An integral part of this year’s EMWARG conference, held at the Lampeter campus of the University of Wales Trinity St Davids, was a half-day fieldtrip. We explored three locations by coach. Each site has produced early medieval stone sculpture, but of varied numbers, date and significance. We were given expert guidance regarding the stones by Professor Nancy Edwards, but I also refer to her 2007 Corpus for further details where appropriate.
Llanfihangel Ystrad 1 (Llanllyr)(CD20)
The first site we visited was a stone on display at the Llanllyr Mansion, Talsarn, under an arch in the garden. This quartz-cemented siltstone of local origin is fragmentary, having been split in half at some point, perhaps to convert it into a lintel: an indication that, as with so many early medieval stone monuments, they have long and complex biographies of use and reuse.
The stone is dated by Edwards to the late eighth or early ninth century. It is inscribed on both of its surviving original faces. Both have Latin ring-crosses. Right of the cross-stem (now missing) on the front face is a roman-letter Latin inscription translated as ‘The tesquitus of Ditoc (which) Aon son of Asa Itgen gave to Madomnuac’.
It might be the case that the Cistercian nunnery (subject of a new dig by Dyfed Archaeological Trust and Trinity St David) founded here in c. AD 1180 was built on a far older Christian site and the pillar seems to imply the dedication of land to the church, if tesquitus is interpreted as something like ‘a small waste-plot’. The multiple crosses might be significant in relation to the function of the cross in commemorating the donation of land. The crosses either displayed that donation in different directions upon a stone situated at an intersection or corner of some kind, or perhaps added at successive intervals to affirm and re-affirm the donation.
I remember going to Silian over a decade ago when I was taking students from what was then Trinity College Carmarthen around a range of early medieval sites. This time I went back with a real expert in early medieval stone monuments: Professor Nancy Edwards. There are three known stones from St Sulien’s church, Silian.
Silian 1 (CD29) is located in the outer south wall of the present church is a adamaged roman-letter Latin inscription translated as ‘Silbandus lies (here)’. dated to the fifth or early sixth century.
Interestingly, the text is overlain with a later cross, possibly in the seventh to ninth centuries. The motives for such acts of re-inscription are difficult to discern. Was this a way of rededicating, blessing and honouring the original inscription? Or is it an act of forgetting, overlaying the original text with a new message? This is the topic of a discussion in a paper by Gareth Longden in my 2003 edited book Archaeologies of Remembrance. Whatever the precise interpretation, it is a striking example where we can discern multiple phases in the biography of an early medieval stone within the early medieval period itself.
Silian 2 (CD30) is a pillar comparable to Llanfihangel Ystrad 2 (CD 20) in that it is a solid, rectangular stone with no apparent function. Two faces are decorated (unlike the one with CD20), one with an interlace pattern in false relief, the other with a fretwork. It is dated to the late ninth or early tenth centuries by Edwards.
Silian 3 (CD31) was lost when Edwards was writing her book in the run up to its 2007 publication. It was only known as ‘of uncertain provenance’ and survived only as a cast. Yet a Lampeter student found the stone recently in the stream below the church! What a find! It was put on display in the church during our visit.
It is a weird monument and Edwards’ (2007) discussion of it is necessarily brief given the abstract and crude nature of the carvings; she speculates that might be a part of a cross-slab. She idenfies a linear Latin cross with a lozenge-shaped ‘ring’ surrounded by diagonal lines.
Looking again at my photographs and the cast, I am not convinced by the cross, because the crossing line might be a natural line in the stone. Or perhaps this was a deliberate feature utilising the underlying stone? If it is a trick of the eye to see a cross, this might leave it as an abstract design that gives me the sense of a vegetal linear decoration.
The third and final stop on our fieldtrip, the church of Llanddweibrefi, an important ecclesiastical site regarded by Edwards as ‘almost certainly a monastery, and later a portionary church’. Five stones are located within the church, and a sixth has been discovered reused within the external church fabric. One is sixth century, the rest date to the seventh to ninth centuries AD.
Llanddewibrefi 1 (CD8) is the oldest stone recovered; a Latin inscribed stone dating to the sixth century.
Llanddewibrefi 2 (CD9) survives in two fragments built into the outer wall but a full illustration of the monument by Edward Lhuyd gives us a sense of how the monument was once. A single linear cross-symbol introduces the three-line script translated as ‘Here lies Idnert son of Iacobus who was slain on account of the plundering of St David’ (here, St David refers to the ecclesiastical site and its dedication). Edwards dates the monument to the ninth century AD.
Llanddewibrefi 3 (CD10) is a sandstone slab with a linear Latin cross with a horizontal bar across the top cross-arm, possibly a grave-marker of the seventh to ninth centuries.
Llanddewibrefi 4 (CD11) is by far my favourite of the six monuments at this site, it is a shaped slab of sandstone with an anthropomorphic Latin cross, implying the crucified Christ, the trifid cross-arms and ‘head’ presumably invoking the Trinity. Edwards dates it to the late eighth or ninth century.
Llanddewibrefi 5 (CD12) is a seventh- to ninth-century sandstone pillar, possibly a grave-marker with an irregular linear cross.
Llanddweibrefi 6 (CD13) is a shaped sandstone pillar with a Latin inscription translated as ‘Of Cenlisinus, God bless (him)’ beneath a Latin cross with short bars across the stem and cross-arms. It may have been a grave-marker and is dated to the ninth century by Edwards.
After the trip we explored the churchyard memorials. We also noticed a fragment of Roman inscribed stone in the church wall, clearly deriving from the nearby Roman fort.
A splendid afternoon getting completely stoned in the Welsh landscape. Thanks to Dr Jemma Bezant, Professor Nancy Edwards and Marion Page for leading the fieldtrip around the sites. Heather James, and Nikki and Andi from Lampeter also spoke on the trip.