The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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The Multangular Roman Tower And Defensive Walls at York, North Yorkshire

The Multangular Roman Tower, Eboracum (York)

NGR: SE 60012 52072. At the east side of York city centre, just off Museum Street (A1036), and in the Yorkshire Museum’s gardens (at the north side) overlooking the River Ouse is the famous ‘Multangular Tower’, a defensive structure (with 10 sides or angles) belonging to the western corner of the Roman fort of Eburacum or Eboracum, which was built around the year 300 AD during the reign of Constantius I (Chlorus). The lower section of the tower with its nice, neat stonework is the Roman part whereas the top section with the larger stonework and arrow slits is 13th century. It is certainly the finest, and the best preserved, of all the Roman defensive structures in the city; and also there is a well-preserved 76 foot section of Roman wall (early 3rd century and still 17 feet in height, but without its parapet) running northeastwards from the Multangular Tower through the museum gardens toward Bootham Bar; along this section of wall there is the stump of an interval tower. Access to the York-shire Museum Gardens (close by Lendal Bridge) is from either Museum Street or Marygate. Also look out for the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey and St Leonard’s Hospital.

The Wikipedia website gives the following: “A low plinth or skirt extends out from the lowest course. It stands almost 30 feet (9.1 m) tall, has an external diameter of 48.5 feet (14.8 m) at the base and 46 feet (14 m) above the skirt. Length of each side varies from 7.5 feet (2.3 m) to 11 feet (3.4 m) on the inner face. The tower projects beyond the curtain wall to a distance of 36.75 feet (11.20 m). The foundations are concrete, atop which the tower extends having a rubble and mortar core between faced courses of small magnesian blocks. At 15 feet (4.6 m) a scarcement reduces the thickness of the wall from 5 feet (1.5 m) to 3.25 feet (0.99 m), which continues for a further 4 feet (1.2 m) before being capped by 11 feet (3.4 m) of 13th century masonry in which arrowslits can be seen”, according to Wikipedia. (See the Link, below).

Herman Ramm (1979) says that in: “About AD 300: The defenses were again rebuilt except for the section from the south-east to the north-east gates which includes the east corner. The new wall was similar to the old except that the facing was bonded to the core by a tile band and had a tile cornice. This can still be seen at the west angle where there is also the stump of a great projecting tower, the Multangular Tower, matched by another (not now visible) at the south angle. Along the south-west side, facing the Ouse, were six only slightly less imposing interval towers and a great gritstone gatehouse.

“The reasons for these changes are not always certain……but “is often said to be the result of another similar disaster, but the new architectural frontspiece added to the river front of the fortress suggests that it had attained a new dignity, probably that of becoming the seat of the new Dux Britanniarum, commander of the land forces of all Britain.

Herman Ramm goes on to say that: “Inside the fortress timber buildings have been found, for example near St. William’s College and off Blake Street, which must relate to the timber defences. The headquarters building was first built in stone in the early 2nd century (Trajan-Hadrian), but its next reconstruction in the early fourth century was Constantinian rather than Constantian. It was not demolished until the ninth century.”

Tom Garlick (1988) tells us that: “In the early 4th century the fortress was again strengthened by Constantius Chlorus following the troubles of 296. The river façade was now equipped with two fine polygonal angle towers, six close set interval towers and a new impressive towered gateway. These alterations made York one of the strongest defended and imposing fortresses of the Roman Empire. The south-west corner tower — the ten sided Multangular tower faced in small ashlar blocks — still survives in the Museum Gardens. Once fronted by ditches, its upper storey held powerful catapult artillery.

“Constantius I died at York and his son Constantine was proclaimed Emperor there. In the administrative reorganization of the 4th century, York became the headquarters of the Duke of Britain, a new military cavalry commander. In the third and fourth centuries Whitby jet was manufactured into rings, pins, necklaces and portrait medallions in the town and mar-keted in the Rhineland. By the late Empire there were Christian churches in the colonia and a bishop of York attended the church council in Arles in France in 314. The legionary garrison was evacuated in the late 4th century but town life seems to have continued into sub-Roman times and the Dark Ages.”

The Multangular Roman Tower at York (photo).

Mr Garlick adds more, saying that: “Today the fortress area, canabae and colonia lie buried beneath the modern city. The main lines of the camp’s streets are still preserved in Stonegate and Petergate, and the Minster stands over the Roman headquarters. Visitors can still inspect sections of the Roman defences. The Multangular tower is the finest survival, together with 35 feet of adjacent wall surviving to a height of 13 feet. Inside, the position of barracks is known, as is a bath house under the Mail Coach Inn in St. Sampson’s Square and the legionary head-quarters crosshall under the Minster. Modern buildings cover the canabae and the site of the presumed amphitheatre. No traces survive above ground of the colonia but its street plans and some of its buildings are known from excavation and chance finds. The cemeteries were extensive and lined the town’s approach roads. Visitors should establish the line of the Roman fortress and town walls as compared with the later medi-eval city walls and visit exposed Roman defences. The Yorkshire Museum contains an extensive collection of inscriptions and finds from the city which throw interesting light on the history of Eboracum and its inhabitants during the four centuries of Roman rule. In 1971 the city celebrated the 1,900 anniversary of its founding by Cerialis.” 

Richmond (1963) tells us: “At Eburacum (York) literature similarly records a shrine of Bellona, the Goddess of War, and there is a noble head of Constantine* as Caesar or newly-proclaimed Emperor.” *The head of Constantine can be seen in    The Yorkshire Museum.

Richmond goes on to tells us about jet, saying that: “Solinus describes British jet with interest, as a substance heated with water but quenched with oil and magnetic when rubbed. These paradoxical qualities endowed jet with almost magical esteem, and it became a favourite material for ornamental jewellery, much of which was manufactured at Eburacum (York). Hair-pins, spindles, finger-rings, and bracelets were made in great variety, some bracelets and many necklaces being ingeniously articulated in minute component pieces. Elaborately carved pendents and medallions, including family groups executed to order, and teddy-bears, represent either profitable lines of production.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Garlick, Tom, A Dalesman White Rose Guide — Roman Yorkshire, The Dalesman Publishing Company Ltd., Clapham, 1978.

Ramm, Herman, Roman York From A.D. 71, Yorkshire Architectural and York Archaeological Society, York, 1979.

Richmond, I. A., The Pelican History Of England — Roman Britain, Penguin Books Ltd., Harmondsworth, Middlesex, 1963.

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1962.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/York_city_walls#Multangular_Tower

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

Check out this website: https://yorkcivictrust.co.uk/heritage/civic-trust-plaques/roman-fortress/

http://www.historyofyork.org.uk/themes/roman-empire-governed-from-york/the-multangular-tower

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/multangular-tower-and-wall-museum-gardens-7913

http://secretyork.com/multangular-tower/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.

 

 

 

 

 


Wavertree (site of destroyed tumulus) in Liverpool, Merseyside

Collared cremation urns from destroyed tumulus at Wavertree. (After Ecroyd Smith) 1868.

NGR: SJ 391 893. In July 1867 while digging at the place then called Victoria Park in Wavertree, Liverpool, Merseyside, workmen in the process of building two new houses came across at least eight ancient burial urns in a tumulus or cemetery; however, they destroyed at least six of these without due care and attention, and only two were dug up and still in a reasonable state of preservation, and so they were given over to the guardianship of Liverpool museum for further safe-keeping. These collared funery urns, and a few other fragments, were later examined and found to date from the Bronze Age. However, the workmen who discovered the urns had at the same time “destroyed” the grave (tumulus) in which the urns had lay. The site where this destruction took place is today semi-detached housing on North Drive, Wavertree, a suburb of Liverpool, but, there are no signs whatsoever of a tumulus or mound, if there ever had been one, which contained the funery urns. North Drive is 2 miles east of Liverpool City Centre, at the north side of High Street (B5178), and just to the east of Wavertree Playground (known locally as the Mystery).

Wavertree Bronze-Age Collared Urns (After J. A. Picton) 1868.

The site entry (No 56) in the ‘Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin’ (1984) gives the following information as: “Parish: Liverpool. Site Name: Wavertree. N.G.R. SJ 391 893. Primary Reference: Smith 1868 Picton 1868. Eight urns found in building operations 1867. Six destroyed. No. 1. 13″ high; 11″ greatest width; 9″ diam at mouth. Inverted on sandstone. Contents sand wood bone ashes, charcoal, clean calcined bone & two worked flints. Nearby a light-coloured  flint arrowhead, two scrapers and a core. No. 2. 6¾” high; 6″ broad; 5½” diam at mouth. Upright, mouth covered by a flag. Cont. ashes, sand, bone frags. These two went to Liverpool Museum.  Illustrations from Picton 1868, Plate I. These are at different scales the right urn being No. 1 above. Better illustrations accompany Smith 1868 where this urn is called No. 6 and the left urn is called No. 7. The first six found (and destroyed by workmen) were numbered 1-5 and 5A.”   

Further to that the following is given: “Picton, J. A. (1868) Prehistoric Remains in Lancashire. Arch. Camb. 314 (1868) 206-208.  Smith, H. E. (1868) An Ancient British Cemetery at Wavertree. HSLC 20 (1868) 131-146.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Barrowclough, David A., Prehistoric Lancashire, The History Press Ltd., Cheltenham, 2008.

Edwards, Margaret & Ben, Lancashire Archaeological Bulletin, Vol. 10 No. 2/3 May & July, 1984. Preston, Lancashire.

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

http://wavsoc.awardspace.info/dhw/page46.html

https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/visit/galleries/history/burial-urn.aspx

https://www.liverpoolmuseums.org.uk/mol/collections/

Further local history: https://historic-liverpool.co.uk/wavertree/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 


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Church Well (St Mary’s Well), Thornton-in-Craven, Lancashire

Church Well / St Mary’s Well, at Thornton-in-Craven, Lancashire.

NGR: SD 90135 48324.  At the southwest side of St Mary’s parish church (on Church Road) at Thornton-in-Craven, Lancashire, is ‘Church Well’ or ‘St Mary’s Well’. The octagonal wellhouse enclosing the spring was built by Henry Richardson, rector of St Mary’s in 1764, but the spring itself dates to far earlier times maybe the pre-Christian period (the site being not far from a Roman road). Later, the well was almost certainly being venerated by the 7th Century AD but with the tenuous link and dedication to St Oswald, the King and martyr, who was beheaded (654 AD). There is an interesting Latin inscription running around the top of the wellhouse. St Mary the Virgin parish church, which is situated above the well, was built in the early 16th Century but it stands on the site of an earlier 12th Century church and, possibly a Saxon building before that? St Mary’s Church and holy well are on the Lancashire side of the north Yorkshire border on Church Road (Skipton Road) opposite the lane to Thornton Hall, some 2 miles east of Barnoldswick and 6½ miles south-west of Skipton. An iron gate gives access to the churchyard and the wellhouse, which is over to the left.

Church Well / St Mary’s Well (close-up view).

Derek D. Clabburn  (2007) says: “We have no means of discovering why Richardson should have chosen to build an octagonal random stone cover over the well in Thornton churchyard. As far as can be deduced, the waters from the well possess no medicinal properties such as found at Harrogate or Bath or the nearby sulphur wells at Broughton and possibly near Crickle Hall at East Marton. Richardson’s Account Book reveals that he suffered from gout as early as 1748 and there are frequent references to remodeling or repair of a ‘gouty shoe’ and for administrations from a Dr. Kitchen, but it seems unlikely that the covering of the well was prompted by medical considerations, nor was it likely to be a source of water for any dwelling in the vicinity of the church. The well being situated in a hollow some 12 to 15 feet below the level of the main burial ground on the south side, the likelihood of water contamination is possible, although this would have been virtually unrecognized by scientific minds in the mid eighteenth century. If it was to provide ease of access for watering his livestock on his adjoining glebe lands, then the act of covering the well makes sense.

Church Well (an inside view of the well-house)

“But why lavish an enigmatic Latin commemorative inscription around the frieze of the building? Its manifest purpose eludes us nearly 250 years after it was erected. Another curiosity of the building is its capping formed from a large millstone. Its grooving is clearly seen as the ceiling within the cover. The axle shaft hole at its centre is capped by a turned sphere, which is kept in place by its own weight and forms a plug to the roof cover. The construction at the base of the octagonal cover forms a square some 3 feet deep with steps descending into the well proper. The depth of water within the well is controlled by a wooden plug in the well floor, which when removed drains away the stored water. When in place, the water depth rises to a point where it flows out in a channel beneath the doorstep and fills a drinking stoup. Hereafter the water drains away to supply the Rectory Farm on a regular daily basis.

Mr Clabburn goes on to adds that: “The Latin inscription reads: Fontem hunc salutiferum et perantiquum Tecto munivet Anno Aerae Christianae MDCCLXIV. Quod Publicae Sanitate bene vortat H. RICHARDSON RECTOR. (One translation reads: That it might prove of benefit for the health/salvation of the community, H. Richardson, Rector, built a covering for the health/salvation-giving and most ancient font/spring, in the year 1764 of the Christian era.” 

John & Phillip Dixon (1990) say of St Mary’s Church: “The embattled Perpendicular tower dominates the edifice, the south face of which bears an inscription and arms that I cannot make out along with a date, 1510. The inside of the church holds no hidden delights, but of interest is the churchyard draw well.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Clabburn, Derek D., Henry Richardson 1710-1778 — Life and Legacy of a Thornton Rector, Earby & District Local History Society, 22 Salterforth Road, Earby, Barnoldswick, BB18 6ND, 2007.

Dixon, John & Phillip, Journeys Through Brigantia Volume One: Walks in Craven, Airedale and Wharfedale, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1990.

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

https://britishlistedbuildings.co.uk/101167634-church-of-st-mary-thornton-in-craven#.Xf0VVlJCdjo

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=28058

http://www.thorntonincraven.co.uk/st-marys-church-thornton-in-craven/

https://www.achurchnearyou.com/church/6930/page/6047/view/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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Maeshowe, Orkney Island, Scotland

Maeshowe chambered cairn, in Orkney Island.

NGR: HY 31830 12762. At the southeastern edge of Loch Harray (north side of the A965 Strom-ness to Kirkwall road) on Orkney Island, Scotland, stands ‘Maeshowe’ or ‘Maes Howe’, a well-preserved Neolithic chambered cairn and passage-grave from 2800 BC, which is the largest megalithic tomb in Orkney and the finest of its kind in the British Isles; the masonry in this tomb being far better than any of the prehistoric burial monuments in the rest of Europe! This large and imposing grassy mound is around 24 feet high, over 100 feet in diameter, and is surrounded by a ditch that is more than 40 foot wide. At the southeast side of the mound there is a slab-built entrance with a long passage-way leading inside the monument to the inner chamber that is over 12 feet in height. Inside the chamber there are 30 runic inscriptions and other carvings. Mawshowe is located about 1 mile east of ‘Stones of Stenness’ and 4 miles west of Finstown. A footpath leads of the A965 road (opposite Tormiston Mill) in a northwesterly, then northeasterly direction, for 300m to the monument.

Maeshowe Chambered Cairn, Orkney Island. (Photo: T. Kent).

J. Gunn (1941) on his visit to Maeshowe tells us: “We enter the mound by a low and what seems a very long passage, at first barely2½ feet high, but for the second half over 4 feet, and are glad to reach the central chamber, where we can stand upright once more. The floor of this chamber is 15 feet square. The walls are vertical for the first 6 feet of their height, and then begin to curve inwards, not by an arch structure but by each course of the masonry over-lapping the previous one, and so producing the effect of a vault, until at the height of about 13 feet only a small opening is left to be covered by a single slab. The angles of the building are strengthened by heavy buttresses of stone. In the wall opposite the entrance, and on either side, are recesses some 3 feet above the ground, built as if for burial chambers.

“The mound was broken into, perhaps in search of treasure, by the followers of Earl Rognvald II., who wintered in Orkney in 1151 before setting forth on his famous pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In 1861 it was reopened and carefully examined, the passage was opened out, the interior cleared of rubbish, and the roof restored.” 

Gunn goes on to say: “The mound which covers and protects the building is still some 35 feet in height, and 300 feet in cir-cumference. It stands on a level platform of nearly three times this diameter, surrounded by a trench about 40 feet wide, and from 4 to 8 feet deep. The entrance passage to the chamber is fully 50 feet long. Regarding the builders of the chamber, its purpose, and its date, nothing is known.” And Gunn goes on to say “There is thus no doubt that their original purpose was sepulchral, and this is true also of Maeshowe itself, as is shown by the fragments of human skulls which were found in it when it was examined in 1861.” 

Burial recess & blocking stone

Childe & Simpson (1959) tell us that: Maes Howe covers the finest “megalithic tomb” in the British Isles, the masonry of which is surpassed nowhere in Western Europe. The tumulus rises from a flan plain at the south-east end of the loch of Harray, and belongs to a great complex of monuments to which we shall return. The imposing mound is 115 feet in diameter and still 24 feet high. It is encircled, 50 feet to 70 feet from its base, by a great penannular ditch, 45 feet wide. From the south-east edge of the barrow a passage now over 36 feet long leads to a chamber 15 feet square and now 12 feet 6 inches high. (The original corbelled roof is preserved to that height only, the gap being covered by modern vaulting). In the middle of each side wall save the southern rectangular “window” some 3 feet above the floor gives access to a small rectangular cell, 3 feet 6 inches high, and roofed by a single lintel slab. These cells, the actual depositories of the deceased, could be plugged with stone blocks, still lying near them on the chamber floor.

“The masonry of the passage and chamber is of outstanding excellence. Most of the stones used have been dressed. The walls and roof of the inner part of the passage are formed of monoliths, on an average 18 feet 6 inches long, 4 feet 4 inches wide and 7 inches thick. The joints are so finely adjusted that it is impossible to insert a knife-blade between them. Projecting piers in the chamber’s four corners, ingeniously designed to support the corbels, are each faced on one side with upright monoliths that attain a height of 9 feet 8 inches. 

“Maes Howe was presumably designed as the burial place of a potent chief and recalls in several details some famous tombs on the Boyne. It was opened by Farrer in 1861, who found he had been anticipated  by Vikings in the 12th century. These had left nothing of the original burials nor their furniture, but a record of their violation in the form of Runic inscriptions and engravings of a lion, a walrus, and a serpent-knot. The inscriptions mention the removal of treasures and record various visits by Christian Vikings and crusaders about A.D. 1150.”   

Bill Anderton (1991) says of the Maes Howe Tomb: “Near Stromness, on the island of Orkney can be found the remains of a magnificent chambered tomb. The tomb lies beneath a 7-metre-high mound of clay and stones, the entrance being through an 11-metre-long passage lined with huge slabs of stone. The chamber of the tomb measures 4½ metres square. The wall opposite the entrance and the two side walls each have a recess leading into the body of the earthern mound. Burials may have been placed within these recesses. The tomb was sealed in about 1500 BC, and remained thus until AD 1150 when it was broken into by some Norse pirates who were spending the winter on the island. Nothing was left in the tomb except for some runic inscriptions testifying to their presence. These inscriptions were carved by Vikings over 800 years ago, but the beautifully constructed cairn is dated to about 2750 BC. It is orientated so that the mid-winter sun shines down the 11-metre-long entrance passage to light up the inner beehive chamber. Among the carvings on one of the uprights is the famous Maes Howe Dragon.”    

Further to that Charles Tait (1999) says: “Maeshowe has the distinction of having one of the largest groups of runic in-scriptions known in the world. Inscribed artefacts are common all over Scandinavia and the Norse colonies, with the earliest dating from about AD 200. The younger futhark was developed about AD 700 and was the form of runes used by the Vikings. Many inscriptions are on artefacts and tell who carved the runes while runic memorial stones are also common, often using existing boulders. These epitaphs often commemorate the exploits of the dead.

“The Vikings left much runic graffiti, but none have so far been as rich and interesting as in Orkahaugr – the Norse name for Maeshowe. These runes were carved in the 12th century and are a development of the characters used by the earlier Vikings. Runes developed as a simple way of carving letters into wood, bone or stone using a blade or similar implement. They represent most of the Latin alphabet as required by Old Norse. There are many variations in the runic alphabet, but most of the characters have Latin equivalents. Runes were used throughout the Germanic lands, but probably developed in Scandinavia.

“At Maeshowe there are about 30 inscriptions, many of which are of the style “Thorfinn wrote these runes”. Some gave their father’s name, or a nickname, some are by women and one intriguing inscription says “these runes were carved by the man most skilled in runes on the Western Ocean with the axe that killed Gaukr Trandkill’s son in the south of Iceland”. This rune carver may have been Thorhallr Asgrimassom, Captain of Earl Rognvald Kali’s ship when they returned in 1153 from the Crusades. Clearly the Vikings were interested in Maeshowe and left inscriptions on at least one other occasion, when stories about treasure were being told, as in “Haakon singlehanded bore treasures from this howe”. Women were also discussed, as in “Ingigerd is the most beautiful of women” and “Ingibiorg the fair widow”, or “Many a women has come stooping in here no matter how pompous a person she was”’.

Charles Tate adds that: “Some of the runes are cryptic tree runes which are easily deciphered by a numeric code based on the futhark – the runic alphabet. Little could the Viking graffiti writers of 1153 have realised how interesting their runes would be today! In the magnificent setting of the 5,000 year-old tomb, the Viking visitors seem not so distant.”

Sources / References & Related Websites:

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

Childe, Gordon & Simpson, Douglas, Ancient Monuments—Scotland—Illustrated Guide, H. M. Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

Gunn, J., Orkney—The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.

Tait, Charles, the Orkney Guide Book (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait photographic, Kelton, St. Ola, Orkney, 1999.

The AA, Illustrated Guide Book Of Scotland, The Automobile Association, London, 1963.

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

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/maeshowe-chambered-cairn/

https://canmore.org.uk/site/2094/maes-howe

https://stonesofwonder.com/maeshowe.htm

http://www.orkneyjar.com/history/maeshowe/index.html

https://sites.google.com/a/umich.edu/from-tablet-to-tablet/final-projects/runic-graffiti-at-maeshowe-orkney-katie-rokakis-13

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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Stones of Stenness, Orkney Island, Scotland

Stones of Stenness, in Orkney Island, Scotland

NGR: HY 30683 12513. At the far south-western edge of Loch Harray – beside the B9095 (Brodgar road), on the Island of Orkney, Scotland, is the famous henge monument known as ‘Stones of Stenness’ or ‘Ring of Stenness’, which is considered to date from around 3,000 BC – the Neolithic age of prehistory. There used to be twelve tall standing stones forming the circle, but now there are only four (one of these having been damaged and is now only half the size) – the other stones apparently vanished into thin air or, more likely, they were toppled and broken up to be used for building material, though there are outliers close by: one in particular stands beside the road, while close to the centre of the henge there are two smaller stones and one large recumbent, which may have been a cist grave, or a hearth? The four stones are surrounded by a (slight) low bank or fosse and, a rock-cut ditch now filled-in. The thinking was that this monument was either a temple to the sun, a ritualistic place sacred to the Druids, or an astronomical site? Stenness is 5 miles northeast of Stromness, 5 miles west of Finstown and 1 mile southeast of the ‘Ring of Brodgar’, which is another Stone Circle, just to the north of Stenness.

Charles Tate (1999) tells us a lot about the site, saying: “The Standing Stones of Stenness……were originally a circle of 12 stones with a diameter of 30m and now comprises of 4 uprights, the tallest of which is over 5m high. The circle was surrounded by a rock-cut ditch 2m deep, 7m wide and 44m in diameter which has become filled-in over the years. Excavation has revealed a square setting of stones and bedding holes for further uprights, either stone or wooden.

“Remains of domestic animals , including cattle, sheep and dog bones as well as a human finger and sherds of Grooved Ware pottery were found in the ditch. Radiocarbon dating indicates that the circle was constructed about 3000 BC, which is older than many henge monuments further south in Britain.

Tate goes on to add, that: “Nearby, at the Bridge of Brodgar, stands the Watchstone, (HY 305128 – 5.6m). At the Winter solstice the sun sets into a notch in the Hoy Hills as seen from this stone, clearly marking the shortest day. A recent observation suggests that there is an interesting alignment from the Watch Stone at Old New Year – still celebrated in Shetland with Up Helly Aa. At this date at the end of January, the sun disappears behind the Hoy Hills just before sunset and then reappears from the other side, before finally setting into a notch in the skyline.

“This impressive menhir and the Barnhouse Stone (HY312122 – 3.2m), in a field near the main road, as well as the Stone of Odin, which was destroyed in 1814, must have had some connection with the stone circles and Maeshowe. Since so many stones are missing, interpretation of the remaining stones remains problematical. This of course serves to add to the mystery of the purpose of the monuments. Other standing stones at Stoneyhill (HY320158), Howe and Deepdale (HY272118) may also form part of this Neolithic complex.

“The stone destroyed in 1814 was used as lintels by the farmer at Barnhouse, who was incidentally an incomer. Apparently the part with the hole was used as the pivot for a horse mill but was destroyed after World War II. Luckily the selfish farmer was stopped from demolishing the rest of the Standing Stones, but only after he had toppled two more of the menhirs, one of which he broke up. The threat of Court action finally stopped this 19th century vandal, and the fallen stone was re-erected in 1906. Luckily the vast majority of landowners over the millennia have had great respect for our antiquities.

“The Odin Stone had a hole in it through which lovers clasped hands and swore their everlasting love. The Oath of Odin was then said and the contract was binding thereafter. The stone was also credited with healing powers, in association with the well at Bigswell (HY345105) and especially at Beltane and midsummer. Recently the probable sockets of both this stone and another were found between the Standing Stones and the Watch Stone.”

Timothy Darvill (1988) says: “Little now remains of the bank and ditch of this site which was originally 61m in diameter, but a single entrance lies to the north. Four massive stones remain of the ring of 13 slabs that once stood inside the monument. Cists and pits containing burials have been found in the henge, and radiocarbon dates suggest that it was constructed about 2900BC.”

Childe & Simpson (1959) tells us: “The Ring of Stenness is now a flat-topped mound or platform, encircled by a fosse with a bank outside it and traversed by a causeway on the northwest. On the platform four monoliths stand on the circumference of a circle, some 52 feet in diameter.

Stones of Stenness, Orkney Island. An early photo by T. Kent.

J. Gunn (1941) tells us that: “As regards the Standing Stones, a common theory has been that they had some connection with the religion of the Druids, and may have been places of sacrifice. Another theory is that they had some astronomical significance. Neither of those beliefs is now accepted by serious students of archaeology. On the other hand it is certain that such stones are in almost every case associated with graves and burial mounds, and in this connection they seem to have had a religious or ritualistic origin. It is probable that the religion of these circle-builders was some form of sun worship which had spread into Europe from the East. In Scandinavia there are many Bronze Age pictorial rock carvings which point to such a worship, and it has been thought that the practice of cremation, which became so general in Western Europe during that period, was due to new ideas regarding the persistence of the soul after death. In more southerly parts of Britain there is no doubt that fresh immigrations took place during this Bronze Age, but whether Orkney was affected by these to any extent we cannot tell. It may well be that the Stone Circles and Standing Stones were the work of the same racial stock, who had retained the megalithic tradition, and had found fresh forms of expression for it under the compel-ling influence of a new world of thought.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites:

Childe, Gordon & Simpson, Douglas, Ancient Monuments—Scotland—Illustrated Guide, H. M. Stationery Office, Edinburgh, 1959.

Darvill, Timothy, AA Glovebox Guide—Ancient Britain, Publishing Division of The Automobile Association, Basingstoke, Hampshire, 1988.

Gunn, J., Orkney—The Magnetic North, Thomas Nelson And Sons, Ltd., London, 1941.

Tate, Charles, The Orkney Guide Book (Edition 2.1), Charles Tait photographic, St. Ola, Orkney, 1999.

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

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

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/stones-of-stenness-circle-and-henge/

https://canmore.org.uk/site/2105/stones-of-stenness

https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2014/08/neolithic-orkney/

https://www.orkney.com/listings/standing-stones-of-stenness

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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The Triskele Stone, St Michael’s Church, Iselgate, Cumbria

The Triskele Stone from photo at St. Michael’s church.

NGR: NY 16240 33314. The Church of St Michael at Iselgate, half a mile southeast of Isel village, in the Derwent Valley, Cumbria, used to house the famous ‘Triskele Stone’, a Celtic symbol of motion, but sadly it was stolen from this 12th Century Norman church in 1986. Only a photo survives. However, there are still two large fragments of an Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft. The Triskele is a pre-Christian symbol or motif consisting of a three-armed carving similar to the Manx symbol (Three Legs of Man) which might represent the Holy Trinity? although the symbol goes back thousands of years to the Neolithic, and was used in ancient Greece; this particular stone, however, had Viking origins, being associated with the Norse gods, Thor and Odin. The stone also had carvings of a sun-snake and a four-armed swastika (or fylfot – the symbol of Freya). The hamlet of Iselgate is a few miles northeast of Cockermouth, whilst St Michael & All Angels’ Church is just off Blindcrake Lane – beside the river Derwent, not far from Isel Hall.

Stanley Kingsnorth (1984) in a magazine article tells us a lot about the Triskele Stone, saying: “The Triskele Stone came to light in 1812 when the bridge of 1691 spanning the river Derwent was rebuilt.” Mr Kingsnorth continues, saying it: “takes its name from the three-limbed design which appears on two faces, a variation of this sign is well known to us as the three-legs of Man. This strangely sculptured stone, now placed in front of one of the chancel windows, is about twelve inches high and has been closely studied by scholars. It is described in some detail by the Rev. W. S. Calverley, a former vicar of Aspatria in his paper presented to the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archeology Society in 1885. 

“Each of the four faces of the stone shows designs in relief, those in the upper panels being different on each side, while the lower panel of all sides displays the “‘Sun-Snake”′ sign resembling a double ended hook on its side, which is to be found in the relics of many early cultures. Three of the upper panels depict the emblems of the principal pagan Norse gods. The symbol for Thor is the thunderbolt or hammer device and appears in strong relief on one face. Another side is adorned with an unsymmetrical triskele sign with two limbs to the left and one to the right and which is attributed to Odin, or in the alternative spelling, Woden. 

“On the third face a four-armed swastika appears, being the symbol of Freya the god of fertility and peace, while the re-maining side shows a balanced triskele having all three arms turning to the right, that is, with the sun. This sign is held to represent the Trinity of the Christian faith, and is the most significant dedication if the stone is, as so many suppose, part   of an early stone cross which stood on the site..”  

Stanley Kingsnorth goes on to add: “The other two stones now to be found near the south door are clearly fragments of the main shaft of a pre-Norman cross probably of a later date than the Triskele Stone. They were discovered in the walls of the church during the major restoration which took place just over 100 years ago. One is worked in relief on two sides and the other on all four faces with a variety of spirals and whorls, typical Christian designs of the Celtic post-Roman period. But again the pagan influence has persisted, as at the bottom of the fully patterned stone there is a boldly carved broad arrow or spearhead pointing downward. In his study of 1889, Calverley identified this as the sacred emblem of Woden as descri-bed in the old Norse sagas, where the unfortunate sacrifice has his breast marked with the point of a spear and is offered to Woden, after which he is hanged.

“In heathen ritual, the gallows was in the form of a cross, usually of ash, so it can easily be understood how the Cross of Christ and the symbolic ash cross of the Nordic peoples came to have an over-lapping meaning to the diverse inhabitants of this remote area during the confused and changing times between the withdrawal of the Roman legions and the arrival of the Normans. 

Lawrence E. Jones & Roy Tricker (1992)  say that Isel church has: “A perfect setting by the river Derwent for St Michael’s small and simple towerless church. (The nearby hall is much more spectacular, and has a pele tower). It is a Norman church of c1130 (with a fine chancel arch), but there are three Saxon stones with very interesting carvings, including a swastika and a triskele, also Saxon cross fragments. One 15th century chancel window has three Mass-dials carved in          its stonework.”

Arthur Mee (1961) tells us: “The church was chiefly built by the Normans, and has still their doorway, their chancel arch, and several of their little windows. Another window pierced in the 15th century has three sundials on it. There are two stones carved before the Normans came, and one being part of a 10th-century cross and the other having the rare three-armed symbol called the triskele, one of the earliest devices found on Christian monuments.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites: 

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

Kingsnorth, Stanley, Storied Stones At Isel — A Visit to St. Michael’s Church, (Magazine Article in Cumbria – Lake District Life, May, 1984), The Dalesman Publishing Co. Ltd., Clapham, Lancaster.

Mee, Arthur, The Kings England — Arthur Mee’s Lake Counties — Cumberland And Westmorland,  Hodder And Stoughton Limited, London, 1961.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Michael%27s_Church,_Isel

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

https://www.explorechurches.org/church/st-michael-all-angels-isel

https://www.ancient-symbols.com/symbols-directory/triskele.

Check this out: https://mythologian.net/triskelion-triskele-symbol-celtic-spiral-knot-meaning/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 


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.