dsc05994Back in July, I was asked to show the Cambrian Archaeological Association around Rhuddlan. We explored the castle but also St Mary’s church, built with the Edwardian borough adjacent to the castle.

I hadn’t actually been around Rhuddlan with a group before and I’m not an expert. Hence it was a rather nervous trip for me!

Still, I did get to meet for the first time the effigial slab of Archbishop William de Freney. This monument is important for my research, as it is the closest parallel in appearance to the newly discovered ‘Smiling Abbot’ memorial, probably from Valle Crucis Abbey.

Dated to c. 1290, De Freney’s memorial slab was originally from the Dominican Friary on the other side of the castle where it had, post-Dissolution, become built into the external wall of one of the Abbey Farm buildings. His slab is now situated on the north side of the chancel of St Mary’s, and it has been chalked to make it more readily comprehensible to viewers in the dark environs of the church. I’ll leave others to comment on this practice of applying chalk to monuments…

The slab has received damage: a clear break along its middle. The surface is weathered through exposure to the elements too.

Regarding its design: Gresham (1968: 161) regarded it as one of ‘great restraint in simple incised outline. Indeed, it has the feeling of modest simplicity, despite the high status of its subject.

Around the edge is a script in Lombardic capitals: translated by Gresham (1968: 161) as:

Pray for the soul of brother William de Freney, Archbishop of Rages.

The figure is in vestments displaying his office, but he does not wear a pallium, presumably explained (following Gresham) by the fact that his see was taken over by the ‘infidel’. He was only a nominal archbishop who operated in England and Wales.

He wears an alb, amice, tunicle and chasuble, with a maniple from the left wrist. His hands are probably gloved (argues Gresham). There might be a ring on the right hand, raised in blessing. He holds his pastoral staff with a cross-head. He has winged cherubim either side of his head, and he wears a mitre, while his feet rest on a pillow.

Gresham explains how William most likely died c. 1290. He was possibly a relative (brother or nephew) of the Dominican friar Gilbert de Fresney, who led the first Dominicans to arrive in England in 1221. William was made nominal archbishop of the See of Rages by the Patriarch of Antioch at the request of Pope Urban IV in 1263. This was part of a process of conferring bishop’s titles on abbots and priors to assist bishops in their duties.

I like his big ears best; a repeated feature on very late 13th-century ecclesiastic’s brasses and effigial slabs. He’s awake, blessing and listening is this guy.



Gresham, C. 1968. Medieval Stone Carving in North Ales: Sepulchral Slabs and Effigies of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries, Cardiff: University of Wales Press. pages 160-62.