The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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The Dragon Stone, St Mary And St Bega’s Church, St Bees, Cumbria

View of St Bees priory church, Cumbria, by Samuel & Nathaniel Buck (1739) Wikipedia.

OS Grid Reference: NX 9685 1210. In an alcove of the churchyard wall of St Mary & St Bega’s church at St Bees, Cumbria, is a huge carved stone lintel, which was thought to date back to the 8th century AD? The stone has a very beautiful, but also quite curious, Anglo Saxon carving of a dragon being killed by St Michael the Archangel, and not St George – as was usually the case! Below this lintel stone is a carved Medieval cross. The stone, which is called ‘The Dragon Stone’ for obvious reasons, is also known as ‘The Beowulf Stone’. Inside the parish church, which has grown out of the ruins of the near-complete priory nave, are more interesting carved gravestones and crosses. The Benedictine priory was dissolved in 1538. St Bega (Bee) was a Legendary 7th century Irish princess who came here in order to avoid an unwanted marriage; she founded a nunnery in AD 650 at or close to where the present parish church now stands. The priory church can be found beside the B5345 (over the railway line) at the northwestern side of the village – in the direction of Rottington. The village of St Bees lies 3 miles west of Egremont.

The Dragon Stone at St Mary & St Bega’s Church, in Cumbria.

The Dragon Stone or Beowulf Stone is in an alcove of the churchyard (courtyard) wall, opposite the beautifully carved west door of c.1160. It is a huge, long lump of carved stone bearing carvings that were thought to date from the 8th century, but they are now considered to be from the Norman period – the early 12th century AD, and probably came from a much earlier church that stood here. These carvings are very well-preserved, despite their age. A ferocious looking dragon with its long curled tail is depicted about to be killed by St Micheal, who is cowering behind it with his sword raised in readiness. There looks to be another strange beast, perhaps a dragon, with a long curled tail behind the main dragon, but also a dove of peace inside a circle, which sort of balances things out between good and evil. The strap-work design at the right-hand side seems more like Celtic or Saxon, and certainly not Norman; and at the left-side are two small circles with knotted (connecting) cords running through that look like crosses and, below them another section of knotwork with loops and links. Beneath the lintel stone a round-headed medieval cross with shaped depressions forming the arms. Also out in the churchyard part of a 10th century cross-shaft with Late Saxon carvings and a serpent.

Arthur Mee (1961), tells of more about the village, St Bega, and its church, saying that: “Deep in a valley near the sea it lies, a grey village of much antiquity and charm. Its church is the oldest and finest in West Cumberland; its school is ancient, and so is its bridge; but the oldest of all is its delightful story of St Bega (or Bee) and how she got her nunnery. “

The church has grown from the church of a rich priory which began about 1125 as an offshoot of St Mary’s great abbey in York. The priory was built where the nunnery has stood (from the 7th century until the Danes destroyed it in the 10th), and this church is carrying on its ancient tradition. But the most interesting possession of St Bees is a relic of the nunnery itself, a remarkable stone believed to date from the eighth century.

The Dragon Stone.

“We see it in the wall between the churchyard and the vicarage, where it forms the lintel of an alcove. It is carved with an ugly dragon turning to snarl at a tiny armed figure attacking it from behind. One end of the stone is decorated with plaitwork, and with the knotwork at the other end is a very curious carving which looks like a boar’s head. Standing in the alcove is another relic, a stout stone cross on which the bearers of a coffin would rest their load.

“The cross-shaped church with its fine central tower has been altered in modern times, but the greater part was built only a few decades after the priory. It has a magnificent Norman doorway without equal for many miles. The arch has four rich chevron mouldings, beak-heads of men and serpents, and a ram; and carved on one of the capitals is a figure swinging like a monkey from the branches. Three trefoils on stalks make an unusual decoration at the top of the dripstone, and are perhaps meant to represent the Trinity. The oak door is modern, and has decorated hinges. “

Among the stones kept here as relics are a stoup, a piscine, and a mortar, all of the 12th century. Others are probably parts of still older cross-shafts with primitive carving, and one is the upper part of a 10th century shaft decorated on each side with chain and scroll. There are coffin stones 800 years old, carved with crosses and swords and shears: a very fine one engraved with an archer drawing his bow, an elaborate 13th century stone, and another charmingly engraved with the portrait of 14th century Johanna Lucy in a graceful gown her hair in plaited coils.”

Arthur Mee (1961), goes on to tell of St Bega, patron saint of St Bees, saying that: “She was an Irish princess who lived in the 7th century. As a child she made up her mind to serve God and not to marry, and as a pledge of her determination she kept a bracelet said to have been given to her by an angel. But she was the most beautiful woman in the country, and her father betrothed her to a Norwegian prince. Bega (as she was often called) was guarded so that she should not run away, but on the eve of the wedding everyone joined in the merrymaking and she was able to escape, crossing the sea to Northumbria.

“Legend tells us that she was well received by a great lady there, who asked her husband to give her land for a nunnery. He jokingly said he would give as much land as was covered by snow on Midsummer day, and on that morning there was snow for three miles round. Snow has been known on Cumberland mountains on Midsummer day, and possibly the story grew up as an explanation of the irregular shape of the parish. Bega built her nunnery, serving food to the workers with her own hands. As abbess she cared for the sick and poor of the district and became greatly loved.

“Those who declare that there was no Saint Bega assert that the origin of her story is to be found in a ring keep at St Bees until the 13th century, venerated as the bracelet given to Bega by the angel. Actually this was a Norse ring from a pagan temple, taken into the Christian church and referred to as Sancta Bega, Latin for Holy and Anglo-Saxon for Ring; a misunderstanding of these words would account for belief in a saint named Bega. But it is likely that Bega was a real abbess, for the people of north-east England long looked upon her as the protector of the oppressed and the poor.”

Maxwell Fraser (1939), says that: “It has since been demonstrated that no St Bega had any connection with the site, although there was undoubtedly a pre-Norman church there.” W. T. Palmer (1939), adds to the legend of St Bega, saying that: “The place was Christianised by St. Bega, who had been promised all the land that snow lay on, on Midsummer morning. A space of 16 m. by 10 m. was clad in white, and had to be handed to her. In time monks took the place of nuns, and the Prior became one of the most powerful men in the North, though his church and estate were constantly being raided by Scots and by pirates.”

In recent times scholars and historians have considered Bega to be identical with Begu, a 7th century Northumbrian nun and friend of St Hilda. It was Begu who, looking out of her nunnery window at Hackness, had a vision of the soul of St Hilda floating (ascending) up into the night sky and heaven at the very same moment that the saintly abbess had died at Whitby mona-stery, on 17th of November, 680 AD, according to The Venerable Bede’s History. Her death also being recorded in ‘The Anglo Saxon Chronicle’. A passage concerning a bell being tolled for her passing is the first written mention of a bell in recorded history, according to Colin Waters (2003). David Farmer (1982), with regard to St Bee & St Begu being one and the same person, gives the feast-day of St Begu as 31st October. He also says that a sarcophagus containing the bones of St Begu was found at Hackness (c.1125) by the monks of Whitby – after it had been miraculously revealed to them. It was inscribed: Hoc est sepulchrum Begu. These relics were translated to Whitby Abbey where miracles were reported, but another set of relics was claimed by St Bees, says Farmer.

Sources & Related Websites:-

Bottomley, Frank, The Abbey Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1981.

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

Frazer, Maxwell, Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen & Co. Ltd., London, 1939.

Jennett, Seán (Editor), The Travellers Guides — The Lake District, Darton, Longman & Todd, London, 1965.

Mee, Arthur, The King’s England — Lake Counties — Cumberland And Westmoreland, Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1961.

Palmer, W. T., The Penguin Guides (Edt. by L. Russell Muirhead), Lake District, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1939.

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

https://www.britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101336027-church-of-st-mary-and-st-bega-st-bees#.WwSbT7uG9jo

http://www.stbees.org.uk/churches/priory/index.html

https://www.stbeghschurch.co.uk/Articles/249205/St_Beghs_Priory/About_us/History/Father_Gregory_Holden/BENEDICTINES_IN_WHITEHAVEN.aspx

https://www.visitcumbria.com/wc/st-bees-priory/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.


Pompey’s Pillar And Sphinxes, The Serapeum, Alexandria, Egypt

Pompey’s Pillar and Sphinx at Alexandria in Egypt.

Latitude:31.182515  Longitude:29.896394. On the rocky hill called ‘The Serapeum’ near the center of Alexandria, Egypt, are three monuments dating from the Roman period. The ornate granite ‘triumphal pillar’ or monolithic column (over 20m high) has wrongly been called ‘Pompey’s Pillar’ (it was probably erected to honour the Emperor Diocletion (297-300 AD) when he saved the city from famine. The pillar is also known as Awud as-Sawari (The Horseman’s Pillar). The two monuments (at either side) are Roman copies of the Sphinx, although much smaller than the more well-known Great Sphinx at Giza. Both are made from pink granite and of an earlier date than the pillar; they show the body of a lion and the head of a man. The Serapeum, at the south-west side of the city, on Shari Amûd al Sawari, northeast of the Catacombs of Kom al Shuqqafa, was the site of the Temple of Serapis and the Sanctuary and Library buildings, which were built either by Ptolemy I or III, the ruins of which are now the Acropolis Archaeological site. The  city of Alexandria was conquered by Rome in 30 BC. Pompey the Great was murdered in Egypt (48 BC).

Old Postcard showing Pompey’s Pillar at Alexandria, Egypt.

The Insight Guide – Egypt (1988) says of the site that: “Long before Alexander arrived on the scene, this hill was the citadel of Rhakotis, dedicated to the worship of Osiris. The Ptolemies in their turn built a temple of Serapis on its summit. Here, with a collection of 200,000 manuscripts given to her by Mark Antony, Cleopatra endowed the second great Alexandrian library, which was to remain attached to the Serapeum until the temple itself was destroyed by a Christian mob; and thus here, for 400 years, was the most learned spot on earth. Today not much of the Serapeum remains: some tunnels in the rocks with crypts and niches and a few marble pillars. What the Christians wiped out in 391 A.D. later vicissitudes have put paid to. But the principal attraction, a solitary 72-foot (22 meter) high pillar of pink Aswan granite, seems to touch the sky defiantly and when European travelers arrived in the 15th century it caught their attention. No scholars they, but since they had heard of Pompey, they named the pillar after him and said his head was enclosed in a ball at the top. It actually has nothing to do with Pompey: according to an inscription on its base, it was dedicated to the Emperor Diocletian in 297 A.D. and it may once have had an equestrian statue on top, which would explain its Arabic name. Even less is left of the temple to Isis that once stood on the hill than of the Serapeum. You can see a statue of Isis Pharia, found near the site of the Pharos, as well as two granite sphinxes.”  

Alice Taylor (1964) adds to that that: “Among the best-preserved remains of the Roman period in Alexandria are Pompey’s Pillar and the sphinx. The red granite pillar, eighty-five feet high, was erected by Diocletian in 297 A.D. Excavations here have unearthed dozens of fragments of other Roman objects and buildings, but they are only fragments.”

And Taylor (1964) also says that: “In the last years of the Ptolemaic era a succession of rival rulers, constantly at war with each other, fell under the rising power of Rome. Cleopatra VI, the last of them, a woman of remarkable ability, tried her best to save the dynasty.”

And further to that Alice Taylor adds with regard to Egypt that: “Most of the Roman rulers, like the Greek, considered Egypt a “”cow to be milked””, although at times the people appear to have been fairly prosperous. Gradually, despite persecutions, Christianity gained converts. Many sought refuge in the harsh lonely desert, where they created the world’s first Christian monasteries. Later, Christianity became the official religion, known as the Egyptian (Coptic) Church, and the non-Christians in turn were persecuted.”

View of Pompey’s Pillar c 1850. (Wikimedia).

Edith Flamarion (1997) writes regarding Pompey the Great that: “One man especially became the champion of Egyptian independence: the roman imperator (commander) Pompey the Great, wreathed in glory after suppressing a revolt in Rome, clearing the Mediterranean of pirates, and crushing the powerful Asian king Mithradates. In 64 BCE he over-threw the Seleucid kingdom; the following year, he reduced Syria to the status of a Roman province—thereby creating a Roman stronghold in the Middle East, at the gates of Egypt—and took Jerusalem. Auletes made an alliance with Pompey, sending him 8,000 cavalry for his wars and many gifts, among them a heavy gold crown. 

In 60 BCE, though, the pharaoh had reason to tremble, for Pompey allied himself with Julius Caesar, who became consul the following year. The Egyptian king sent to Rome the huge sum of 8,000 talents, which brought him official acknowledge-ment of his authority. Julian law declared Ptolemy XII Auletes “”an ally and friend of the Roman people,””  which made him, in reality, a vassal.

“The looming military presence of Rome may have alarmed the Alexandrians, who rebelled against the ruler. Driven out by his subjects, Auletes fled Egypt for Rome. There, beginning in 57 BCE he launched a campaign of politicking and corruption, seeking to regain the throne of Egypt and to rally to his cause every powerful citizen of the Roman capital. Auletes bribed senators, spending so much that he was obliged to borrow from Rabirius, a wealthy Roman financier. 

“In the meantime, the Alexandrians put his eldest daughter, Berenice IV, on the throne, and sent a delegation to Rome to request the Senate to arbitrate the conflict between father and daughter. While Rome hesitated, equivocated, and consulted sacred texts, Auletes simply arranged to have a number of the delegates assassinated. But Rome was reluctant to commit a large armed force to returning Auletes to power. In despair, the deposed pharaoh left Rome for Ephesus, in Asia Minor. Cleopatra, then about ten years old, remained in Alexandria, where her half-sister now reigned.

“It was then that Rome decided upon a military intervention. One of Pompey’s lieutenants, Gabinius, governor of Syria, marched on Egypt at the head of a mighty army—an expedition in which the ten thousand talents promised by Auletes undoubtedly played a part. Leading the cavalry was a fiery twenty-four-year-old officer named Mark Antony. Gabinius took Pelusium, then Alexandria; Archilaus, Berenice’s husband, died in combat. Auletes entered the Egyptian capital as its conqueror, and immediately had his daughter executed.

“With the pharaoh back on the throne, Gabinius quit Egypt, leaving behind a military guard composed in the main of German and Gallic mercenaries. The Roman Rabirius, Auletes’ creditor became his prime-minister in Egypt.”” And the rest ‘they’ say is History! 

Sources & Related Websites:

Flamarion, Edith, Cleopatra – From History to Legend, (New Horizons), English Translation – Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1997.

Ingram, David, (Insight Compact Guide), Egypt,  APA Publications GmbH & Co. Verlag KG Singapore, (Reprint 2008).

Taylor, Alice, United Arab Republic, (Around The World Program), Nelson Doubleday, Inc And Odhams Books Ltd., 1964. 

Youssef, Hisham & Rodenbeck, John, (Insight Guides – First Edition Reprint), Egypt, Hans Johannes Hoefer, APA Publications (HK) Ltd., 1988.

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

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pompey%27s_Pillar_(column)

https://www.ask-aladdin.com/Alex-Travel-Information/PompeyPillar.html

http://brewminate.com/serapea-of-ancient-egypt/

http://tvatravels.com/adventures/egypt/alexandria-city-lost-glory/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2018.


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Gop Hill Cairn, Trelawnyd, Flintshire (Sir y Fflint), Wales

Gop Hill Cairn (from the Howard Williams website: Archeodeath).

OS Grid Reference: SJ 08675 80152. A huge oval-shaped prehistoric cairn (tumulus) surrounded by forestry on the south-side of Gop Hill (Y Gop), a ¼ of a mile to the north of Trelawnyd village, about halfway between Holywell and Rhuddlan, Flintshire, northeast Wales. Also known as Garn Gop Cairn or in Welsh – Gop’r Leni. It is thought to date from either the Neolithic or Bronze Age. Gop Cairn is almost certainly the largest cairn in Wales and the second largest man-made mound in the British Isles after Silbury Hill. However, no human burials were found when it was excavated in the late 19th century though there were many animal bones. Two caves below the hill (southwest-side) yielded finds that suggest communal burial grounds. To reach this site from High Street, Trelawnyd: head northwest on the track past the houses which becomes a footpath; follow this but then soon veer off northwards to climb up to Gop Hill, which is 820 feet high, and is now directly in front of you and sandwiched between the forested areas.

Author Richard V. Simcock (1986) gives some interesting information regarding Gop Cairn. He says: “This conspicuous monument on the summit of a hill to the north-west of Trelawnyd (formerly Newmarket) but just within the boundary of the parish of Gwaenysgor, and also with walking distance. It is the largest cairn in Wales, and measures about 335 yards in circumference at the base. It is constructed of limestone pebbles, and probably dates from the bronze age. The cairn has been the site of many explorations by eminent archaeologists, and whilst considerable historic relics and information has been acquired, there is still lack of evidence as to the purpose for which it was originally constructed. Excavations have resulted in the discovery of the bones of several Pleistocene animals, including those of bison, reindeer, Irish elk, hyaenas, woolly rhinoceroses and artic lemming, which probably date from BC 400 TO 3000. A cave on the south side of the hill has revealed evidence of communal Neolithic burial ground.”

Simcock goes on to say that: “Boudicca, the Queen of the Iceni, is often associated in legend with this area, and one writer connects the neighbourhood of the Gop with the battle fought between Sustonious Paulinus and Boudicca in AD 61. Generations of writers have also speculated where the great battle was fought, and where such immense slaughter and carnage was committed; also the site of Boudicca’s grave. The Queen’s restless ghost is often summoned up to reinforce the claims of many sites in England too. These stories may or may not be true, but it is not known where or when. Yet as one strolls high on this tumulus crest, it is not difficult picture this warrior Queen hurtling into battle, as so ably portrayed in the massive Victorian statue on the Thames embankment.”

From Howard Williams website: Archeodeath)

Author Christopher Houlder (1978) says of The Gop Cairn: “This is surely the most imposing mound in Wales, though its apparent size is partly due to its position. The overall height of 12 m and the maximum diameter of 100 m no doubt conceal a natural core formed by the hilltop. A vertical shaft in 1886 and two galleries failed to reveal any central features, disclosing only a few animal bones. The Gop Cairn’s size invites comparison with the Boyne chambered tombs, but it may be in reality the most important of the many Bronze Age burial mounds of the region, indicating wealth or status such as might accrue from participation in the metal trade with Ireland along the north coast.” 

Houlder adds that: “A startling example of such wealth came to light in 1815 in a small quarry at Bryn Sion (SJ 135 719), though it took the keen eye of a gipsy to recognize its value. Used for a while as a gate fastening, it proved in the end to be a gold torc, a twisted rectangular bar of metal bent into a hoop.”

Chris Barber writing in 1987 says of the Gop Hill cairn and nearby cave that: “Professor Boyd Dawkins carried out excavations here in 1886. He sank a central shaft right down to the bedrock, but his efforts were not rewarded with any significant finds. However, further down the hill below this cairn, he excavated a cave and discovered a small sealed chamber cut into the limestone. Inside were fourteen skeletons in crouched positions, with their arms and legs drawn together and folded. Of particular interest is the fact that the shape of their skulls showed two different periods of man, thought to be Neolithic and Early Bronze Age. Fragments of crude pottery and flint tools were also found here.”

Also, Barber (1987) adds more information regarding Gop Carn. He says: “Here is the largest carn [cairn] in Wales. It is 300 feet by 200 feet and 36 feet high. The hill on which it stands is known as Bryn-y-Saethau – The Hill of the Arrows. Many flint arrowheads have been found on its slopes and the massive carn is claimed to be the grave of Boudicca (otherwise known as Boadicea, the warrior Queen of the Iceni tribe in the first century AD). It is also said to be the grave of a Roman general. In 1938 a local man was walking from Dyserth to Trelogan when he saw a field full of Roman soldiers, and on Gop Hill he saw the ghost of the Roman general on a white horse with a sword in his hand. A cloud passed over the moon and the apparition vanished.”

Sources and related websites:- 

The two photos (above) are from Prof. Howard M. R. Williams website ‘Archeodeath’ and are displayed here under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. https://howardwilliamsblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/the-largest-ancient-mound-in-wales-the-gop-cairn/

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

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

Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber And Faber, London, 1978.

Simcock, Richard V., North Clwyd At Random, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1986. 

http://www.coflein.gov.uk/en/site/306725/details/gop-cairn-y-gop-gop-hill-cairn

https://www.peoplescollection.wales/items/417521

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

© Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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The Blowing Stone, Kingstone Lisle, Berkshire (Oxfordshire)

Blowing Stone at Kingstone Lisle, Berks.

   OS Grid Reference: SU 32408 87078. A strange and curious stone standing inside a fenced-off area next to a row of quaint cottages on Blowingstone Hill, at Kingstone Lisle, formerly in Berkshire, now Oxfordshire, is the so-called ‘Blowing Stone’, a squat-shaped lump of ancient rock with deep holes in it that is ‘said’ to have originated on White Horse Hill nearby, when it was a perforated sarsen stone. It has a number of myths and legends attributed to it from the time that it was known as the King Stone; the village taking its name from this. The stone also figures in a well-known book that was read by many-a school-boy. This apparent ‘curiosity of geology’ is located just to the south of the village itself and the B4507 road, between the towns of Swinden and Wantage. Kingstone Lisle Park is over the road on the opposite side of the lane from where the stone is now a resident ancient monument, though it used to stand in the garden of the cottage close by, which used to be the village inn!

   The Blowing Stone, also known as King Stone, is in fact a sarsen stone that was originally to be found upon White Horse Hill, 3 miles to the southwest, but was moved to its present location in the mid-18th century. It is curious lump of stone with many geologically-formed perforations, maybe the result of fossilized plants or ancient tree branches falling out of the stone leaving holes; some quite large holes or perforations that go all the way through from one side to the other. But it is not a particularly large stone being just 3 feet in height and about the same in width.

   The stone featured in the famous novel of 1857, ‘Tom Brown’s School Days’ by Thomas Hughes (1822-1896) – when it was referred to as the ‘Blawing Stwun’. Local legend has it that by sounding a note through the largest hole, or by blowing and bellowing through the holes, the sound made by doing this is audible as an echo up to 3 miles away – and that King Alfred the Great summoned his Saxon army into battle against the Danes at nearby Ashdown by doing just that, in the form of a trumpet call! It is also claimed that anyone sounding a high-pitched note through the Blowing Stone (that can be heard on White Horse Hill to the southwest), will be, or would be, a future king of England, or so The Legend tells us. Something similar, perhaps, to the legend of King Arthur, although he supposedly pulled a sword out of a rock. 

Sources of information and related websites:-

Reader’s Digest, Folklore Myths and Legends of Britain, Second Edition, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, 1977.

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

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

http://www.berkshirehistory.com/archaeology/blowing_stone.html

http://www.kingstonlisle.net/the-blowing-stone/

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=6963

                                                                                   © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities, 2017.


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The Bridestones, Near Todmorden, West Yorkshire

Bride Stones, west Yorks (Sphinx- like formation).

Bride Stones, west Yorks (Sphinx- like formation).

Bridestones, near Todmorden, west Yorks (OS trig point no: S4501)

Bridestones, near Todmorden, west Yorks (OS trig point no: S4501)

    OS grid reference: SD 9334 26750. Close to the Long Causeway and just east of Todmorden, West Yorkshire, are the Bridestones, outcrops of millstone grit rocks and boulders which are ½ a mile long. Amongst these rocky outcrops are a number of odd-shaped formations that have been caused by weather-related erosion over thousands, if not millions of years.  One huge boulder in particular, known as ‘The Great Bridestone’ is fantastically shaped at its base, looking like an up-turned bottle, as if it might topple over at any moment. There are a number of myths and legends associated with The Bridestones, many of these going back to the mists of time. More recently, perhaps, there are a number of local traditions that have become connected to the place and its many, strange-shaped rocks and boulders. The Bridestones are located about ½ a mile north-east of Eastwood Road – where a footpath runs across the often boggy moor to the outcrops. Another path connects the north-side of the outcrops from Kebs Road, and from just opposite Orchan House Farm at Fast Ends – it runs in a southerly direction across Bridestones Moor.

Bridestones (human face rock formation).

Bridestones (human face rock formation).

Bridestones, west Yorkshire (the anvil-shaped rock)

Bridestones, west Yorkshire (the anvil-shaped rock)

    At over 1,400 feet above sea-level the Bride-stones on the windswept moors to the east of Todmorden and the Calder Valley, there is a ½ mile long escarpment of Millstone Grit outcrops that stand like rocky sentinels keeping watch over the Pennine moorland. These rock forma-tions have been made by the ‘ravages of time’ – wind and rain over thousands of years weathering away the soft grit-stone into strange and curious shapes, and there are indeed some strange-shaped rocks – some looking like human heads and faces (the sphinx), while others look like prehistoric birds, a giant tortoise, and a bear, and there’s even a huge anvil-shaped rock.

Bridestones, west Yorkshire (the rock-house).

Bridestones, west Yorkshire (the rock-house).

Bridestones, (a "possible" cup-marked rock).

Bridestones, (a “possible” cup-marked rock).

    There is even a ‘rock-house’ at Fast Ends above Bridestones Farm at (OS grid ref: SD 9277 2690). Local legend says that Nan Moor and Jack Stone lived at the rock-house a few hundred years ago as ‘guardians of the stones’, and they were proba-bly married there, too. They are said to have lived in a wooden structure or homestead that was connected between the two large rocks; one of the oblong-shaped rocks having square-shaped openings in its side, which must have taken a great deal of time to carve out. This wooden structure was dismantled in recent times. Just above the rock-house there are some large, flat rocks which look to have ancient cup-marks but there are also larger, circular depressions that are naturally-formed by rainwater – although it’s sometimes difficult to tell which are natural and which are man-made! And there are many interesting rock basins to be seen.

Great Bride Stone stands like an up-turned bottle.

Great Bride Stone stands like an up-turned bottle.

Great Bride Stone (from a different sideways angle).

Great Bride Stone (from a different sideways angle).

    The name ‘Bridestones’ might be derived from Bridia, Brighid, or Briga, the pre-Roman (Iron Age) diety who is more often known from history as ‘Brigantia’, goddess of the Brigantes tribe of northern England – just prior to, and up to, the Roman Conquest. Or they “might” perhaps take their name from bride as in ‘bride and groom’ at a wedding ceremony, which harks back to times, long ago, when weddings supposedly took place on the moor where the outcrops of rocks now known as ‘Bridestones’ are located. Indeed there is a 15 foot high oval-shaped, weathered rock called ‘Great Bride Stone’ and beside it a smaller rounded rock called ‘the groom stone’. But undoubtedly the Bridestones was a sacred, magical place, and no-doubt a few thousand years ago it was the abode of druids who worshipped heathen gods and also officiated in ritualistic and sacrificial ceremonies, but aside from that they were also poets, historians, magicians, physicians and astronomers.

    Local author John Billingsley in his work ‘Folk Tales from Calderdale’ – Volume 1, says that: “The Bridestones are first mentioned in local documents in 1491, and Smith in his ‘Place-names of the West Riding’ does not quibble with the derivation from ‘bryd’, a bride….. John Stansfeld, however, in 1885, suggested that Danish ‘bred’ and Icelandic ‘bryddr’ married well with Gaelic ‘braidh’ and modern ‘bride’ in meaning ‘edge of the top of the hill’; whether today’s etymologists feel this explanation is defensible or not, the descriptive does fit this location rather well.”

    Billingsley goes on to point out that: “Taylor [Ian Taylor, 1993], has suggested an identification of Bride with ‘the Old Wife’ or Gaelic Cailleach, a traditional spiritual denizen of wild places more usually associated with the Irish goddess Danu; a local appearance of this hag figure may well be the Old Woman.

    “The Bride has also been locally known as the Bottle Neck. Other rocks have been given names, too, arising from one perception or another. Modern climbers have named rocks themselves, like the Indian’s Head and Spy Hole Pinnacle, as well as giving equally vivid names, like the Obscene Cleft, to specific routes. F.A Leyland cites names known in the nineteenth century, like Table Rock and Toad Rock.

    “John Watson knew of the Bride and Groom in 1789, but does not give details of the legend, other than saying the Groom had been “thrown down by the country people”. In keeping with the spirit of the time, however, he saw the rocks as the natural haunt of “a large settlement” of Druids – “a vast variety of rocks and stones so scattered about the common, that at first view the whole looked something like a temple of the serpentine kind”.

    And another local author, Geoff Boswell, in his book ‘On The Tops – around Todmorden’, says: “We know that the early Britons lived in Todmorden. We have the exhibition of objects dug from the bronze age barrow in the library. Perhaps the name Bride is very old and derives from the early British Breiad, the Gaelic Braidh, the Icelandic Bryddir and the Danish Bred. All of which have similar meanings of “the edge , or margin, at the top of a mountain”. It is a sobering thought that the names  of our prominent rocks can derive from very early times and are far older than any written records we have.”

    Author Paul Bennett in his work ‘The Old Stones of Elmet’, says of the Bridestones that it is: “A beautiful, remarkable and powerful site of obvious veneration. First described in local deeds as early as 1491, there are a great number of severely weathered boulders all round, many like frozen giants haunting a magickal landscape.

    “Dedicated to Bride, goddess of the Brigantine people, like her triple-aspect we find a triple-aspect to the outcrops here: to the west are the Bride Stones; to the east, the Little Bride Stones; with the Great Bride Stones as the central group, surveying everything around here. The goddess’ divine qualities were those of healing, smithcraft, poetry, and mother-hood. There is no attendant lore here that relates to any of these elements.

    “Although local history records are silent over the ritual nature of these outcrops, tradition and folklore tell them as a place of pagan worship. People were said to have married here, although whether such lore evolved from a misrepre-sentation of the title, Bride, is unsure. In the present day though there have been a number of people who have married here in recent years.

    “If the Brigantian goddess was venerated here, the date of the most active festivities would have been February 1-2, or Old Wive’s Feast day as it was known in the north.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bennett, Paul, The Old Stones of Elmet, Capall Bann Publishing, Milverton, Somerset, 2001.

Billingsley, John, Folk Tales From Calderdale, Volume 1, Northern Earth, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, 2008.

Boswell, Geoff, On The Tops – around Todmorden, (Revised Edition), Delta G, Hollinroyd Farm, Todmorden, 1988.

http://www.hebdenbridgehistory.org.uk/folklore/bridestones.html

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/great-bride-stones/

http://www.mypennines.co.uk/south-pennines/walks/301113.html#sthash.AKhGBLJg.dpbs

                                            © Ray Spencer, The Journal Of Antiquities.


Les Causeurs Menhirs, I’le de Sein, Finistere, (Bretagne) Brittany

Les Causeurs Menhirs (photo credit: portalix - Wikimedia).

Les Causeurs(photo credit: portalix – Wikimedia).

    Latitude: 48.038149. Longitude: 4.851246. On a grassy mound at the south-west side of St Guénolé’s church on the I’le de Sein (Sein Island) – five miles off the Finistere coast at Pointe du Raz (Bretagne), Brittany, are two tall granite standing stones (menhirs) that are said to date from the Neolithic. These two standing stones may originally have been part of a stone circle. There are a number of myths and legends associated with these menhirs, and also the surrounding area in which they stand. The island, known as Enez Sun in Breton, is also steeped in pre-Christian myths and legends associated with druidic ritual. The standing stones can be seen on a low, grassy mound at the south-western side of St Guénolé’s Church (Eglise Saint-Guénolé) on the Place Francois-Le-Sud – just to the west of Port du Men-Briel.

    The two menhirs (long stones) are also known in the Breton language as Ar Brigourien – the Talkers, and Ar Fistillerian – the Orators or Gossipers, and sometimes Ar Predicateurs – the preachers. The smaller stone seems to lean toward the taller one – hence the name “The Talkers”. They stand on a low grassy mound which long ago may have supported a circle of standing stones – these two are all that remain of that, but where the other stones went to is not known. Or maybe they originally formed part of a stone row or sacred way. It is thought they were erected here in the Neolithic period of prehistory (6,000-2,500 BC). Les Causeurs menhirs stand respectively at 2.8m (9 ft 3′) and 2.3m (7 ft 6′) in height. The church of Saint Guenole (alias St Winwaloe) was obviously built close to the stones to Christianise what was, long ago in the island’s dark past, a pagan ritualistic site associated with the druids and, mysterious pagan priestesses called “The Senes” – the island taking its name from them

    The Breton author Henri Queffelec in his work ‘Un Recteur De L’ile De Sein’, tells us more about the island’s dark past. He says that: “In early times, the île de Sein was thought to be the haunt of supernatural beings. In the first recorded mention of the island in 43 A.D., in the work of the Roman geographer, Pomponius Mela, we are told that the Insula Sena possessed an oracle which was served by nine vestal virgins who had the capacity to control the elements and cure the apparently incurable. This tradition is later exploited by Chateaubriand in book IX of Les Martyrs (1809) in his description of the sacrificial activities of the Celtic druidess Velleda some of which take place on the “île de Sayne, île venerable et sacrée”. In the Middle Ages, the île de Sein is caught up in the Arthurian legends and according to some storytellers, is the birthplace of two of the most accom-plished magicians, the wizard Merlin, and Morgan La Fée.”

    Queffelec goes on to inform us about the legendary ville d’ Ys, which was the kingdom of King Gradlon: “the ville d’ Ys, according to legend, was once the kingdom of King Gradlon in the sixth century A.D. situated somewhere between the Point du Raz and the île de Sein, and protected from the sea  by a system of dykes. King Gradlon’s daughter, Dahut or Ahès, was captivated by the charms of a handsome young man who was really the devil in disguise; as a proof of her love for him, he ordered her to get the keys of the dykes from Gradlon, her father. Once in possession of the keys, the devil opened the dykes and the town of Ys was submerged for ever. Gradlon managed to escape and went to Quimper where his statue can be seen on the cathedral; Ahès was changed into a siren, the Marie Morgane who lures unsuspecting sailors to their end. The story of the submerging of the ville d’ Ys is related by Queffelec in his novel, Tempête sur la ville d’ Ys, published in 1962.”

    The Insight Guide ‘Brittany’, says of: “the fabled, drowned city of Is, [it was] the legendary capital of the kingdom of Cornouaille (echoes of Cornwall here).” It goes on to say that: I’le de Sein was the: “last refuge for the druids in Brittany.”

Sources and related websites:-

Insight Guide, Brittany, (First Edition), APA Publications (HK) Ltd., 1994.

Queffelec, Henri, Un Recteur De L’ile De Sein, George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd., London, 1972.

https://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Causeurs                                                                                                                                      (Photo displayed under the Licence Creative Commons 3.0).

http://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=8863

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

http://www.lafermedekerscuntec.fr/peninsulas-islands-brittany.htm

http://www.brittanytourism.com/discover-our-destinations/quimper-cornouaille/unmissable-sites/sein

The Ile de Sein

 


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Robin Hood’s Stone, Near Riddlesden, West Yorkshire

Robin Hood's Stone at Holden Gate, near East Riddlesden.

Robin Hood’s Stone at Holden Gate, near  Riddlesden.

    OS grid reference SE 0620 4446. A large pointed stone shaped like the head of a dinosaur, or maybe a dragon, stands below a rocky outcrop on Pinfold Hill, close to Holden Lane at Holden Gate, near Riddlesden, West Yorkshire. It is locally called ‘Robin Hood’s Stone’ but whether the legendary outlaw of Sherwood Forest ever visited it we don’t know, although there is also a Robin Hood’s Wood about ¼ a mile to the north-east of the stone. To make the stone look more interesting some bright-spark has painted eyes and teeth on it! It can be reached by travelling north along Holden Lane to the north-west of Riddlesden, and is about 450m further along the road from Holden Gate, and just after the footpath on the right. You can’t really miss it!

Robin Hood's Stone (with possible cup-marks).

Robin Hood’s Stone (with possible cup-marks).

    A curious stone this is mainly because of its strange shape. It looks as if it has, at some point, slid down the hillside from the rocky outcrop above on Pinfold Hill, when there was a perhaps a Geological earth movement here. Or could it be a glacial erratic boulder? But it doesn’t look like an erratic boulder to me because it seems to be very well embedded into the ground. It stands at a crazy, precarious angle and because of that it looks as if it could slither down the hillside at any moment! The large pointed stone has taken on the look of a dinosaur’s head, or could it be a dragon’s head, or a bird’s head! Some bright-spark has painted eyes and teeth on the stone to make it look like that maybe. On the flat, sloping side of the stone there are some “possible” prehistoric cup-marks, or were a few of these round holes made by climbers who often practice on the rock?

Robin Hood's Stone (looking up at the stone).

Robin Hood’s Stone (looking up at the stone).

    Legend says that Robin Hood the outlaw of Sherwood Forest came here and took shelter beneath the stone; well he wouldn’t have had too far to travel from Kirkless, near Leeds. And Robin was maybe born in Wakefield! And just up the hill to the north-east of the stone we have a Robin Hood Wood. Paul Bennett of ‘The Northern Antiquarian’ has suggested that the stone was moved here in the Victorian period from near Barden Tower (Bolton Abbey way), and he goes on to say that Robin Hood’s Stone was once nearly broken up and taken away for building material – had it not been for local people who objected to its removal. He also thinks the stone “was” a meeting place at the pagan festival of Beltane (1st May). Check out TNA website (below).

Sources and related websites:-

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/robin-hoods-stone-riddlesden/

http://www.bbc.co.uk/bradford/content/articles/2006/09/20/robin_hood_wakefield_feature.shtml