Memorials And Crossslabs

Most Welsh memorial stones dating from the fifth to the seventh century are megaliths, unworked stones whose natural shapes were appropriate for inscriptions to be carved on them with the minimum of effort. Like the earlier megaliths, they were intended to stand upright as memorials that marked the burial places of important people, or sometimes the boundaries between territories. The earliest inscriptions are in Roman capitals, recalling that it was only a few years since

Varieties of crosses and stones at the meeting-point of Paganism and Christianity, using motifs derived from Irminsul. Top row: Osmondwall Chapel, Walls and Flotta Parish, Orkney; St Nicholas Chapel, Papa Stronsay, Orkney.

Below: cross with runes from Ballaugh, Isle of Man; stone with 'Pagan Cross', Dover, England. Right: Danish runestone with Irminsul pattern containing runes.

Britain was a province of the Roman Empire. Later, however, as the memory of being Roman faded, this changed, and half-uncials, a character-type taken from Christian manuscripts, were used instead.

It appears to have been customary among the Pagan Anglo-Saxons who did not cremate their dead to bury a runestone with the body. Around the seventh century, stonecarvers began to incise crosses upon similar stones, some of which were intended to lie flat above the dead person, and not to stand up as a tombstone. Northumbrian 'pillow-stones' are known from the monastic cemeteries of Hartlepool and Lindisfarne, and a few other places including Billingham and Birtley in County Durham. Their name is misleading, for they were not placed beneath the head of the corpse, but over the face or on the chest.

Craig Narget

Seventh- or eighth-

century Northumbrian 'pillow-stones' from the Anglian nunnery at

Hartlepool, Cleveland, England.

Dedications, clockwise from top left: Ediluni;

Hanegneub; Ucrmund and Torhtsuid; —uguid.

Lindisfarne Pillow Stone

Closely related to Irish slabs, of which the largest collection can be seen at Clonmacnois, the Northumbrian pillow-stones are rectangular, with an incised cross-pattern. In Merovingian France at this time, it was becoming fashionable to mark Christian burials by flat slabs carved with ring-crosses.

Related to the Celtic wheel-head is the type of flat slab which has a cross at each end. These end-crosses are connected by a bar that forms another cross at the centre dividing the field into four panels, inside which is ornament. Early examples of this type exist at Sockburn in County Durham and Spennithorne in North Yorkshire. The majority of known slabs of this kind (about 40 in all) are in East Anglia in the region of Cambridge, Peterborough and Norwich, and made of Barnack stone. The most numerous find of these cross-slabs was made in 1811 beneath the earthworks of Cambridge Castle, which was built by the Normans around the year 1070 on the graveyard of an Anglo-Saxon monastery. A similar slab, illustrated here, exists at Peterborough Cathedral, and comparable stones without interlace patterns are known from Sussex at Chithurst, Steyning and Stedham.

Many ancient churches and abbeys contain ancient crosses and cross-slabs. Their state of preservation and the conditions under which they are kept varies greatly. More often than not, they seem merely to be

Opposite: Cross-slabs. Top row, left to right: Sinniness; Drummore; Craignarget (all in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland). Centre row: Lawrence's Church, Papil, West Burra, Shetland; Llangeinwen, Anglesey, Wales; Peterborough Cathedral, Cambridgeshire, England; Bakewell, Derbyshire, England. Horizontal stones: (upper) Cambridge Castle, Cambridgeshire; (lower) Hansted, Aarhus, Denmark.

an inconvenience for the church authorities, so they are relegated to dusty corners inside the building, or languish outside in stone-heaps behind chicken wire amid gardening tools and refuse. The historical significance of the stones seems not to affect the way they are handled: even the monuments of kings are

treated in this manner. Perhaps the least threatened are those stones actually built into the fabric, like the pieces of Celtic Cross in the walls of many churches, such as Little St Mary's in Cambridge and Llangeinwen in Anglesey. Such stones as these are visible, but it is clear that there are many more ancient carved stones embedded invisibly in the fabric of churches, castles, bridges and sea walls. Numerous fine examples came to light at Bakewell in Derbyshire in 1841, when the tower and transepts of the church were demolished during reconstruction. Sculptured stones removed from the old building included around 300 ancient monuments, ranging in date from before the Norman conquest to the thirteenth century. Seventy of them were retained, and built into the south porch of the church, but the rest were re-used and buried in the new walls, without being recorded in any way. Thus, a remarkable opportunity was lost, for many of those still visible show the many variant forms that the wheel-cross took. With the present decline of religion, however, many ancient churches are likely to be demolished in the near future, and doubtless more fascinating ancient stones will emerge again, if we who are interested in our heritage remain alert to developments.

Before the immigration of the Scots from Ireland, the Picts of northern Britain possessed their own style of Celtic art. Although the Picts probably produced wonderful textiles, leatherwork, woodwork and metalwork, little has survived, and it is almost entirely through memorial stones that their art is known. J. Romilly Allen, who made an intensive study of Pictish memorial stones (The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, The Pinkfoot Press, 1993) classified them into three categories. His Class I stones, which may date from the seventh century, are natural, largely unworkcd, megaliths upon which various

Pre-conqucst English tombstones:

Top to bottom: Adel, with patterns derived from solar phenomena; Bakewell Church, Derbyshire; Broadway, Hereford and Worcester; Bakewell.

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