..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.
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.
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
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
A couple of weeks ago I went looking for an Anglo Saxon cross shaft that I’d recently read about. I was convinced it was located in the graveyard at St. Georges Church, West Middleton.
The church is quite isolated at the end of a rough track on high ground above the Tees valley. When I got to the church there was a rough pillar in the graveyard which didn’t match the description I had of the cross shaft. The groundsman of the church arrived and informed me that the stone was now kept inside the church and I could visit on a Saturday morning when the wardens opened the church for a couple of hours.
I returned the following Saturday with my friend Martyn. There were two stones inside of the church, neither of which were an Anglo saxon Cross base but we were not disappointed. The stones were at the foot of the pulpit, both appear to be Medieval cross slabs, one had a carving an intricate wheel head cross symbolising the Tree of Life with oak leaves, fleur de lys and a bird perching on the shaft.The other was carved with a simple sword and scabbard motif.
There are two stone heads on either side of the chancel arch, these have been interpreted as Medieval, one is of a woman with her tongue out, facing her is a man bearing his teeth.
The summary below is from a 2013 Archaeological Assessment of the church
This is rather a sad little church, which seems likely to face redundancy in the near future. Changing tastes mean that its simplicity and humility are now likely to be seen as attributes, and its unimproved rural interior, never provided with mains services, seems to have entirely skipped the 20th century. The intemperate language of antiquaries such as the Rev Hodgson, whose opinion of the building – ‘one of the very smallest and most despicable – perhaps the very meanest and most beggarly in the County of Durham’ is a period piece in itself.
Later that day we called in on St. John the Baptist’s church at Low Dinsdale and there in the graveyard was the cross shaft that I had been looking for. The shaft has been dated as 11th Century so is quite a late example of Anglo Saxon stone carving and although the stone is quite weathered it is fairly obvious that this is not one of the best examples of the tradition.
Unfortunately the church was locked but there is a very impressive stone coffin in the churchyard that is thought to be almost certainly Saxon or a Saxo-Norman overlap.
There is a lovely cross slab on the wall of the porch, below is a description from the 2003 Archaeological Assessment.
Lower in the wall, an impressive medieval cross slab of yellow sandstone, complete; it bears an eight-terminal, cross rising from a trefoiled ogee-arched base, with a sword on the r. and on the l. the inscription ‘Goselynus Suyteys’. Goseline Surtees in known to have died in 1366 (Boyle 1892, 662), which gives this slab the distinction of being the only cross slab in Durham that can be accurately dated.