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.


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


Mayburgh Henge – Long Meg and Her Daughters – The Maughanby Circle (Little Meg) – St. Michaels Church, Addingham.


Stanwick – St John the Baptist

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

St Oswald’s Church Lythe

Lythe – From Old Norse hilth ‘slope’.

The church at Lythe is dedicated to Saint Oswald. Oswald was born on in the kingdom of Dal Riata, an Irish-speaking region covering the west coast of Scotland and part of Ulster. He converted to Christianity and had strong links with the monastery of Iona. When his uncle King Edwin was killed by a Welsh king in 633, Oswald claimed the kingdom and successfully fought off his rivals to become king. Oswald then invited Irish monks from Iona to found a monastery on the island of Lindisfarne.

Oswald’s ambition led him to successfully expand his kingdom throughout many parts of Britain and through both conquest and alliance he became the overlord of many British kingdoms. He was also instrumental in the conversion many Anglo-Saxon kings to Christianity. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles refer to him as, Bretwalda, a king of kings.

Oswald was killed by the Mercians at the Battle of Maserfield, at a place generally identified with Oswestry (Oswald’s Tree) and soon became regarded as a saint, the first Northumbrian saint and martyr. his head was interred in Durham Cathedral with the remains of Saint Cuthbert.

It is not known when the original church was founded, the first written reference to the church is in the Domesday book. A large number of funeral remains and Viking gravestones known as Hogbacks have been found indicating that the site of the church was once an important Viking burial ground. A number of these stones, which date from the Viking and Medieval periods, are on permanent display within the church.

Sound Artist and all-round great bloke, Chris Whithead has produced a short film showing the interior of the church accompanied by an ethereal soundtrack of Chris’s field recording. Lythe Church by Chris Whitehead

You can find more of Chris’s work here Taphonomy – Chris Whitehead: Soundwork & Writing