Re-dedication of megaliths by churchmen is recorded in ancient accounts of the acts of early Celtic priests and monks. Brittany contains many standing stones that have been made into Christian monuments by having a cross carved upon them. There are probably more in that region than anywhere else in western Europe; but it was commonplace throughout the Celtic realms. In his 'The Acts of Patrick' in The Book of Armagh, Tirechan describes how St Patrick carved a cross on a rock at Lia na Manach near the church of Kilmore in County Mayo. The Welsh saint, Samson, seems to have been one of the most active re-dedicators. The 'Life of St Samson' (The Lives of the British Saints, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1908) recounts that when the early sixth-century saint was passing through Cornwall on his way from Wales to Brittany he travelled through a region called Tricurius. There he encountered some people performing ceremonies at what the chronicler calls an 'abominable image', that is, a standing stone. Unlike his Biblical namesake, who toppled the pillars of the Philistines, this Samson did not fell the stone, but re-dedicated it to Christian use by cutting a cross upon it. Although the exact place that this occurred is not identified, there are several possible locations.
In Glamorgan, south Wales, are the standing stones called Ffust Samson (Samson's flail), Samson's Jack and Carreg Samson (Samson's stone). Elsewhere in Wales are other stones called Carreg Samson. The name is given to a standing stone on the mountainside at Llandewi
Re-dedication of megaliths by churchmen is recorded in ancient accounts of the acts of early Celtic priests and monks.
Brefi, a stone cross near the church porch at Llanbadarn Fawr near Aberystwyth, and two cromlechs in north Pembrokeshire, Dyfed. Also in this area are stones called Marbl Samson (Samson's marble) and Bys Samson (Samson's finger). Samson's stones in south Wales stand on the route of his journey from Llantwit Major to Dol in Brittany, and, not surprisingly, there are St Samson's stones in Brittany, too. A menhir at Mont-Dol, Ile-et-Vilaine, is called St Samson's Mitre, and at Penvern, Cote-du-Nord, is another menhir named after the saint. Next to it stands a chapel dedicated to Samson, which was constructed between 1575 and 1631.
In Wales, the megalith sacred to another early Celtic missionary, St Beuno, still stands at Berriew in Powys, in the shape of Beuno's Stone. The animal-related rites conducted until the last century at Beuno's shrine, at Clynnog Fawr in the Lleyn, were the direct continuation of Celtic Paganism. It seems that, like many priests of the Celtic church, Beuno took over the shrines of the elder faith for Christian use while altering their ceremonial character very little. Elsewhere, other Celtic priests, whose names are not recorded, also appropriated the holy stones of the elder faith. At Llanfaelog in Anglesey, a prehistoric cup-marked menhir was re-dedicated by having a cross cut upon it, while at East Worlington in Devon is the megalith called the Long Stone, which bears no fewer than five incised crosses.
Some Cornish antiquaries have considered a number of the more archaic-looking stone crosses in that county to be of druidic, rather than Christian origin. In their form, they appear close to continental stones of the Hallstatt period, such as the Kilchberg stone in south Germany. Thus it is possible that at least some of the Cornish crosses are stones of the elder faith, re-consecrated for Christian use. 'The early pillar "crosses", though accounted Christian when tested by inscription and decoration,' wrote Walter Johnson in 1912 in his Byways in Archaeology, 'may yet have an earlier origin ... many of the crosses and calvaries of Brittany, "with shapeless sculpture decked", are merely primitive menhirs adapted by the Christian artificer, and anyone who, like the writer, has had the opportunity of comparing the Breton sites with the kindred group of our English Brittany, will readily agree that a similar story may be told of Cornwall.'
Although it ceased in the early middle ages in Britain, when people began to destroy standing stones, the alteration of megaliths into Christian monuments continued in France until shortly before the Revolution. A re-dedicated menhir at Dol (Ile-et-Vilaine), bears a
metal cross on top of the 9.5 m-tall (30 ft) stone, while the Dolmen de la Belle Vue at Carnac has a stone cross set upon it. In 1826, Sir Richard Colt Hoare published an engraving of this cross under the title of'Triumph of Christianity over Druidism'. The process of converting megaliths into crosses was associated usually with some specific local religious activity. For instance, in 1674, in connection with the construction of a new chapel nearby, a prehistoric megalith at Penvern in Brittany was re-dedicated by a Christian priest. This involved cutting down its summit to make a cross, and carving Christian emblems upon the remaining body of the stone. At Runglco in Finistère is the Croix des Douze Apôtres. This is another megalith upon which Christian figures have been carved. At Pleumeur-Bodou in the Côtes-du-Nord is one which in the eighteenth century was cut with the cross and symbols of Christ's passion.
The last-known conversion of a megalith in France occurred in Alsace in 1787, when a megalith near Althorn known as the
Breitenstein was re-carved as the result of a fulfilled vow. Thus, the Breitenstein became another 'Twelve Apostles Stone'. Not all Celtic Crosses in France are altered megaliths, however. Ancient crosses similar to those in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly exist in several Breton churchyards. The crosses are of both the wheel-head and plain form. The churchyard at Ploudalmezou has a notable wheel-head cross on a stepped base. It is dedicated to St Pol de Léon, as are the other crosses there. The holy well of Saint-Cado is topped by a fine Celtic cross with a crucifixion at the centre reminiscent of that on the Cross of the Scriptures at Clonmacnois.
The last-known conversion of a megalith in France occurred in Alsace in 1787, when a megalith near Althorn known as the Breitenstein was re-carved as the 'Twelve Apostles Stone'.
Opposite: The 'Twelve Apostles Stone' (Breitenstein) near Althorn, Alsace, France, a megalith re-carved as a Christian cross in 1787. (Nigel Petmick)
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