Death & Memory – Past & Present

Church Monuments, Churches, Medieval Archaeology, Religious Houses

Biting Beasts or Birds on Gresham 124?

In a recent post about a fragment of 14th-century grave-slab from Llanbedr Dyffryn Clwyd, I suggested that a parallel can be found with Gresham 124 from Valle Crucis, not only because they depict horn-blowing heads, but they might also depict wyverns/dragons.

Gresham 124 at Valle Crucis

Gresham 124 is a composition of 6 fragments and may not originate from the same stone. You can see them today in the abbot’s house open in the summer months. If they originated together, the slab commemorates ‘Edward son of Iowerth’ with a lion rampant inside a text-inscribed shield. There is a spear below. A hound and hare in chase can be seen from the surviving feet of the animal on the viewer’s left-hand side (dexter) of the stone. On the viewer’s right (sinister) side there is a horn-blowing head and then a much-damaged and worn section without clear decoration.

Found in the ruined Abbey church in the 1850s, Gresham in his 1968 book tells us that a ‘curious ribbed object’ next to the hornblower was once described as a ‘dragon’ when first discovered. Now wyverns/dragons appear at the feet of a handful of 13th/14th-century grave-slabs from North Wales, but neither Gresham’s image created from a rubbing I suspect, nor his text, are able to accurately describe the features beside the hornblower. This underpins what Gittos and Gittos state regarding the limitations of Gresham’s drawings.

Despite going back especially to get better photographs, I struggled to get a good shot of the whole space under investigation. Still, I present here a crude composite of the stone in the best lighting my digital SLR could achieve, together with an attempt to annotate what I think I can see. Basically, we have two or three birds and/or beasts. Are they griffins, wyverns, eagles? Two seem to be biting each other, one attacking the vine.

I have yet to do any research, but this does appear unique for the North Wales corpus of later medieval sepulchral monuments. Any parallels?


Gittos, B. and Gittos, M. 2012. Gresham revisited: a fresh look at the medieval monuments of north Wales, Archaeologia Cambrensis 161: 357-88

Gresham, C.A. 1968. Medieval Stone Carving in North Wales, Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

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