Ever since I first encountered this fabulous free-standing ring-headed cross comprised of two sculpted stones in c. 2000, I have been a fan of its striking form, ornament, patina and position.
Nevern 4 is not in isolation, it is situated as one of nine early medieval monuments known from Nevern (Nanhyfer) and one of four from St Brynach’s Church. Later to acquire a substantial castle, it is likely that Nevern was an early ecclesiastical centre. As such, it is a key piece of evidence for any researcher interested in early medieval stone sculpture and what it reveals about the history of the church and society in these islands.
This discussion follows closely on that found on pages 396-401 of Nancy Edwards’ superb Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales Volume 2 (2007, University of Wales Press), in which she numbers it ‘Nevern 4 P73’ (Pembrokeshire 73). Her detailed appraisal is accompanied by fine black-and-white photographs of the monument far superior to my snaps here. I would recommend anyone seriously interested in this monument to acquire or loan Nancy’s book.
Nancy dates the monument to the second half of the tenth or early eleventh centuries AD (i.e. late Viking Age).
The modern location of the cross is important because Nancy regards it as probably in situ. In other words this might be a rare example of an early medieval monument that has never been moved subsequent to its 10th/11th-century erection.
In this regard, it is just like the Pillar of Eliseg. However, in this case it was probably situated right next to a pre-existing early Christian place of worship. This scenario is unproven and the church might have come later. However, the presence of two inscribed stones – Nevern 1 and 2 – both dated to the fifth or sixth centuries, might be taken as evidence that this was a persistent place in the early medieval landscape that accrued a church at the same time, or centuries before, the raising of the cross. If the cross really is in its original location, it might have flanked the southern side of a smaller, earlier structure in a similar fashion postulated for the Llanbadarn Fawr cross and the Bewcastle monument.
Nancy provides a full and detailed description of the ornament which I shall not repeat. She notes that the ‘Viking influence’ in the interlace and fret patterns find parallels with a range of other crosses from South-West Wales, particularly Carew 1. She goes so far as to suggest that, given that some of the stone used for Carew 1 is from the same source as the Nevern 4 monument (Carn Wen, Preselis) that they were made by the same hand(s).
What is striking is the striking different widths of the cross-shaft and the cross-head, neck and shoulders set into it. This difference in thickness is mediated by a projecting panel at the top of the shaft on face A. This feature further emphasises the arguments made by many that early medieval stone sculpture often emulates features found in other media, in this case contemporary ecclesiastical metalwork. Such ‘skeuomorphic’ dimensions might, however, be simultaneously alluding to multiple media, and metalwork, woodwork and manuscripts are perhaps just some of the options for interplays of designs and their execution in stone.
This monument is not fully ornamental however, and abstract decoration and form are not the only skeuomorphic elements. In addition to the interlace, knotwork and fretwork there are two abbreviated text panels, one half-way down each broad face and thus opposing each other.
On the western side (face A) there is a rectangular panel enclosed by a perimeter of roll-moulding with roman-letter book-script, with some serifs ‘DNS’. This is interpreted as an abbreviation of D(omi)n(u)s (Lord).
On the eastern broad side (face C) is a matching small rectangulr panel, also framed by roll-moulding with roman-letter book-script with letters and two punctus interpreted as ‘HA[U]. .E[N] but the layout is ‘enigmatic’ as Nancy notes. This is interpreted as Hauen (‘Hauen’) by Nancy, following Macalister.
It is tempting to have a name to connect to this monument even if the interpretation of the text remains problematic. Was this a funerary monument to ‘Hauen’, or was he the commissioner of the monument? Beyond that speculation, what is more interesting is that the text is itself skeuomorphic; translating manuscript writing into a monumental medium rather than adapting more easily inscribed linear letter forms.
In conclusion, the Nevern 4 cross is important example for demonstrating the importance of understanding the location and materiality of early medieval stone monuments. Alongside careful consideration of ornament, texts and images upon them, crosses like this, once originally brightly painted in many colours, were there to impress and become memorable through single and multiple encounters.