The Smiling Abbot in raking light from the bottom-right

What a fun archaeodeath day!

First up, I did some work at home on the paper I am writing: a bit of a departure for me that has come from circumstances and enthusiasm; I’m writing up an article reporting and contextualising the striking recent ‘discovery’/’re-discovery’ of a fragment of an effigial grave-slab of a Cistercian abbot found near Llangollen. I’ve reported on ‘The Smiling Abbot’ here.

The article is arguing that this is a unique effigial slab of a Cistercian abbot from Wales, and a rare monument indeed for Britain. The effigial monument sheds new light on the significance of the Cistercian house of Valle Crucis – its most likely provenance – as an engine of commemoration – where high-quality and varied mortuary monuments were made and displayed – in the very late 13th and early 14th centuries AD.

After this writing and reading time, I drove to Llangollen to meet with my ‘partners-in-abbatial-archaeodeath-anarchy’ – Dave Crane and Gillian Smith. We met at the awesome Llangollen Museum to see the early 14th-century grave-slab fragment I’m referring to as the ‘Smiling Abbot’. I spent 2 hours taking new photographs of the grave-slab, which is on temporary display on loan from the owners. I then had the honour of meeting one of the owners of the grave-slab on my way out.

The ‘Smiling Abbot’, as displayed in Llangollen Museum

Re-visiting the slab and investigating it again helped me to refine and expand my arguments regarding parallels but also distinctive features of this monument: it truly is a fascinating monument from the false relief Lombardic Capitals to the smile and three-strand beard of the figure.

Valle Crucis

Researching the ‘Smiling Abbot’ has led me to realise that, despite many visits and many photographs, I don’t have really good pics and detailed pics of the stones on display at Valle Crucis Abbey. So I then went to the equally awesome abbey to photograph the spectacular collection of 13th/14th-century mortuary monuments in the monks’ dormitory and abbot’s house. Here is a selection of my pics to give you a flavour. I’m not a professional photographer, but these are certainly good enough for my purposes.

Back to Llangollen

After this, I went back to Llangollen for a scheming meeting with my good friend and yet another archaeodeath ‘partner-in-slime’ Sue Evans. Sue and I are collaborating on writing up 2 sections of a forthcoming monograph on Project Eliseg: exploring the biography of this early medieval cross situated on a Bronze Age burial cairn. Scheme, scheme, archaeo-scheme.

A very worn semi-effigial monument of an early 14th-century knight.
The grave-slab – according to Gresham the ‘finest in Wales’ – commemorating ‘Madoc fili Grifih’, great-grandson of the Abbey’s founder, and dating to the first decade of the 14th century.
In the dormitory at Valle Crucis