Early medieval barrows and modern graves: St Materiana’s church and churchyard, Tintagel

My eyes popped out of what was left of my back. Why oh why did I open that tomb?

Approaching the English Heritage site, St Materiana’s looks neglected on the horizon
Viewing St Materiana’s church from the island

I’m having a break from funerary archaeology right now while I explore the archaeology and heritage of Tintagel. Still even here, death follows me like a black dog of doom.

Incidentally, today it’s father’s day today. Over 3 years ago, my wife dutifully gave birth to twins. For years, I couldn’t shake off the fear that one of them might eat the other. Luckily they didn’t, which I put down to good parenting. In fact, I have four daughters, and while I don’t blame them for being girls, I don’t really think they’re on my side.

But I digress…

The church of St Materiana, viewed from the north-west corner of the churchyard

This sixth post on Tintagel is a love story: my Romeo and Juliet, but less whiny. A hymn to the heart with archaeodeath, so that when you visit Tintagel, you don’t have to think for yourself, which is probably safer…

Possible early medieval barrow in the churchyard


More possible early medieval barrows, north and north-east of the church

Archaeodeath at Tintagel

One criticism of the Tintagel experience by the new English Heritage experience is: where is the death? In the exhibition, there are small slate grave slabs said to have come from the chapel on the island. However, nowhere on the island does death find a trace and the remains of the dead are displayed.
St Materiana’s church is a key feature in the medieval and modern archaeology of the landscape: a dominant skylined dimension of the castle and island and clearly a foci for worship and burial since at least the Early Middle Ages. Indeed, cist graves have been excavated within the churchyard and the mounds visible on the eastern side of the church might indeed date back to the early medieval period.

DSC05346DSC05343Moreover, it remains a foci of community burial and commemoration to the present-day, with its First and Second World War memorial and its many historic gravestones covered in moss and lichen.





There are also a few memorial benches near the two main entrances to the south and west.


memorial bench

There is a clear horizontal stratigraphy, with the newest graves farthest from the church.



There are two discrete patches within the churchyard, following the line of the historic edge prior to its southerly extension, that are reserved for recent cremation burials. Hence, it shows the incorporation of this remote churchyard into international trends towards the cremation of the dead as previously discussed repeatedly in this blog such as here and here.



Cremation burial plots within the churchyard of St Materiana’s

In sad contrast to the investment put into English Heritage’s signs and sculpture within the bounds of its responsibility, this key heritage locale is neglected. I confess I didn’t have an opportunity to explore inside the church and perhaps information on display there remedies my perceptions of the exterior and the churchyard. Still, there are simply two pairings of signs, warning of adders and informing the visitor of the value of the churchyards for nature conservation. Injecting some archaeodeath into Tintagel – promoting awareness of its historic memorials and graves, is surely an aspect requiring further research and conservation, as well as heritage interpretation, in the future.