Last year I went on a day-long road trip in North-East Wales with the legendary Katy Meyers of Michigan State University. I am on Katy’s committee, helping to support her exciting doctoral research in mortuary archaeology. Recently, Katy returned to visit Chester and we went on a second trip.
The first site we visited was the cross at Maen Achwyfan; read more about this fantastic tenth-century cross here. There was useful cloud-cover so I got some really good photographs of the cross’s ornamentation. I introduced my guests to the fact that this is one of the rare examples of early medieval stone sculpture situated in its original location. I also used the visit to discuss that the Hiberno-Norse influence of the form and ornament may show evidence of Norse settlement and/or influence in the tenth century, as on the Wirral peninsula.
We then drove on westwards along the North Wales coast onto Anglesey via the Britannia Bridge. We then headed north-east along the coast through Beaumaris to visit the fabulous church at Penmon. Here we encountered further examples of tenth-century sculpture that show that this was an active church site from at least that date. The crosses possibly served as boundary markers for the monastic landscape. These crosses are displayed within the church and relatively well lit, but without a torch you won’t be able to pick out much of the key decorative elements.
Penmon’s Church Architecture
Penmon church is part of a former Augustinian priory, and it has some amazing Romanesque architecture, some of Wales’s finest I understand. A selection of photographs of the arches and animal ornamentation are below.
This was an Augustinian priory from the twelfth century. Having visited the church, we then explored the ruins of the monastic cloister, for while the west range has been adapted as a private residence, the south range can be explored.
The next component of the landscape to explore was the holy well, dedicated to St Seiriol. While heavily altered in the post-medieval period, this holy well may have been an original component of the early medieval monastic landscape.
The next major feature to visit was the amazing 16th-century dovecote to the east of the church and beside the remains of the medieval fishponds.
If all of that wasn’t enough, Penmon’s church has a rich and varied range of graveyard memorials in slate and local stones.
In summary, Penmon is an important early church site revealed through its tenth-century sculpture, and a strikingly preserved medieval priory with an associated holy well and fishponds. The graveyard is small but also has a series of very interesting nineteenth-century memorials. The dovecote is simply amazing; these structures are difficult to apprehend for the powerful social, economic and religious connotations they conveyed.
Having visited Penmon Priory, we drove to the peninsula opposite Puffin Island and enjoyed tea and scones in the cafe there. Penmon Priory, as with so many early monastic sites, is situated in relation to seascape as much as landscape; it was a sheltered location but with ready access to the sea as an economic resource and for the series of sea lanes that would link Penmon with other sites along the north coast of Wales, NW England, the Isle of Man, SW Scotland and Ireland. All told, a good start to a field trip in which I wanted to introduce some of the best medieval archaeology from North-West Wales.