The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


Mary’s House, Mount Koressos, Turkey

House of Virgin Mary. (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

House of Virgin Mary (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)

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

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

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

Statue of Virgin Mary (Photo Copyright: Wikipedia)

Statue of Virgin Mary (Photo Copyright: Wikipedia)

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


Photos Wikipedia:

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

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

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