..with Mr Vasey
Piercebridge – Fawcett – Stanwick
The church at Kirklevington has been in existence since the early medieval period. The chancel is Medieval, the rest of the church was rebuilt during the nineteenth century. Many ancients stones were found during the rebuilding of the church and have been incorporated into the fabric of the church.
Inside the porch is the entrance arch to the church. The two orders are a bit of a hodge-podge of weathered stones. There are spirals carved onto the capitals and one has a carving of intertwined serpents which is quite hard to make out.
The Chancel Arch is much more satisfying. The left hand capital is beautifully carved with a man’s head, stars and spirals. Beside the capital is the carving of a lion. The capital on the right side is carved with a headless bird, beside it is a rather damaged carving that has been interpreted as an ox. There is a lovely booklet available at the church which informs us that these carving represent the four evangelists, Mark (lion), Mathew (the head), John (the bird), Luke (the ox).
There are quite a few Cross Slabs within the church. Cross slabs are difficult to date as they were used from the eleventh to the seventeenth century.
There are a number of stones embedded in the external walls including six chevroned stones which may have once formed part of an arch. I’m guessing these were left over from the rebuilding of the doorway arch.
This beautiful door handle is a nod to the ancient origins of the church.
A number of ancient carved stones were discovered during the rebuilding of the church. Many of the ancient cross fragments have been removed from the church and are currently being stored at the Preston Hall Museum, a few are on display. The stone below is part of a cross shaft and is probably my favourite local medieval stone. It is thought to depict the Norse god Odin and his two ravens Huginn and Muninn (thought and mind). Odin’s ravens would fly out into the world and report what they saw to Odin.
Why is Odin depicted on a christian cross?
The early medieval period was a time of transition from the Pagan religions of northern Europe to Christianity. Nothing was straightforward, Pagan kings would succeed Christian Kings and the Christian church itself was split between two traditions, the celtic church and the church of Rome.
It may seem odd to us to see pagan imagery on a Christian cross shaft but the people of the early medieval period would have recognised and understood this imagery. Odin would have been a familiar figure to not only the people of Scandinavian descent but also to people who’s ancestors had travelled to our area from northern Europe.
Odin was known in the Anglo Saxon world as Woden, perhaps Woden was also worshipped in our islands prior to the arrival of the Anglo Saxons. During the Roman occupation of Britain, the majority of the Roman army was comprised of Auxiliaries. These units were manned by soldiers from territories that had fallen to Roman conquest. The majority of the Auxiliaries in our islands were composed of men from northern Europe, lands where Woden was a primary deity.
The Roman tradition was not to suppress the local belief in the gods of the lands they were conquering, they would associate local gods with Roman gods who possessed similar attributes, Woden/Odin was associated with the god Mercury because of his role on guiding the dead to the afterlife. The Roman historian Tacitus wrote that the Northern European tribes worshipped Mercury. Wednesday (Wodin’s Day) is known in Latin as Mercurii dies (‘Day of Mercury’).
This carving has been interpreted as portraying the god Mercury, is in the church at Aldborough, the church is said to have been built on the site of a Roman shrine.
It’s an interesting aside to look at Odin and Jesus. Given the evidence, it is fairly safe to assume that Odin may have originated in an older, shamanic-based belief system, if we detach ourselves from our christian assumptions we may also see similar shamanic elements in the life of Jesus.
In becoming a shaman there is generally a requirement for a ritual death and rebirth. Odin achieved this by hanging himself on a tree, Jesus was hung on a cross and then descended into the underworld before being reborn. Whilst on the tree, Odin pierced himself with his spear, whilst Jesus was on the cross he too was pierced with a spear.
Shamans are generally wanderers who undertake spirit journeys, Odin famously wandered in search of enlightenment, Jesus wandered with his small group of followers throughout his later life, the bible records his forty day solo journey into the Sinai desert without food or water. Both Jesus and Odin possessed the ability to speak to and raise the dead, Odin using his magic, Jesus by miraculous means, magic by a different name?
Perhaps the people of the past saw these similarities too. The early Christian church was very different to the church of today, the early Christian world was a place of mystics, demons, miracles, monks and local saints, many of who may have previously followed a pagan tradition.
Odin is thought to have hung himself on Yggdrasil, the world tree. The Pagans of northern Europe also had a world tree, Irminsul. These trees may have had their origins in the shamanic tradition where they symbolised the shaman’s journey between realms. Perhaps the cross represented the same idea to the early christians, an axis between the realms of heaven, earth and the underworld.
Anglian & Anglo-Danish Sculpture in the North Riding of Yorkshire. W.G. Collingwood. YAJ Vol.19. 1907
Yorkshire A Gazetteer of Anglo-Saxon & Viking Sites. G Points. 2007
Romanesque Yorkshire. Yorkshire Archaeological Society Occasional Paper No.9 Rita Wood. 2012
Archaeological Trail. St Martin’s Church. Kirklevington. A pamphlet available from the church.
Yggdrasil Image – Oluf Bagge, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Thanks to Gary & Kate for arranging access to their lovely church.
We took a trip up to Hexham, I spent half an hour wandering around the Abbey. As you walk into the Abbey you are faced with a Roman Tombstone, discovered in 1881, it is a memorial to Flavinus, a standard bearer. The carving depicts Flavinus riding over, what I presume is, a native Briton, the victors boot planted on his victims backside. The triumphs of past conquests are often displayed our churches, it is rare to see a memorial depicting our own islands conquest and defeat.
The original Saxon church was built using stone from nearby Roman sites. The church has been attacked many times during raids by the Vikings and later the Scots.
To the left of the High Altar is the Leschman Chantry Chapel, containing the tomb of Rowland Leschman, Prior of the Abbey from 1480 to 1491. The carvings on the tomb are an absolute joy.
The section of road from Girsby to Over Dinsdale is marked on the OS map as ‘Roman Road’. During the 18th century Gainford Antiquarian, John Cade, studied the Roman Roads of the north and theorised that a Roman road ran from the Humber estuary to the River Tyne. Cade thought that the road may have been an extension of Ryknild or Ickneild Street, a road that ran from Gloucestershire to South Yorkshire. Cade placed the crossing point of the Tees at Sockbridge. The Roman Road became known and is still referred to Cade’s Road.
In the 1920’s Archaeologist OGS Crawford took a look at the area and thought that the crossing point of the was more likely be Middleton One Row at the site of a medieval bridge known as Pountey’s Bridge. A reliable late nineteenth century source reported timber piles and abutments being visible at the site. An earlier report states that a large number of squared Stones being found in the river.
Recent work by the Mid Tees Research Project has discredited Crawford’s theory and moved the search for Cade’s crossing eastwards to a bend in the Tees close to Newsham, where at least three separate river crossings once existed.
The modern road leads to the bridge over the Tees at Low Dinsdale. The bridge was originally built in 1850 by the Surtees family and operated as a toll bridge. In 1955 the bridge was taken over by the North Riding County Council and the original trussed iron beams were replaced with steel beams rolled at the Cargo Fleet Iron Works, a concrete deck was cast then over the beams. The bridge was further upgraded in 1993.
In the churchyard of St John the Baptist at Low Dinsdale is the lower portion of an eleventh century cross shaft. The shaft is carved on all four faces but quite weathered. There are other carved stones within the church but this church is always locked when I visit.
Bridges over the Tees. The Cleveland Industrial Archaeologist. Research report No. 7 C. H. Morris. 2000
OE stan ‘stone, stones’ is a very common pl. el. It is used alone as a pl. n. in STAINES, STEANE, STONE, where a Roman milestone or some prominant stone of another kindmay be referred to.
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1959
I recently took a trip over the Pennines to Cumbria. On the way home I stopped on Stainmore to have a look at Rey’s Cross. The Cross is located in a lay-by beside the A66. The A66 crosses the Pennines through the Stainmore Gap, a Pennine pass that was created by the flow of ice sheets during past glacial periods.
Historically, This part of Stainmore has always been important. The moor is rich in late Prehistoric remains. It was also the site of a large Roman marching camp, within the ruins of the camp is a wrecked prehistoric stone circle. Legend has it that the stone cross was raised as a memorial to Eric Bloodaxe, the last king of York, who was slain on the moor in 954.
The cross, situated near the highest point of Stainmore, is close to an ancient county boundary, is a weathered shaft set into a substantial stone base and is thought to date to the early anglo saxon period. The name`Rey’ is thought to have been derived from the Old Norse element `hreyrr’ which can be taken to mean a heap of stones forming a boundary.
One of the earliest references to the stone is from The Chronicle of Lanercost where it is call ” Rer Cros in Staynmor ” The chronicler states that it was set up as a boundary marker. The boundary was between the Westmoringas and the Northumbrians, the Glasgow diocesan border, before that it marked the border between the Cumbrians and the Northumbrians.
The antiquarian William Camden tells us ” This stone was set up as a boundary between England and Scotland, when William (the Conqueror) first gave Cumberland to the Scots.” Camden was incorrect, at the time of the Norman conquest much of Cumberland was already under Scot’s rule. The historic county of Cumberland was not established until 1177, however the stone could still have marked the boundary of the territory.
The A99 was widened in the early 1990’s so in 1990 the stone was moved from the south side of the road to its present site on the north side. An archaeological survey and excavation was undertaken as part of a wider archaeological project, sadly no burial was found beneath or around the stone.
What fascinates me about this stone is that it marks a place that has been significant to the people of our islands for thousands of years. The people of the Neolithic period used this as route way between the east and west coasts. Later, the people bronze age erected a stone circle close to the site. Later still, the Romans heavily fortified road to guard the legions marching between Catterick and Penrith and it has remained the primary northern trans-pennine link ever since. A hundred or so metres west of the stone is the modern east/west boundary between Cumbria and Durham and the route was also once the medieval border between Scotland and England. East meets west, north meets south all within sight of the weather-beaten old stone.
Stanhope DU [Stanhopa 1183 BoB, -hop 1228 Ep]. ‘Stony HOH or ridge and HOP or valley.’
Graham and I drove up into the Wear Valley to Stanhope to have a look at the wonderful fossilised tree in the churchyard of St. Thomas’s church.
The 320 million year old fossil was found by quarrymen at a sandstone quarry at Edmundbyers Cross in 1915. It was originally taken to Newcastle and was brought to Stanhope in the 1960s and placed in the churchyard.
This is a superb relic of one of the trees that grew in the Carboniferous forest. It is a species known as Sigillaria, an early ancestor of modern club mosses. Today clubmosses are small mountain plants, only a few centimetres high, but in the tropical swamps of the Carboniferous Period they grew into 30-metre high giants!
Another fossil tree recovered from the sandstone quarry can be seen in the Hancock Great Northern Museum in Newcastle.
While here we thought we’d take a look inside the church. This was a very different building to the previous church we had visited at Escomb. St. Thomas’s is a very well endowed church and reflects the fortunes that have been made from farming and mineral extraction in the district.
The first thing you notice when you enter the church is the Victorian baptismal font. Beautifully carved in Frosterley marble with an extremely ornate cover complete with an over-engineered lifting mechanism.
Frosterley Marble has been used on the chancel floor.
Frosterley marble isn’t a true marble. Marble is a metamorphic rock, i.e. a rock that has been altered from its original state by temperature and pressure. Frosterley marble is merely a highly fossiliferous limestone, that when cut and polished forms a highly decorative stone.
Fossil – Laing Art Gallery Newcastle
This sculpture is a carved block of Frosterley Limestone inset with cast bronze interpretations of the fossils found within it. The fossil installation is displayed on an oak plinth among the Frosterley floor tiles and oak doors and display cabinets in the Marble Hall of the Laing Art Gallery. The sculpture is finished on one side to reflect the smoothness of the floor tiles and the central section shows and explains the unusual shapes seen in the tiles with carved and truncated fossils. The third section is a representation of a carboniferous sea floor with ‘living’ dibunophyllum bipartitum cast in bronze. The Department of Coelenterates at the Natural History Museum in London offered invaluable advice in establishing the most accurate representation of ‘dibunophyllum’.
This ancient stone coffin in the grounds of the church was carved from a single block of Frosterley marble.
The only true marble in the district is to be found in Upper Teesdale. A limestone which was subjected to heat and pressure from contact with the igneous rock that forms the Whin Sill. The resultant rock is known as Sugar Limestone. It is quite crumbly in nature and therefore pretty much useless as a decorative stone.
It was nice to see this Roman altar displayed inside the church. A translation of the inscription is provided, it reads..
To Silvanus, the invincible, sacred
Caius Tetius Venturius Mecia
Prefect of the Sebosian Cavalry
On account of a boar of enormous
size taken which
many of his predecessors
were not able to destroy, erected (this
altar) willigly in discharge of a vow
The town of Stanhope is surrounded by quarries and the valley has a long history of lead mining and smelting. Spoil heaps from the quarries encroach onto the margins of the town but I can find very little evidence in the church of the people who worked in the quarries and mines of Weardale. We left Stanhope and drove up the dale to visit the Rookhope Arch. The arch is all that remains of a two mile long horizontal chimney or flue. The flue carried the toxic gases and fumes from the lead smelt mill to the moortop. Mill workers were periodically sent into the flue to dig out the deposits. The average life span of a lead miner in 1860 was 45 years. Perhaps this ruin is a more fitting memorial to their lives than some mossy obelisk in a churchyard
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. 4th Edition. Eilert Ekwall. 1974
North Pennines AONB Geoparks Leaflet
Laing Art Gallery – Topografik
I took a trip into the Durham Dales with my friend Graham Vasey. County Durham is a bit of a mystery to me, growing up on the south bank of the Tees I’ve always viewed County Durham as a place of declining post-industrial townships, hastily built in the service of king coal and the ironmasters; Institute walls maintaining memories of pit explosions, collapsing shafts and pals whose bones fertilise foreign fields. Graham is slowly enlightening me and correcting my ignorance.
We arrived at Escomb to visit the beautiful seventh century Saxon church of St John, itself once a ruin, now saved and restored.
Boundary walls topped with raw slag and scoria brick paving speak of the district’s recent past
Keys at No.28
An austere beauty, each stone block tells a tale, many of them were carved by Roman hands
Layers of time – the nearby Roman fort at Binchester became a convenient quarry for the Saxon masons; an intact Roman arch, its underside reveals traces of Medieval fresco
The altar cross recycled, below it a beautiful Frosterley Marble Grave slab
Two sundials, one the oldest in England
The key to the interpretation of the sculpture lies in Saxon mythology, to a period before the emergence of the cult of Valhalla and the Viking Gods. For just as the beast’s head has little resemblance to a stag, so too it bears little resemblance to a wolf. We are looking at a chaos monster… Nicholas Beddow 1991
The Devil’s door and Roman Lewis hole
I started the day with a walk around Penrith in search of coffee and hogbacks.
A monument in St Andrews churchyard known the the Giant’s Grave. Legend has it that it is the grave of a knight called Ewain Cæsarius, the four hogbacks are said to represent four wild boars that he killed in the forest of Inglewood. In reality the monument is comprised of four hogback stones and two ancient crosses. All of which have seen better days.
A Hogback is an Anglo- Scandinavian grave marker dating to between the 10th and 12th centuries. They are generally found in locations that were settled by the Danes.
I was keen to get moving so didn’t take the time to have a look around St Andrews church. I later learned that it was designed by Nicholas Hawksmoor, I will have to return.
The village is steeped in history, located on a Roman road and river crossing point, the route later became a major drove road between England and Scotland. The road was also a main route for invaders, marauders, reivers and moss troopers.
The local church founded in the 9th century is a wonderful illustration of the history of this part of the north of England. The church is dedicated to Saint Cuthbert as this was one of the resting places for his body when monks removed it from Lindesfarne following the 9th century Viking conquest of the kingdom of Northumbria.
A beautiful stained glass depicting Cuthbert with an Eider or ‘Cuddy’s Duck’ at his feet
The church tower looks out of proportion with the rest of the church, this is because it was built in the 13th century as a defensive tower, a sanctuary from the invading Scots. The stone walls of the tower are 6ft thick with thin window slits and a narrow iron entrance door. This style of building is known as a Pele.
Throughout the Middle Ages the North of England was a dangerous place. Following the Harrowing of the North by the Normans, Scottish raiding parties would regularly move down into England to steal cattle and goods and take slaves. The 12th century Chronicler Simeon of Durham wrote Scarce a little house in Scotland was to be found without English slaves of one or other sex.
Aside from the regular raids by brigands from the north, between 1060 and 1745 there were at least 10 formal invasions by Scottish armies into England.
The 17th century armour mounted on the church walls bears witness to the area’s turbulent past.
For me, the crowning glory of the church is the 11th Century Romanesque arch
A Medieval cross slab and a Roman altar can be found in the porch
These 3 large boulders of red sandstone in the graveyard are a bit of a puzzle. I cannot find any references to them.
For the past two decades or so I have been researching the links between Cumbria and North Yorkshire. For most of that time my researches have focused upon Prehistory and the movement of people, objects and beliefs.
In recent years my focus has broadened and I’ve become interested in the post- Roman period, a time when our identity was more about being Northern than being English. With this in mind I decided to return to Cumbria and spend a couple of days travelling around the Eden Valley.
On trips like this I can never completely detach myself from Prehistory but I consciously decided to limit the megalithic sites to a couple and loosely focus upon looking for remnants from the post-Roman period onwards.
The journey started at the western foot of the Stainmore Pass at Brough. For me, Brough has always been the gatekeeper of the Eden valley. The Romans recognised the strategic value of the site and built a large fort there called Verteris, later in the 11th century the Normans chose to build a castle on the Roman site. When seen from the A66 the ruined castle of Brough is generally my first glimpse of the red sandstone of the Eden valley.
St Michaels Church Brough
In the bible, Michael the archangel was Gods’ General, leading the forces of heaven in the fight against Satan. It is fitting that the a church built within the confines of a ‘pagan’ roman fort should be dedicated to him. Perhaps the site was once occupied by a Roman temple and continued to be used by local people until the arrival of Christianity. The current church was founded in 12th century and has undergone a number of improvements in the years since.
There are many masons marks on the exterior walls of the church. Most of them are in the form of a crossed ‘Z’. I am guessing that the stones as they were quarried and were marked with the orientation of the cross indicating how the stone should be aligned, but this is only a guess.
Built into the wall of the porch of the church are a number of large cross slabs and a tribute to the Roman commander of the fort. The stone was found in 1880 during building work to the church. The inscription translates as For the Emperor Caesar Lucius Septimius Severus Pius Pertinax Augustus and for Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Caesar … in the consulship of Lateranus and Rufinus.
The Brough Stone – A Roman tribute, written in Greek, to a young Syrian who died a long way from home.
A lovely Norman arch
A possible Celtic/Romano-British carved head and a hexafoil, a symbol of purity that has been used elsewhere as a folk-magic symbol of protection.
Andy Goldsworthy has built one of his beautiful Cone Pinfolds in the grounds of the local school.