Gwytherin Churchyard, Denbighshire

Stone Row: OS Grid Reference – SH 8767 6147

Also known as:

  1. Gwytherin Church Standing Stones
  2. The Four Stones

Getting Here

From the Denbigh road (A543 and A544) turn off at Llansannan for Gwytherin on the B5384 for 6 miles or so. At the village of Gwytherin St Winifred’s church stands roughly in the middle of the place at a junction of four roads. The church stands upon a small round hill and within the confines of the churchyard (north side) are four small standing stones – you can’t really miss them!

Archaeology & History

At the northern side of the churchyard near the wall there’s an alignment of four small standing stones probably dating from the Bronze Age.  The stones stand roughly 3 metres or 6 feet apart and are about 1 metre or 3 feet in height.  The westernmost stone has a Latin inscription carved onto it which is ‘VINNEMAGLI FILI SENEMAGLI’, or, ‘The Stone of Vinnemaglus, son of Senemaglus’, which is generally thought to date from the Romano-British period in the 5th-6th century AD and to be a grave marker.  Most probably the inscription was carved onto the prehistoric stone during the early Christian period — the stones themselves being from pre-Christian times.

The general thinking is that these stones belonged to a Bronze Age settlement that stood here long before any church was founded.  Perhaps there were other stones here forming a linear alignment that must have meant something to the ancient folks who lived here.  There has also been speculation as to whether the inscribed standing stone could actually mark the grave of St Winifred herself.

The churchyard is circular, indicating that it is a pagan sacred site.  Celtic churches being built on sites like this to Christianize them, but not entirely forget the meaning to the peoples of “the old religion,” as it’s called.  Also in the churchyard stand three ancient yew trees — yet another sign that the site is a holy one.

The first church in Gwytherin was founded by St Eleri (Elerius), a Welsh prince, in the mid-7th century.  He may be identical with St Hilary, a saint commemorated at a village of that name near Cowbridge, South Glamorgan.  Other than that, Eleri and his mother, Theonia, founded a double monastery here: one for men and the other for women, to which a young St Winifred (of Holywell) came to and was elected second abbess after Theonia.  St Eleri was probably a disciple of St Beuno, uncle to St Winifred, and also her cousin.  Here in 650 or 670 AD Winifred was buried in the churchyard — her relics being taken to Shrewsbury abbey in 1138.

References:

  1. Burl, Aubrey, From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press 1993.
  2. Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide, Faber & Faber: London 1978.
  3. Hulse, T.G., Gwytherin: A Welsh Cult Site Of The Mid-Twelth Century, (unpublished paper) 1994.
  4. Nash-Williams, V.E., The Early Christian Monuments of Wales, Cardiff, 1950.
  5. Westwood, J.O., “Early Inscribed Stones of Wales,” in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 18:255-259, 1863.

Copyright © Ray Spencer 2011

Gwytherin Churchyard stones

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Gwytherin Churchyard stones 53.138504, -3.680661 Gwytherin Churchyard stones

Pillar of Eliseg, Pentrefelin, Llangollen, Denbighshire

Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SJ 20267 44522

Also Known as:

  1. Eliseg’s Pillar

Getting Here

The Eliseg Pillar

From Llangollen, take the A542 north for about three miles up along the famous Vale of Llangollen.  At the ruined abbey of Valley Crucis continue along the same road for another ½-mile whence, at the side of the road in a field and upon a small mound, stands the ancient monument: the Pillar of Eliseg.

Archaeology & History

The sandstone pillar or pillar-shaft stands upon a large square-shaped base stone which sits atop a tumulus — a Bronze Age burial mound (cairn) inside which were found, during excavations in 1803, the remains of a body, perhaps that of a Romano-British or Dark-Ages chieftain (possibly Eliseg?), with what were described as “blue stones” both beneath and on top; the cremated body lying within a stone-slab chamber along with a silver coin.  But the ancient pillar monument itself is much later in date — probably mid-9th century AD, though there has been speculation by some historians that the pillar was actually a tall cross, alas without its head, dating from a couple of centuries earlier, with the inscription being carved onto it sometime between 840-845 AD.  It was erected by Prince Cyngen fab Cadell (Concenn) about the year 844 in memory of his great-grandfather Eliseg or Elise.  Cyngen died in Rome in 854 AD.

Over the centuries the pillar has suffered from the ravages of time.  Its long Latin inscription was originally 31 lines divided into readable paragraphs running horizontally but now only 7 or 8 of these lines are visible.  But fortunately the writer and historian Edward Lhuyd made a drawing of the monument and its inscription back in 1696.  The inscription when translated reads as follows:

1. Concenn son of Cadell, Cadell son of Brochmail, Brochmail son of Eliseg, Eliseg son of Guoillauc

2. Concenn therefore being great-grandfather of Eliseg erected this stone to his great-grandfather Eliseg

3. It is Eliseg who annexed the inheritance of Powys…throughout nine (years) from the power of the English which he made into a sword-land by fire

4. Whosoever shall read this hand-inscribed inscription stone, let him give a blessing on the soul of Eliseg

5. It is Concenn Who…with his hand…to his own kingdom of Powys…and which…the mountain…the monarchy Maximus…of Britain…Concenn, Pascent…Maun, Annan.

6. Britu, moreover, (was) the son of Guorthigirn (Vortigern) Whom (St) Germanus blessed and whom Severa bore to him, the daughter of Maximus the king who slew the king of the Romans and

7. Convarch painted this writing at the command of his king Concenn

8. The blessing of the Lord (be) upon Concenn and all members of his family and upon all the land of Powys Until the day of judgement or doom. Amen.

The upper section of the pillar, which is broken at the top, was re-erected on top of the burial mound in 1779 which probably means that the monument is not in its original place.  The lower section was sadly broken away from the shaft during the English Civil war and has long since disappeared. However, this monument is still quite an impressive site and can be seen from a great distance around.

References:

  1. Bartrum, P.C.,  Early Welsh Genealogical Tracts, Cardiff: UWP, 1966.
  2. Barber, Chris, More Mysterious Wales, Paladin 1987.
  3. Houlder, Christopher, Wales: An Archaeological Guide – the prehistoric, Roman and early medieval field monuments, Faber and Faber, London 1974.
  4. Tyack, George S., The Cross in Ritual, Architecture and Art, William Andrews: London 1900.
  5. Westwood, J.O., Lapidarium Walliæ – The Early Incised and Sculptured Stones of Wales, Oxford University Press 1879.

Copyright © Ray Spencer 2011 

Pillar of Eliseg

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Pillar of Eliseg 52.992071, -3.189307 Pillar of Eliseg

Corwen Cross, Denbighshire

Cross & Cup-Marked Stone:  OS Grid Reference – SJ 0787 4340

Getting Here

Simple.  The church in the centre of the village across from the T-junction with the A5 is where it’s at!

Archaeology & History

Cross-base with cup-marks (from Owen, 1886)

At Corwen churchyard we find a number of curious old stone relics — not least of which is this seemingly 12th century christian cross, more than seven-feet tall, on the west side of the church. Not only does this have a curious history in itself, but the base on which the cross stands has what may be at least seven cup-markings etched on it.  These were first mentioned – I think – by Elias Owen in his Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd, (1886) who wrote:

“The stone basement in which the (cross) shaft is placed is elliptical in form, with transverse and conjugate diameters measuring respectively 64 and 60 inches; it is 12 inches or so thick, is of a slaty nature and might have been procured in the neighbourhood… There are seven peculiar artificial depressions along the surface of the pedestal, strongly resembling the cup-markings which are found occasionally on the capstones of cromlechs, etc. They are irregularly arranged: on the north side there are three, almost in a line; and on other parts of the stone there are four of these marks. They differ somewhat from each other in size and shape, but they are for the most part circular, though one is more of an oblong than a circle. They vary also in depth, one being two-and-half inches deep, while the others are shallow. The largest is three inches in diameter; the others are not so broad.”

Owen makes note of a previous description of the Corwen “cross” by Thomas Pennant in 1784, where sounds as if this stone had a decidedly megalithic precursor. He told us:

“A most singular cross in the churchyard merits attention: the shaft is let into a flat stone, and that again is supported by four or five rude stones, as if the whole had been formed in imitation of, and in veneration of, the sacred Cromlech of very early times.”

Two other crosses are found at Corwen church – one of which has a decidely heathen legend attached to it. The Carreg y Big yn y Fach Rhewllyd monolith is also found here, in the porch wall.  A few miles east of here we also find another cup-marked stone, shown on The Old-Fashioned Antiquarian website.  Looks a good n’!

References:

  1. Owen, Elias, Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd and Neighbouring Parishes, Bernard Quaritch: London & Oswestry 1886.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Corwen Cross CR

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Corwen Cross CR 52.979998, -3.373623 Corwen Cross CR