Dr Michael Shapland in the Chapter House of Chester Cathedral

This post is dedicated to the great Lawrence Butler, Honorary President of the Society for Church Archaeology.

Over this weekend I have been attending the Society for Church archaeology’s annual conference held at Chester Cathedral’s chapter house. Ruth Nugent and myself have been helping and advising the conference organiser – Michael Shapland – on the conference coming to Chester, and our Department of History and Archaeology sponsored the event.

Ruth Nugent answering questions after her paper

I was unable to attend the full schedule due to family commitments, but I did attend the five papers presented on Saturday morning and early afternoon. Following the welcome by Michael Shapland, Simon Ward kicked off the conference with an introduction to the archaeology of early medieval Chester and its Christian components.

Exploring Valle Crucis Abbey

This was followed by myself, talking about Project Eliseg and the Past in its Place project’s exploration of the Vale of Llangollen. I have already posted about my talk here, when I gave a version of it to the Early Medieval Wales Archaeology Research Group (EMWARG).

Then we had Alan Thacker exploring the early cult of saints in the North-West Marches, noting how very little can be identified with certainty before the 10th century and the spread of cults introduced by the West Saxon dynasty. Then we had Paul Everson and David Stocker outlining their brilliant new theory on the topography of early medieval Chester and the relationship between the sculpture found at St John’s Priory and the Anglo-Scandinavian trading centre on the River Dee. Finally, after lunch, we had Ruth Nugent exploring her doctoral research into the post-medieval church monuments of Chester Cathedral from a new theoretical framework drawing from anthropological theory and archaeologies of the body. The group then moved on to have a tour of Chester Cathedral and St John’s Priory while I had meetings and then headed home.

Toby jumping from grave-slab to grave-slab in the Abbot’s house

The Fieldtrip

Sunday was a full-day’s fieldtrip, visiting early Christian sites in the vicinity of Chester. The Society visited the Pillar of Eliseg where I introduced them to its significance and the results of Project Eliseg. This was followed by a tour around Valle Crucis Abbey, the Cistercian monastic foundation of 1201 with a well-surviving monastic church and east range, monastic fishponds and fine collection of later medieval grave-slabs. I have previous discussed this site here and here.

Madoc ap Gruffudd’s grave-slab

We discussed how the fine collection of grave-slabs, some excavated by Lawrence Butler’s excavations at Valle Crucis, provide a detailed record of the monastery’s patronage by the princes of Powys. Tobias enjoyed jumping from grave-slab to grave-slab, running around the ruins and meeting Lola, the basset hound that inhabits the Cadw shop.

The group then went on to visit the churches at Bangor-on-Dee and Farndon. I had to head home, but I was most touched to be given a round of applause from the Society and a very fine bottle of red wine by way of thanks. The bottle is almost gone (somehow) and it is most delicious.

Because little Tobias accompanied me on the field trip and made it so distinctive, I bought him a new wooden shield to defend himself and our castle from wrong-doers and the ne’erdowells of Chester and Wrexham.

Tobias with his new dragon-shield
The wine