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The Cambrians, with their President, Professor David Austin, visiting St Mary’s Rhuddlan, July 2016

In an earlier post I mentioned my first-ever visit to St Mary’s church, Rhuddlan, Denbighshire, with the Cambrian Archaeological Association in July. We were greeted by a representative of the church and then we got a chance to look around. This striking church within the Edwardian borough is the home to the Archbishop de Freney effigial slab discussed here, but also a range of other medieval monuments. I want to briefly review these other monuments: 3 crosses and 2 effigies.

Gresham 10

This slab with floriated cross emerging from a three-stepped base is set against the west wall of the nave. It has lost its left side, which Gresham notes is hacked and might indicate it had been situated against a wall. The moulding suggested to Gresham it was a coffin lid rather than a grave slab. I only have a poor photo of it and it is now mostly obscure behind pews.

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Gresham 10

Gresham 79

This groovy slab has been damaged and worn, with a false-relief  four-circled cross with an interlacing circle. Below the head is an equal-armed cross and there is a three-stepped base. Again, forgive the poor quality of the photo.

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Gresham 79

Gresham 80

This is an interesting one; another four-circle cross slab. Below the cross-head is a square that is difficult to comprehend. Notably, there is a sword down the right-hand-side, its guard touching the cross-shaft. Again, the lower half is completely obscured to visitors by the wooden backs of pews.

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Gresham 80

Gresham 158

This is a priest’s effigy, mutilated. The head is on a pillow and the hands perhaps holding a chalice. There is a beast (?lion) at his feet.

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Gresham 158

 

Gresham 159

Only the lower half of this effigy remains. Again, he seems to rest on a lion.

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Gresham 159

Pull all this together and what does it tell us? First up, we have a series of de-contextualised monuments dated to the late 13th (Gresham 10) and early 14th centuries (the rest). In combination with the effigial slab of de Freney, this is a fine and important collection for understanding medieval mortuary commemoration in North Wales. A further slab is known from the Dominican Friary site (Gresham 78), and it might be suggested that Rhuddlan had a complex sequence of tombs associated with this key, strategic location for the military, social, economic and religious history of Wales.

Many more have probably been lost, which makes it all the  more sad that these monuments have not been the subject

In terms of their display; they are fragmented, without captions and, while the effigies are raised up for all to see, the cross-slabs are partly concealed. Once again, at another church I find myself wondering, without a book like Gresham’s 1968 study to hand, who can make ready sense of these monuments?

Reference

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

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