The later medieval abbey of St Dogmael’s, Ceredigion, had early medieval origins. These origins are obscure, having left few traces. Some late medieval monastic sites were clearly established de novo. Yet others, including many in Wales, might overlie far earlier places of worship, whether monastic or secular. Like so many British medieval sites, earlier timber buildings have long been swept away. Yet at St Dogmaels, a few inscribed and sculpted stones reveal earlier strata of religious and commemorative activity.
In earlier posts, I have discussed the earliest of these stones: the Latin and ogham-inscribed Sagranus’s stone (St Dogmaels 1). On display in the coach house are also traces of the later medieval Tironian house: its later medieval stones. I have also discussed the post-medieval gravestones surrounding St Thomas’s church and many rearranged against the outside walls of the abbey. Another previous theme was the wooden modern memorial inspired by early medieval art near the coach house.
I have yet to discuss the wider assemblage of early medieval stones discovered amongst the abbey ruins in the 19th century. For this post, I draw upon Nancy Edwards’ A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales Volume II South-West Wales for details.
St Dogmaels 2 (P111)
This is a fragment of a low relief encircled Maltese cross with mouldings a central low boss, regarded by Edwards (2007: 463) has very competently sculpted. It perhaps served as a focus within the monastic grounds. Uncertainly dated, Edwards opts for 8th or early 9th century.
St Dogmaels 3 (P112)
Later re-shaped for building, this is an encircled cross with a stem, half way down which is a double scroll. Nancy Edwards suggests that it might represent a flabellum (liturgical fan) and if so, this is an association with watchfulness and fidelity (Edwards 2007: 466). Rendered on a stone, it might hint that this monument had a role as a grave marker or other station in the cemetery/monastic grounds. Again, Edwards dates this to the 8th or early 9th century AD.
St Dogmaels 4 (P113)
Likely serving a similar role to St Dogmaels 3, it is likely to represent an upright monument dated to the 8th or early 9th century AD. Note: it is now upside-down in the church, so the stem is pointing upwards, not downwards as it appears on the photograph of St Dogmaels 3. I must confess that I am also cynical regarding whether St Dogmaels 3 and 4 could have securely and safely stood upright with such shallow footings; might they instead represent recumbent monuments?
St Dogmaels 5 (P114)
This is a deeply incised linear Latin ring-cross. Simple and therefore of uncertain date, Edwards again opts for 8th/early 9th century in date.
Two more early medieval stones, St Dogmaels 7 (P116) and 8 (P117) are in the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff.
St Dogmaels 7 (P116) has a smaller but comparable Maltesee cross to St Dogmaels 2 and a human figure beneath it – presumed to be the crucified Christ. It is dated again by Edwards to the late 8th/9th centuries.
St Dogmaels 8 (P117) is the only monument, bearing a Latin cross, dated by Edwards to the Viking Age (9th or early 10th centuries).
There are other stones in display in the coach house that are of uncertain date, one of which I add below (P118). Obviously reused as a gatepost (Edwards 2007: 523-24) with quasi-heraldic designs. There is a further undated monument (P115) that is a rectangular sectioned pillar with a lozenge-shaped design that might be later medieval.
These stones indicate an earlier now-lost church at St Dogmaels. Without excavations, we are stuck with these few lithic indicators of the size and character of the early church. The precise date and functions of these stones continues to elude us. Still, fragmentary though they are, they do confirm an established commemorative locale throughout the Early Middle Ages at this site.
In heritage display terms, the collection is particularly frustrating, divided between the National Museum, the church (in different locations, one upside down) and the coach house, it is impossible for visitors to apprehend them and thus engage with them as a collection relating to a single narrative, let alone for scholars and students of the period to explore them in the same space. The four displayed in the coach house are helpfully arranged so you can examine all their sides, in a miniature four-stone circle, but their relationship with the stones elsewhere is left obscure.