..with Mr Vasey
Piercebridge – Fawcett – Stanwick
..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.
The Romanesque arch, weather-beaten but recognisable.
The ghost of a Beakhead
The Norman font, uncomplicated with a cable pattern below the rim.
A protection mark? A saltire scratched into the underside of the arch resembles similar motifs carved into the witch posts of the moorland villages.
An Anglo-Saxon crosshead.
Regarding the grooves on the porch wall behind the cross head. These grooves are found on many of the walls of old churches throughout Europe. Tradition has it that they were caused by medieval archers sharpening their arrow heads prior to Sunday archery practice. In some parts of the country these stones are referred to as ‘Arrow Stones’. This seems like a highly unlikely explanation, the nature of the grooves would probably only serve to blunt a blade rather than sharpen it
Another possible, and more likely explanation for the grooves, is that they were caused by people collecting grit and dust from the church for use in folk medicines and ritual preparations. Any part of the fabric of a consecrated building, including water from the roof, was thought to have curative powers for both people and their livestock. The practice of collecting materials from a church, to use as a cure for all manner of ills, has been documented across Europe.
There is an old house on Marske High Street that has similar grooves on its external walls. I was told that it was once a schoolhouse and the grooves were caused by pupils sharpening their slate pencils on the building walls. An alternative explanation is that perhaps these stones were recycled from a previous building such as St. Germain’s Church or the medieval manor house that once existed on the outskirts of the town.
This cross shaft is thought to be Anglo-Danish. There is also the remains of an Anglo-Danish Hogback grave cover in the porch but it is is very eroded and barely recognisable.
Asmundrelac 1086 Domesday Book
‘Asmund’s clearing’…A hybrid formation with a Norse inflexion of the of the first element suggests very intimate association of the Norse and Anglian speech.The Place-Names of the North Riding of Yorkshire by A.H. Smith 1928
My friend Graham Vasey and I took a walk up to Lilla Howe, Graham was wanting to have a look at Lilla Cross and make some images as part of his ongoing Dainn series, exploring landscape and folklore.
Lilla Howe is classified as a Bowl Barrow, a large burial mound built of turf and stone. It dates from the Bronze Age and is part of a chain of barrows that run from the southern edge of the Esk valley to the Tabular Hills. This and other lines of Barrows on the moors may once have been used as boundary markers, defining the territories or estates of different groups, the mounds of the ancestors, perhaps indicating legitimacy and continuity of ownership. This use continues today as many of the more prominent moorland barrows continue to define modern boundaries.
Lilla Howe is a very ancient and important landmark, it marks the junction of four ancient parishes, Allerston, Fylingdales Moor, Goathland and Lockton. This boundary was first recorded in AD 1078 but may be much older.
The stone cross has a ‘G’ carved into its north face, this signifies Goathland, there is a ‘C’ on the southern face which is thought to represent Cholmley. The Cholmley family took ownership of the land in the sixteenth century following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the estate had previously been owned by Whitby Abbey.
It was also a junction of two significant trackways running south from the coast to the Vale of Pickering, The Old Salt or Fish Road and the Pannier Man’s Way. These tracks are now lost beneath RAF Fylingdales. Lilla Howe continues to be used as a boundary marker, it is a junction for a modern parliamentary constituency boundary.
This section of the moors is also significant as it is the point where the moorland becks and streams run to the south. The northern moors are drained by two major rivers, The Esk and the Leven. The becks and rivers of the southern moors drain into the River Derwent. Derwent Head, the source of the River Derwent is less than a mile south of Lilla Howe.
Lilla Cross sits on top of Lilla Howe, it is one of a few surviving, intact moorland crosses. The tradition is that the cross was erected as a memorial to Lilla, a lord at the court of King Edwin.
The prehistoric burial mound was re-used during the early Medieval period, two Gold discs and four silver strap-ends were found in the mound, these items were used to re-enforce the tradition that this was the burial site of Lilla, therefore dating the cross to the seventh century. Unfortunately the objects found in the mound are Scandinavian in design and date to the tenth century.
Bede’s account of Lilla
…there came to the kingdom an assassin whose name was Eomer, who had been sent by Cwichelm, King of the West Saxons, hoping to deprive King Edwin of his Kingdom and his life. He came on Easter Day to the King’s hall which then stood by the River Derwent. He entered the hall on the pretence of delivering a message from his lord, and while the cunning rascal was expounding his pretended mission, he suddenly leapt up, drew the sword from beneath his cloak, and made a rush at the King. Lilla, a most devoted thegn, saw this, but not having a shield in his hand to protect the King from death, he quickly interposed his own body to receive the blow. His foe thrust the weapon with such force that he killed the thegn and wounded the King as well through his dead body.
Etymolgy – Rivers
Derwent – Derived from British derva ‘oak’ Welsh derw &c. The name means ‘river where oaks were common’.
Esk – A British-river name identical with Axe, Exe and with Usk in Wales and Isch and others on the continent. British Isca became Esca, whence OE Esce and Aesce, which gave Esk and with metathesis Exe and Axe…and probably comes from pid-ska or pit-ska the root being pi- in Greek piduo ‘to gush forth’.
Leven – A British river-name identical with Libnios c150 Ptolemy (in Ireland) and Llyfni, Llynfi in Wales. The name may be derived from the adjective for ‘smooth’ found in Welsh llyfn.
Early Man in North East Yorkshire. Frank Elgee. 1930
Old Roads & Pannierways in North East Yorkshire. Raymond H Hayes. 1988
Lilla Cross on Lilla Howe, Fylingdales Moor. Historic England
Map reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland
Bede. The Ecclesiastic History of the English Nation. 1949
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of English Place-Names. Eilert Ekwall. 1974
Stan Laurel went to school in Gainford, that’s more than enough of a reason to have a wander around.
Lovely Medieval cross slabs line the church porch walls
Inside the church, a pair of carved stones
There is a dragon carving on the opposite face of the second stone, it is almost impossible to see the carving as the stone is close to the wall and fixed into the floor. A photograph of it can be seen here
The house next to the church has an impressive piece of garden architecture.
A path from the churchyard leads down to the Tees, its waters stained with Pennine peat
A boulder, transported from the Shap Fells.
A wall blocks access to a broken Bailey Bridge, many of its boards are missing, one of the supporting columns has been washed away.
With no convenient river crossing, the distant dovecote will have to wait
Returning to the village, I stop to admire this lovely Festival of Britain bench.
Illustration of Gainford Carved Stones from The Antiquities of Gainford. J.R Walbran 1846
I arrived at the church just as the warden was leaving she told me that she had just opened up the church and showed me the key, it was about a foot long with a shaft as thick as my thumb.
I’m going to have a little rant now.
The churches I have visited over the past few days have all been open and welcoming but many that I visit are not, they are locked and covered in signs warning thieves to beware. I am aware that theft from churches is a real problem in some areas, I am also aware that church attendance is dwindling rapidly.
Churches are primarily places of worship, I do not subscribe to any religion but I do get a sense of tranquil otherworldliness when I visit a beautiful old church. These institutions are also custodians of our history and culture. Their walls reflect the history of our islands and our communities, to deny people access to these spaces can only perpetuate the decline of these institutions. I’m not sure what the solution to this problem is but I know that locking a church up for six days a week does not help anyone and can only foster a feeling of exclusion in the wider population.
The church and the village pub are both in decline in many areas, William Blake offered a solution in his poem The Little Vagabond.
Dear Mother, dear Mother, the Church is cold,But the Ale-house is healthy & pleasant & warm;Besides I can tell where I am use’d well,Such usage in heaven will never do well.*But if at the Church they would give us some Ale.And a pleasant fire, our souls to regale;We’d sing and we’d pray, all the live-long day;Nor ever once wish from the Church to stray,*Then the Parson might preach & drink & sing.And we’d be as happy as birds in the spring:And modest dame Lurch, who is always at Church,Would not have bandy children nor fasting nor birch.*And God like a father rejoicing to see,His children as pleasant and happy as he:Would have no more quarrel with the Devil or the BarrelBut kiss him & give him both drink and apparel.*
This carving has been interpreted as a Jelling bound dragon.
This small inconsequential stone, carved with a crude cross, measures about 10cm square. It is known as a consecration cross and indicates a place where the wall of the church was touched with holy oil during the consecration of the church. There are a number of other small crude crosses carved on the external walls particularly around the original entrance, which is now blocked and filled with a number of carved stones.
A lovely pair cross heads built into the exterior walls
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.
Whilst I was in the area I decided to call into St. Andrew’s Church in Middleton.
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.
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
The circular churchyard of St John the Baptist’s church is located in the middle of a late Iron Age royal enclosure, this suggests that the origins of the church are at least pre-Norman. Recent archaeological studies have suggested that the slightly elevated ground upon which the church sits may have at some times of the year been surrounded by water.
The present church dates from the thirteenth century and was renovated in 1868
The Anglo Saxon cross shaft dates from the ninth century