Last weekend at the EMWARG colloquium in Welshpool, we enjoyed a field trip to visit dykes and Meifod church and churchyard. In the church of Saints Tysilio and Mary at Meifod, Montgomeryshire, cemented and clamped in the south aisle, is a striking 1.5m-high slab of Quartz arenite.
We had the privilege of expert guidance in the interpretation of this monument by Professor Nancy Edwards. She also discusses it in volume 3 of A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales.
Meifod, Edwards tells us, is the mother church of the cantref of Mechain associated weith the cult of St Tysilio and royal burial place for the kingdom of Powys. The stone is dated by Edwards to the late 11th or early 12th century AD, perhaps associated with the patronage of the family of Madog ap Maredudd.
Edwards notes Viking Age Irish and Manx parallels to the designs. In Wales, she links it to sculpture at Whitford (Flintshire) and Llanbadarn Fawr (Ceredigion). Most notably, Edwards sees parallels with St Davids monuments 8 and 9.
Its decoration appears on the only visible broad side although we cannot now be sure that there was not decoration on the opposite side too. What can be seen comprises:
- A circle-headed cross representing the crucified Christ at the top;
- A Latin cross ornamented with plait, triquetra knot and ring-knot in the middle;
- Around these crosses are a range of motifs that Edwards regards as ‘haphazard’, including closed-circuit interlace, ring-knot, four-strand plait bands.
- Also around the crosses are zoomorphic elements, including
- a tightly curled serpent (or snail!) beside the circle-headed cross;
- a cabled bodied animal right of the closed-circuit ring-knot above the right arm of the Latin cross;
- a dragonesque quadruped above the right arm of the Latin cross
The monument is a strong hint that a church(es) were extant on this site by the 11th century. Moreover, while no extensive archaeological work has taken place at Meifod, it is a clear indication of clergy and rulers of Powys had established by this time a powerful ecclesiastical centre. Its sculptors were being inspired by broader trends in late Viking Age sculpture.
A particularly fascinating dimension of this stone is again its transportation to the site over a not inconsiderable distance. The source of the stone could derive from as close as Ruyton, Shropshire or further away in the Cheshire Basin.
Finally, a word about its likely original function. Edwards argues that it was originally upright, explaining the undecorated lower parts of the cross, although there are hints of decoration here. Another possibility is that it is an unfinished recumbent slab. A third alternative is that it was complete but then heavily eroded on its lower surface. I think this monument is deserving of further investigation and I certainly gave it the thumbs up.