There’s this cross I sometimes write about: Maen Achwyfan (Whitford 2) Flintshire. It is a striking and rare example of an early medieval monument, seemingly in its original landscape context. Work by Nancy Edwards and David Griffiths has done much to explore this striking monument through publications in the journals Church Archaeology and Archaeologia Cambrensis. See my previous posts:
The definitive statement about this monument was only published recently (in 2013): Professor Nancy Edwards’ A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales Volume III: North Wales. Nancy regards his as a Viking Age monument dated to the 10th century: c. 925-1000. Similar circle-headed crosses are known around the Irish Sea in this century and nancy sees parallels on Angelsey, Deeside and the Wirral, as well as Chester itself.
One of the most striking elements, informing Nancy’s interpretation of the cross, is the striking martial figure on the fourth panel of side C. Nancy’s description is as follows:
… in the centre is a naked(?) male figure. He is shown face on and has a pointed chin. He has bent but raised arms and bent knees with his feet pointing outwards. He holds a long staff or spear in his right hand, with a second staff or weapon close to his body, and an axe in his left hand. He has a sword sheath on his left hip. To the right is a thick curling strand which passes beneath his feet. Frasming the figure is a band of loops, some double-beaded, with a spiral placed centrally at the bottom.
Nancy then infers the following from this scene (and the others on face B):
- the bearded axe depicted is a distinctively ‘Viking’ weapon
- the figures finds no ready explanation in Christian iconography;
- the figure is likely to be heroic or mythical scene from Norse mythology;
- we cannot conclusively link the figures to any particular legendary figure, such as Sigurd, Gunnar etc
Now here is a close-up of the figure from a photograph of my own. I want to use this to discuss some issues with the figure that I’m not too sure about.
- There is a staff or spear down the figure’s right side and it is clear he has his arm bent up to hold it (green);
- I can see a sheath for a seax and perhaps hints at a weapon itself by his left hip (red);
- I can see a distinctive bearded axe in his left hand (blue);
- He is a ‘male’ figure because there is a penis between his legs (although it just might possibly be the shaft of the axe extending below the body) (yellow).
I’m not sure about other dimensions.
- Is the snake only below the feet and up the figure’s left side as Nancy suggests? Does it extend up to the bearded axe? Is the second weapon Nancy suggested by the figure’s right leg also part of the serpent?
- I don’t see the forked beard;
- Might the figure be looking to our left, not en face?
Most intriguing of all, who is this ‘naked Viking’?