I have recently written a few blog entries about St Dogmaels – its Tironian monastic ruins and post-medieval memorials in the adjacent churchyard of St Thomas’s, the Sagranus Stone that is evidence of a fifth/early sixth-century importance to the site, the nearby Blessing Stone with its acoustic properties and also the bizarre wooden monument commemorating saints and royals inspired by early medieval stone sculpture near the abbey. I’m a fan of St Dogmaels Abbey and village and its many memorial elements.
When I visited in September 2014, I failed to realise that there were both early medieval stones and later medieval memorials on display in the Coach House. We bought coffee there, and realised there were toilets there, but it simply wasn’t clear that if you walk around past the cafe, there is a superb little museum.
Ok, if we’d bothered to look properly at the website, we would have of course realised this! Still, even when I revisited in September of this year with the express intention of seeing the museum (as well as exploring the ruins again and buying more coffee), I still had to ask where it was. You have to go into the cafe and then it is around the front out of immediate sight. My first point: this is a great museum that is easily missed, even for those keen to visit!
In the Museum
There are a range of architectural stones on display, some arranged in fashions as to help envisage their original configurations. There are also text panels explaining about the Tironian community and also the Sagranus stone in the church. There are also 4 early medieval sculpted stones, which I will discuss elsewhere in a separate entry.
Still, the highlight for me is the cadaver stone; once beneath an arch within the north transept of the abbey church, it is now kept safely in the museum. The text panel suggests an (early) 16th-century date.
This is a male figure, presumably part of a complex funerary monument of a patron of the abbey given permission for burial in a prominent position within the church. The gracile yet strong form of the body is apparent. Also, I like the modesty of the cadaver: his right hand drawing the shroud over his genitalia. His great paddle-like feet are another notable feature. I also like the near-robot-like Terminator rigidity of the body.
Cadaver tombs are well-known, late medieval, dimensions of churches and cathedrals. Yet, (to my memory and knowledge) this is a very rare instance of a cadaver tomb on display indoors and in a museum setting. I was delighted to see inside the Coach House and find this fantastic cadaver.