Following posts about the Viking Age  stones from St Brynach’s church, Nevern, Pembrokeshire here and here, this post foregrounds the earlier, post-Roman stones from the site. Embodying a time of bilingual elite commemorative traditions in the 5th and early 6th centuries AD, the Class 1 inscribed stones are reported on in detail in the superb A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales Volume II South-West Wales by Nancy Edwards.

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P70 – Commemorating Maglocunas

The early inscribed stones needn’t mean there was a church here so early. Equally, these stones do not confirm the elites commemorated were Christian. Still, the two stones (P70 and P71) now on display at the church both bear roman and ogham scripts. Together they evidence Nevern as a place of importance in the centuries after the end of formal Roman rule of Britannia. The locale’s significance might relate as much to any elite settlement on the defensible site that was to become Nevern Castle as to an ecclesiastical focus prior to the current church. Let’s discuss each stone in turn: Nevern 1 (P70) and Nevern 2 (P71).

P70

Now located as a lintel in the church, Nevern 1 is ‘spotted’ dolerite. It was found in 1904 being reused as a lintel in 16th-century fabric. What survives is an incomplete inscription with a roman-letter Latin inscription translated as ‘Maglocu son of Clutorius’. This is paired with an ogam inscription translated as ‘of Maglicu son of Clutar…’. The ogam records either British with Irish influence on the spelling, or Irish with British influence. The inscriptions are therefore near-identical and hence the stone is considered bilingual by Edwards. It is dated to the later 5th or early 6th centuries AD.

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P71 – Commemorating ‘Vitalianus’

P71

Situated south of the nave near the porch, Nevern 2 is made of dolerite with feldspar patches. It has a horizontal roman-letter Latin inscription translated as ‘of Vitalianus Emeretus’ and an ogam inscription on the left angle reading ‘of Vitalianus’.  The name is Latin but might have been used in the Irish or British language. It is dated to the late 5th or 6th centuries AD and might refer again to an elite individual commemorating his Christian identity or martial standing.

Discussion

Understanding these early stones is especially challenging. There are 64 from South-West Wales, 26% have both ogam and roman inscriptions. They are traditionally seen as evidence of Irish settlement and influence following the end of Roman rule.

What is fascinating is how these two stones are contrasting in their current locations and therefore difficult to compare with each other. Also, their roman text is located in contrasting ways to the ogam parallel in P70, perpendicular in P71 (a much rarer arrangement), although it is unclear what significance this contrast holds.

A further dimension is the contrasting biographies of the stones. P70’s architectural reuse fixed it from the 16th to the early 20th century. In stark contrast, P71 has ‘been around’, first recorded at the church, then moved to a farm several kilometres away and used as a gate-post, returned to the church and moved again before finding its current location. As such, these stones reveal the ambiguous original functions, and different reuses, of early medieval stones.

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