Another site, another contrived semi-pun.
Recently I visited the excavations at Hen Caerwys, Flintshire, run by Cadw and Clwyd Powys Archaeological Trust. En route (well actually it isn’t en route but I wanted to go there anyway) I visited Dyserth, Flintshire: the parish church dedicated to St Bridget and St Cwyfan, its churchyard and the waterfalls close by. The structure of the church went through renovations in the 1870s by Gilbert Scott but from my archaeodeath perspective there was plenty to discuss inside and outside.
The principal reason to go there was the remains of two early medieval crosses. Now in the south-west corner of the church, they were originally recorded in the churchyard setting and may have originally been boundary or station crosses.
Nancy Edwards’s new Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales Volume III: North Wales describes these two monuments. They form part of a group of Viking-Age crosses that suggest an important ecclesiastical landscape in the area, perhaps at the church of Dyserth itself. Another, discussed elsewhere, is the cross at Maen Achwyfan near Whitford. The place-name ‘Dyserth’ means ‘hermitage’ or ‘retreat’ and hence this might have been a site of a hermit’s retreat before developing as an early medieval ecclesiastical site.
Below are eight views of Dyserth F2. Dated by Edwards to the eleventh century this cross might just as readily be assigned to the tenth century since the only reason Edwards gives for an eleventh-century date is its poor execution. This cross was recorded as situated on the south side of the churchyard in the seventeenth century, perhaps its original location. Made of Carboniferous limestone, possibly quarried on Angelsey, this stone reflects the Irish Sea contacts of the ecclesiastical community and possible Norse patrons. Its abstract ornamentation is described by Edwards as falling within the ‘Viking milieu’.
Below are also three views of Dyserth F3. This sculpted Carboniferous limestone block is a pyramidal base with a rectangular socket covered in interlace and possible zoomorphic decoration. There is a Latin ring-cross on one face with two rings linked by a bar beneath each arm. Again, this piece was originally recognised outside the church. This ring-cross intrigues me in this location and I wonder whether it might be a secondary addition, or else suggests some kind of oath-swearing function to this base. I am trying to think of parallels for such a low-sited cross.
Medieval and Modern Memorials in the Church
The church’s claim to medieval fame comes with its amazing sixteenth-century Jesse window at the east end, outlining visually the ancestors of Christ. Medieval grave-slabs are on display and more under the carpets (the vicar informed me).
The best (to my mind) is a ‘double grave-slab’ with a sword and possibly an annular brooch depicted between the crosses commemorating two brothers buried in the chancel. Equally interesting is the fact that, above it, is a memorial to the memorial: a Victorian plaque explaining and transcribing the inscriptions. I confess that my focus on the grave-slab was near total and I didn’t even look at the Victorian inscription until I noticed it mentioned in the guide book after I had left.
There are very few post-medieval memorials, including one brass plaque honouring the family whose tombs provide a distinctive part of the topography of the churchyard (discussed in a future blog), and an individual memorial to a soldier killed in the First World War. On the north wall is a brass memorial to the dead of the parish from both world wars.
I want to finish my discussion of the inside of the church to thank the vicar and warden who kindly let me look around just as they were finishing a church service. I was made to feel very welcome and many fascinating points about the interior included here derive from conversation with the vicar.
In future posts I will discuss the churchyard and memorial landscape of the waterfalls.