Chasing the Dragon in Ryedale

A while ago I was researching dragon lore in our area and came across a reference to the Ryedale Dragon. This wasn’t a reference to a specific dragon but to a carved motif that has been found on a number of Anglo-Saxon and Viking grave slabs and cross shafts in the Ryedale area. The design comprises a single bound dragon shown in S-shape with it’s jaws open. It is similar to the better known Jelling Design, named after the animal that decorates a silver cup found at a royal burial site in Jutland in Denmark.

I’d read of a 10th Century grave slab carved with a Ryedale Dragon in the church at Levisham and headed off to find it.

The slab itself is tucked away beneath the pulpit and is in two pieces, access and available light mean that getting a decent photograph can be quite challenging. I think I need to buy a remote flash and learn yoga.

Levisham Dragon Stone

Dragon Stone Collingwood

Whilst I was in the area I decided to call into St. Andrew’s Church in Middleton.

Middleton Wall

This lovely 8th Century cross is on the exterior wall of the church, it is described as a distinctive St. Cuthbert-style.

Inside the church there are a number of stones on display.

A 10th Century wheel head cross is decorated with the figure of a hunter with a spear and a short sword called a scramasax. There are also two hounds and a stag.

A 10th Century wheelhead cross is decorated with a warrior in a pointed helmet, spear, sword, scramasax, shield and axe. The interpretation of the figure wavers between a pagan in his grave and a lord on his gifstol (an ornate seat or throne).

Unfortunately I didn’t research this church before I visited it. Crosses A & B both have bound dragons carved on their rear faces. I didn’t learn this until I returned home.

An 11th Century ring head cross decorated with knotwork and a ring plait.

A section of stonework decorated with a bearded warrior with a knife and scramasax. The second stone is a section from a cross shaft decorated with the head of a warrior.

Slightly less ancient additions to the fabric of the church.

On my way home I decide to call into Lastingham, I have visited this church many times. The village sits in a verdant valley on the edge of Spaunton Moor. The crypt beneath the church is one of my favourite places, it is wonderfully atmospheric and contains a number of beautiful carved stones.

Sources

Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. Guy Points. Rihtspell Publishing. 2007

Stone illustrations taken from – Anglian and Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the North Riding of Yorkshire. W.G. Collinwood. The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal Volume XIX via Google Books

Lastingham tomb

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