Road, is the medieval chapel of  ‘Our-Lady-of-the Crag’, which has sometimes mistakenly been called St Robert’s Chapel, but this folly-like structure was built 200 years after the saint. The chapel, with its tiny inner shrine, was carved out of the sandstone rock-face in c1408 by a local mason by the name of John, whose son was almost killed in a rock fall. John prayed to Our Lady for a miracle. His son survived, and to thank Our Lady for the miracle he built the Chapel in thanks. The inside of the chapel is very tiny but there is an altar and a lovely modern statue of Mary. It has a carved vaulted ceiling with bosses and gargoyles. Church services do still occasionally take place at the chapel and groups of pilgrims come on visits (see the St Mary of Knaresborough website, below, for more informa-tion). By the chapel’s entrance and ‘standing guard’ is an 18th century carved statue of a very life-like knight in armour holding his sword. The chapel is Grade I Listed.

Our Lady Of The Crag Chapel.

Headley & Meulenkamp (1999) add with regard to this chapel and saying that: “………it is a wayside shrine with beautiful Gothic decoration, immediately above it is Fort Montague, an 18th century folly.” They say of Knaresborough that: “it resembles parts of Derbyshire, not least because of the large number of hermits caves.” Fisher & Pennington (1953) say that: “It was originally a wayside chapel, founded at the beginning of the fifteenth century. It won its unenviable place in the annals of notoriety when Eugene Aram hid in it the body of his victim. Aram was convicted of murder and executed in 1759 many years after his crime, which was given a romantic interest quite undeser-ved by a novel of Bulwer Lytton. The figure is of a knight drawing his sword.”  

Sources and related websites:-

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

Fisher, Graham & Pennington, John, Historic Britain, Odhams Books, Feltham, Middlesex, 1953.

Headley, Gwyn & Meulenkamp, Wim, Follies Grottoes And Garden Buildings, Aurum Press Ltd., London, 1999.

Hope, Robert Charles, The Legendary Lore Of The Holy Wells Of England, Forgotten Books, 2012 (originally published 1893)

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:St_Roberts_Cave_008

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

http://www.stmarysknaresborough.org/shrine.html

https://www.visitharrogate.co.uk/things-to-do/st-roberts-cave-p1203201

http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1970/

http://www.halikeld.f9.co.uk/holywells/north/robert1.htm

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=26391

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


St Peter’s Church, Prestbury, Cheshire

St Peter’s Church   (R. A. Riseley, 1952).

   OS Grid Reference: SJ 90082 76935. The 13th and 14th century grey sandstone parish church of St Peter at Prestbury, Cheshire, is located at the southwest side of the village, close by the A538 road (the village road), and just opposite The Bridge Hotel. The village is located some 4 miles to the southeast of Wilmslow. The River Bollin flows near the church. There was probably a late Saxon church on this site, or close by, in the 11th century. There is the obvious evidence with regard to that early church in the churchyard where there’s a very well-put-together monument made-up of two large fragments of Saxon crosses, which has some very nice, almost Celtic-like, carvings. Also in the churchyard a 12th century Norman chapel with a carved doorway that has some outstandingly beautiful sculptural work: above the doorway is a tympanum with “Christ in Majesty” and above that seven carved figures that are now sadly defaced.

   The parish church has some medieval features including an Early English three-light lancet window (1220-30) at the north side of the chancel and a 13th century piscina with carved head in the south aisle, while the 13th century font was recut in the 19th century and has carved heads of monks from St Werburgh’s Abbey. In the north aisle is a 14th century figure of St Nicholas. There is a nice oak rood-screen of 1787. The crenellated church tower is of 1480. Also of interest some late medieval carved (incised) coffin slabs. The earliest coffin slab is built onto the north wall of the chancel and has a foliated calvary cross and a Latin inscription to Reginald Legh, Esquire, son of Robert Legh, Knight, foremerly Lord of Adlington. He built the church tower and porch. Reginald died in 1482. Apparently there was a priory hereabouts in the 14th century and, in the century following, there was a monastic hospice (Spittal House), which in more recent times became a farm. After the Norman Conquest the manor and church came into the possession of the Earl of Chester and, by 1153 Hugh Kyvelioc, Earl of Chester, had given the same manor and church to the Abbey of St Werburgh at Chester. Another interesting slab in the north wall of the chancel shows Sir Edward Warren of Poynton, who is represented in full armour; around the border is a Latin inscription: “Here lyeth the body of Edward Warren of Poynton, Knight, which departed from this transitory life the 12th day of October, in the year of our Lord God, 1558. Whose soul God pardon. Amen.”

Saxon Cross in St Peter’s Churchyard by R. A. Riseley.

   The Anglo-Saxon cross in the churchyard is actually two sections of different crosses that have been delicately placed together to form a T-shaped ancient monument; the carvings looking much more Celtic in design than Saxon. This may be due to the close proximity of Prestbury to the Welsh border and, we know that that border was as far east as Chester and Warrington back in the so-called Dark Ages, and so the Celtic influence was stronger. The cross fragments were discovered about 1841 when restoration work on the chancel was taking place; the sandstone fragments were embedded in the masonry. Originally the carved fragments were presumed to date from the 8th century, but today they are considered to be from the 10th or 11th century. It is richly carved all over with interlacing, interlinking and key-pattern designs. At the bottom there is a strange creature with a large, open mouth and several tails and a possible human figure, while there is a second human figure in the centre of the top T-shaped section. All-in-all a very beautiful piece of sculptured stonework, be it Celtic or Anglo-Saxon? Also in the churchyard a Grade II listed sundial dating from 1672.

Norman Chapel at St Peter’s Church, Prestbury, by R. A. Riseley, 1955.

   At the southeast side of the parish church stands the 12th century Norman Chapel. According to the booklet ‘Prestbury and its Ancient Church’ (1952): “The building which stands close to the present Church and which is generally known as the “Norman Chapel”, was probably built on the site of the more ancient Saxon edifice. It has a beautiful Norman doorway, a fine specimen of its kind. Over the doors is a tympanum representing “Christ in Majesty,” a subject which occurs in 21 other Norman tympana in England. Above on the corbel table are seven figures, now much defaced, which are of great interest, being unique in Christendom. Their interpretation seems to be as follows: The central figure represents God the Father holding the law in His left hand typified by an open book, and the Gospel in the right hand as fore-shadowed by the cross; conjointly justice and mercy are portrayed. The figure to the right with the animal (the Norman method of drawing a lamb) seems to stand for Christ, the Lamb of God , seated at the right hand of the Father. The figure to the left, having a resemblance to a bird, typifies the Holy Ghost in form of a dove. Collectively these three figures stand for the Trinity. St Peter with the key is shown in the sixth figure. To this saint the church was dedicated as is its successor at the present day. Figure two represents the monarch who reigned when the oratory was built, and this is almost certainly Richard I, Coeur de Lion, he being the first of the Norman kings to bear the budded scepter surmounted by a plain cross as here shown. The brings the date of the oratory within the year of his coronation, 1190, and that of his death, 1199.

   “The warrior with battle axe, figure one, and priest with staff, figure seven, represent the military and ecclesiastical government of the county palatine. The figures then may be, when taken together, interpreted as follows: “”In the name of the Blessed Trinity, this church, dedicated to St. Peter, was built by the abbot and monks of St Werburgh in the reign of Richard I, when Randle Blundeville was Early of Chester.”” 

   The Parish church of St Peter is a Grade I listed building and the Norman chapel is a Grade II listed building.

Sources & Related Websites:-

Bottomley, Frank, The Church Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward Ltd., London, 1978.

Rogers, Harold, W (forward by the vicar), Prestbury and its Ancient Church, Macclesfield Press Ltd., 1958? (Drawings by R. A. Riseley).

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

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/churchyard-cross-prestbury/

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

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1221919

http://www.crsbi.ac.uk/site/1197/

                                                    © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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Tintagel Head Celtic Monastery, Cornwall

Map of Tintagel Island in Cornwall.

Map of Tintagel Island in Cornwall.

   OS Grid Reference: SX 05003 89064. On the rocky, windlashed headland of Tintagel-Head, in Corn-wall, near the ruins of Tintagel Castle which was built in c 1145, are the scant foundations of what was considered to be a Celtic monastery, dating from the beginning of the 6th century AD. This was probably a high-status Dark Age monastery with royal connections. There are also the walls of a 12th century chapel of St Julitta which is attached to the monastic buildings. It has always been assumed that the monastery here on Tintagel Head was founded in 500 AD by St Juliot, Julitta, or Julianta, a princess who hailed from south Wales, and might be one and the same as St Uletta. Tintagel Castle has long had “romantic” associations with King Arthur and Merlin the Magician. Today the monastic remains lie on Tintagel Island, which is all but cut-off from the rest of the headland where the castle ruins are situated. There is limited access from the castle to Tintagel Island through a deep chasm in the headlands via a footpath and bridge, but its very precarious and great care “should” be taken, especially if weather conditions are against you.

   The monastic site here at the south side of Tintagel Island, with its rectangular-shaped buildings all joined together, was excavated in the 1920s and 30s by C. A. Raleagh Radford (1900-1999) – at which time it was thought to be a high status Celtic monastery, but more recently a few historians have opted for the possibility that it might have been a trading centre due, perhaps, to the large amounts of pottery (known as Tintagel Pottery) found at the site, says Geoffrey Ashe ‘A Guidebook to Arthurian Britain’. Another large building (site E) that was a part of the monastery lies beneath a garden, while other little clusters of buildings (sites B.C. and F) lie to the S and SE of the main monastic site, which is known as site A. These clusters of buildings were probably the monastery’s farm and stables. By the 9th century it seems the monastery here at Tintagel was abandoned, its buildings left to go back to nature and the mists of time, but to be re-invigorated again in the 1920s by an archaeological dig! 

   There is a lot of very good field information on the Celtic monastery at Tintagel in the work ‘The Quest for Arthur’s Britain’, edited by Geoffrey Ash. It says that with regard to excavations on the island: “These excavations showed that the headland of Tintagel had been the site of an extensive Celtic monastery. Four different phases identified in one of the buildings indicated a long period of occupation. Imported pottery from the east Mediterranean established an initial date in the fifth or early sixth century. A silver penny of King Alfred (871-99)—the latest artifact antedating the castle—may represent no more than the loss by a pilgrim to a deserted oratory which was no longer the centre of a living community. Pottery of the twelfth century and later, though relatively common on this site, was never found in the layers associated with the monastery.

   “The Celtic monastery of Tintagel was bounded on the landward side by an earthen bank, now crowned by the thirteenth-century curtain, and by a broad, flat-bottomed ditch. The upper part of the existing bank is a twelfth-century heightening, but the base, some 30 feet across and 8 feet high, dates from the fifth or sixth century. Like its medieval successor, the monastic bank ran from the edge of the scarp overlooking the eastern valley to within a short  distance of the protruding boss of rock, leaving the same narrow entry. Early texts often speak of the monastic vallum, a term indicating the enclosure which fenced in the cashel or settlement occupied by the community. It seems always to have been a physical barrier, an earthen bank, a rampart of turf or a hedge. But it also had a spiritual meaning, separating the city of God from the world outside.

   “Within the enclosure the monastery consisted of groups of buildings, each with its special function. Eight such groups were located, of which six were explored and planned; the other two had been too far destroyed by the medieval castle. Two further sites were noted in folds of the cliff, and others probably await identification.

Plan of Celtic monastery at Tintagel, Cornwall.

Plan of Celtic monastery at Tintagel, Cornwall.

   “The first and largest site examined lay on the eastern edge of the plateau; it was centred on the twelfth-century chapel. The Celtic site consisted of a long range of buildings facing east on to a court which was bounded on the far side by the cliff, here forming the edge of the plateau. The range was approached from the south by a path running along the edge of the plateau; this is now reached by a modern zigzag approach rising up from the inner ward of the castle. The original way is likely to have been along the plateau, which has here been destroyed by the encroachment of the sea. At the south end of the range of buildings, a small square room thrust forward from the general line, together with the stub of a wall, suggest a gate with a lodge providing access to the court. With the court, a much-ruined stretch of walling immediately south of the later chapel is probably part of an older oratory. Beside it is the base of a square block of masonry, a tomb shrine or leacht. These tomb shrines are a normal feature in Celtic cemeteries; they housed the relics of saints or founders.

   “On the far side of the chapel a number of graves have been discovered. The oratory with the tomb of the saint would be the primary objective of visiting pilgrims. In its immediate vicinity one would expect to find the various buildings catering for their needs. There would be a treasury containing other relics, perhaps possessions of the saint. There would also be a sacristy, where the vessels needed for the service of the oratory would be stored. A guesthouse for the refreshment of pilgrims might also be found in this area, together with rooms needed by those members of the community charged with the care both of the pilgrims and of the lay community, of which the pastoral care was the responsibility of the monastery.

   “On this basis, it may tentatively be suggested that the southern end of the range, with a large central hall and smaller rooms grouped on one side and to the back, represents the guesthouse. The central part, now appearing as a single room, has been much damaged by the later chapel. Originally it may well have been subdivided, and here, in the vicinity of the oratory, one might expect the treasury and sacristy. This would leave the smaller rooms at the north end for the needs of those members of the community whose duties were with the lay world. This range had a long history. Four distinct building phases could be recognized. Normally the phases indicated adaption, while retaining the main structure of older date. Even so, a life of some three centuries is not likely to be too long for the existence of this community, and it could well have been in being for a far longer period.”

   And what about the founder/foundress of the Celtic monastery on Tintagel Head. Who was St Juliot or Julitta? The thinking is that the founder was St Uletta (Ilid). She was, according to legend, one of the many daughters of King Brychan Brycheaniog and was the founder of the first church at Llanilid, Mid-Glamorgan, in Wales, and is commemorated there with St Curig. In c 500 AD she went with other members of her family to Cornwall. We know that she was close, spiritually, to her sister St Morwenna and her brother St Nectan. It seems, however, that in Cornwall her original name was St Juliana (Iludiana) and over time the name became Juliot and Julitta; and soon after her arrival in Cornwall she established the monastic community at Tintagel.

   But St Juliot has been much confused with an early 4th century Christian martyr called St Julitta, who was commemorated with her three-year-old son St Cyricus in the west country. Their cultus was brought to Cornwall in the Middle Ages. St Juliot, however, is perhaps the patroness of Luxulyan church, Cornwall, with a feastday on the sunday nearest 29th June, according to David Farmer ‘Oxford Dictionary Of Saints’.  In Cornwall St Juliot (Julitta) is sometimes referred to as a “martyr” due to confusion, again, with the 4th century saint of the same name. St Juliot is also commemorated at Lanteglos-by-Camelford, Cornwall, where a holy well is named for her. And St Juliot in the Valency Valley, north-east Cornwall, is named after the saint. A few historians have suggested that St Juliot was, in fact, a male saint! St Julitta’s feastday at Llanilid church in Mid Glamorgan, Wales, is given as 30th June.

Sources and related websites:

Ashe, Geoffrey,  A Guidebook to Arthurian Britain, Longman Group Limited, London, 1980.

Farmer, David, Oxford Dictionary Of Saints, Oxford University Press, 2004.

http://www.archaeology.co.uk/specials/the-timeline-of-britain/tintagel.htm

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

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

http://www.thisisnorthcornwall.co.uk/king_arthur.html

Jones, Sally, Legends of Cornwall, Bossiney Books, St Teath, Bodmin, Cornwall, 1980. 

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

The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, (Edited by Geoffrey Ashe), Paladin Frogmore, St Albans, Herts, 1976.

Westwood, Jennifer, Gothick Cornwall, Shire Publications Ltd., Princess Risborough, Bucks, 1992.

                                                                 © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.

 


St Chad’s Church, Rochdale, Greater Manchester

St Chad's Church at Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

St Chad’s Church at Rochdale, Greater Manchester.

    OS grid reference: SD 8964 1313. St Chad’s parish church stands upon a lofty ridge overlooking the River Roch and the town of Rochdale, Greater Manchester. The church is a very imposing edifice standing high above the equally imposing Victorian town-hall and its famous clock tower. There was a church here in either the late Saxon period, or more likely just after the Norman conquest – the mid 11th to early 12th centuries – although that is open to question. There is a well-known legend that says there were problems with the siting of the first church which was being built on lower ground on the other side of the river, and that it had to be re-sited to the higher position that we see it today. The church can be reached from opposite the Town Hall carpark and by climbing the steep 124 steps up to Sparrow Hill.

    Author Dennis Ball in his interesting book ‘Lancashire Pastimes’, says that: “A Saxon thane, Gamel, Lord of Rochdale, decided to build a church to St Chad on the banks of the river Roche. The foundations were dug and all the materials taken to the site. All the materials mysteriously disappeared and reappeared at the summit of the steep hill on the opposite side of the river. Gamel was very annoyed and blamed his workmen. He made them take all the materials back to the original site. This took the whole of the next day. That night they were again moved back to the top of the hill. But this time the culprits were seen by some of the workmen. They were goblins.”

    Another, more lengthier interpretation of the legend, from the 19th century is given by J. Harland & T. T. Wilkinson in ‘Lancashire Legends’, which is published in ‘The Secret Country’ by Janet & Colin Bord. They say: “Towards the close of the reign of William the Conqueror, Gamel, the Saxon thane, Lord of Recedham or Rochdale, being left in the quiet possession of his lands and privileges, was ‘minded, for the fear of God and the salvation of his immortal soul, to build a chapel unto St Chadde’, nigh to the banks of the Rache or Roach. According to Mr Roby, in his ‘Traditions’, a place was set apart on the north bank of the river, in a low and sheltered spot now called ‘The Newgate’. Piles of timber and huge stones were gathered in profusion; the foundations were laid; stakes having been driven, and several courses of rubble stone  laid ready to receive the grouting or cement. In one night, the whole mass was conveyed, without the loss of a single stone, to the summit of a steep hill on the opposite bank, and apparently without any visible signs of the mode of removal. The Saxon thane was greatly incensed at what he supposed to be a trick of some of his own vassals, and threatened punishment; to obviate which, a number of the villeins and bordarii with great difficulty and labour con-veyed the building materials back to the site for the church; but again were they all removed in the night to the top of the hill. Gamel having learned the truth, sought counsel from Holy Church, and it was thereon resolved that the chapel should be built on the hill-top, as the unknown persons would not permit it to be erected on the site originally selected. This explains the chapel or church of St Chadde, still standing on a hill so high that one hundred and twenty-four steps were cut to accomplish the ascent, and enable the good people to go to prayers.”

Statue of St Chad on Rochdale Parish church.

St Chad’s statue, Rochdale Parish church.

    St Chad to whom Rochdale parish church is dedicated was a 7th century northern churchman who became abbot of Lastingham in Yorkshire, and for a while he was bishop of York until St Wilfrid returned from France. Later, he was made bishop of the Mercians at Lichfield. He died in 672 AD and his feast-day is held on 2nd March (Colin Waters ‘A Dictionary Of Saints Days, Fasts, Feasts And Festivals’). The town of Chadderton near Rochdale is probably named after St Chad.

    There are no antiquities of great age within St Chad’s, although the Tudor pews are of some notable interest and parts of the church tower are ‘thought’ to date back to the late Saxon age, or more likely the early Norman period. The statue of St Chad high up on the outer south wall is particularly fine. The Lancashire poet John Collier (Tim Bobbin) 1708-86 is buried in the churchyard.

Sources:

Ball, Dennis, Lancashire Pastimes, Burnedge Press Limited, Royton, Greater Manchester, 1987.

Bord, Janet & Colin, The Secret Country, Granada Publishing Limited, St Albans, Herts, 1980.

The Automobile Association, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, London WC2, 1961.

Waters, Colin, A Dictionary Of Saints Days, Fasts, Feasts And Festivals, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berks, 2003.


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St Candida’s Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset

Shrine of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Shrine of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Os grid reference: SY 3967 5432. At the north-side of Whitchurch Canonicorum village, in Marshwood Vale, along Lower Street stands St Candida’s Church (St Candida and Holy Cross), an ancient parish church on an equally ancient site, probably Saxon. The building houses the quite rare 13th century shrine of  a Saxon saint who was apparently martyred hereabouts by Vikings; the church then became a place of pilgrimage during the Middle Ages. St Candida is also known as St Whyte, St Wite, St Wita and St Gwen, though very little is actually known about her, and the date of her death not known with any real certainty – although it was, according to legend, somewhere between the 7th-9th centuries AD. The church tower of St Candida’s has some carved stones built into it which depict the martyrdom of the saint. The village of Whitchurch Canonicorum lies in the far south-west of Dorset – a few miles north of the A35 on country lanes – some 6 miles north-east of Lyme Regis and 2 miles north-east of Charmouth.

Within the parish church stands a rare 13th century stone shrine with three large oval-shaped apertures and, inside this there is a lead reliquary which is said to contain the bones of a local Saxon saint called Candida or Wite who was martyred at nearby Charmouth, probably at the beginning of the 8th century AD or, possibly in the 9th century? Some historians ‘consider’ her to be a saint from south Wales called Gwen Tebrion, but this seems most unlikely as St Gwen lived at an earlier date, the 6th century, but she shares the same feast-day 1st June.  Gwen means ‘White’ in the Welsh language form. The assumption was that King Athelstan gave the ‘so-called’ relics of St Gwen to the church at Whitchurch Canonicorum back in the 10th century AD.

A reference in the Reader’s Digest book ‘Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain’ says of the apertures in the medieval shrine “pilgrims thrust diseased limbs or bandages in the hope of miraculous cures”. Indeed numerous miracles of healing the sick and infirm have been recorded here over the centuries. An early miracle recorded at the shrine was the restoration of sight (Rodney Castleden, 1986).

In an article by Rodney Castleden ‘Saints, Shrines & Miracles’ for ‘Exploring The Supernatural’ magazine in 1986 we are given some interesting information about St Candida’s tomb [shrine]. The author says: “At the turn of the century a crack appeared in the stonework of St Candida’s tomb. It was then possible to examine the leaden reliquary inside… which carried the inscription HIC REQUEST RELIQE SCE WITE (Here lie the remains of Saint Wita? Wita was an alternative name for Candida. The lead box was opened up and inside were found the bones of a small woman who was about forty years old at the time of her death”. Castleden goes on to say that: “Very little is known about St Candida. Indeed, it may be her obscurity that ensured that she attracted no attention at the time of the Dissolution. All that we know about her, apart from the evidence of her shrine, rests on local tradition, which may or may not be reliable. The local tradition says that St Wita, or Candida, was a Saxon woman killed by the Danes on one of their raids when they landed at Charmouth. Part of this tradition is preserved in carvings on the church tower; they show a Viking axe and a Viking longship, the agencies of Candida’s death”.

Parish Church of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Parish Church of St Candida at Whitchurch Canonicorum (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The parish church of St Candida and Holy Cross stands on a Saxon foundation, but the present-day building is architecturally Early English (late Norman) to Perpendicular – 12th to 14th century. The font is Norman and the pulpit Jacobean, and it is noted for its nave arcades and tombs, according to The Illustrated AA Road Book of England & Wales. Authors Jones & Tricker ‘County Guide To English Churches’ say that: St Candida’s is “nearly all EE. The south doorway is however Norman and the S porch Perp. The arcades are EE with stiff-leaf foliage and trumpet-scallop capitals. The fine tower has eight pinnacles and is Perp. Norman font with intersecting arches, 16th C stalls (French) and Jac pulpit”.

It is of interest here to mention that just 1 mile to the south of Whitchurch is the village of Morecombelake and a healing well dedicated to St Candida (Wite). The well has long been able to cure eye troubles. Indeed author Rodney Castleden says: “Dorset children still call the pale blue flowers of the periwinkle ‘St Candida’s Eyes’, which again links the saint with eyesight. The well and its magic properties seem likely to form part of a much older tradition, from long before the Christian era”.

Sources

Castleden, Rodney., Saints, Shrines & Miracles, The Supernatural Magazine, November 1986.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_of_St_Candida_and_Holy_Cross

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

Pepin, David., Discovering Shrines And Holy Places, Shire Publications Ltd., Princes Risborough, Aylesbury, Bucks, 1980.

Reader’s Digest., Folklore Myths & Legends of Britain, (Second Edition), The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1977.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book of England & Wales, (Second Post – War Edition), The Automobile Association, London WC2, 1962.