Having previously discussed the churchyard of St Michael’s, Caerwys, I’m back with a post regarding its medieval memorial stones within the church.

Gresham 88 – four-circle cross, early 14th century

I didn’t take a high-quality close-up of this monument and it was partly obscured by an altar. However, the head comprises of ‘four half-circles with bulbous ends set back to back tied with bands of three ribs’ (Gresham 1968: 120). Gresham notes how the entire arrangement of the head is set at a 5 degree angle from the shaft, which he ambiguously states ‘might be intentional’. Does he mean it constitutes a king of ‘nodding’ cross, mimicking the drooping head of Jesus during hte crucifixion? The shaft is carved with narrow incised lines and includes a two-stepped base.

What Gresham doesn’t notice is a concentric design at the bottom-left of the top fragment. Is this geological: a fossil? Or might this denote a brooch, akin to those found on grave-slabs and effigial slabs at Whitford and Cilcain respectively, or indeed the female effigy at Bangor Cathedral (Gittos and Gittos 2012: 373)? Or else, is it another dimension of the ornamentation, now much-worn? I need to return for a closer examination…

Gresham 88 is one of four medieval crosses, set with post-medieval monuments in the west end of the north aisle to form the backing for the font, not replaced with the Book of Remembrance and a bilingual plaque outlining some aspects of the memorials.

Gresham 98 – four-circle cross, early 14th century

This slab is sandstone and bears what Gresham describes as a ‘four open-ended ribbed circles set back to back and interlaced with a large quatrefoil, decorated internally with four fleurs-de-lis, and with an eight-petalled flower in the centre’ (Gresham 1968: 125). Gresham regards the design as ingenuous. Its closest parallel is again at Cilcain church.

Gresham 165 – unnamed lady – late 13th or early 14th century

The heritage sign attached to this effigy asserts it commemorates Elizabeth Ferrers: a prominent figure in the late 13th-century history of NE Wales, described as the ‘loyal wife of Prince Dafydd the Third of Wales, the last Welsh Prince of Wales’. Perhaps resident at Maesmynan (SW of Caerwys) or Caergwrle Castle, she died before Edward I’s invasion.  Believe all that if you wish, but there’s no concrete evidence cited in the heritage board and no evidence elsewhere to my knowledge.

Gresham (1968: 171-73) describes the effigy, noting that it lacks its left (dexter) side and the feet and lower legs are missing. The head of the figure rests on a square pillow with tassels at the corners. The posture is one of prayer. The figure has a wimple or hood protecting the hair. The robe is pleated below a belt at the waist.

However, as Brian and Moira Gittos note in their comment below, this might not be a female at all, but a male civilian wearing a hood. So the heritage boards might be barking up the wrong tree with this one, as was Gresham. If correct, that might explain the faint vertical striations on the figure’s chin: a beard?

What Gresham doesn’t record in his image and text is that this is one of only 3 North Welsh effigial slabs or effigies where the figure is smiling: the Overton male civilian, and the recently rediscovered abbatial effigial slab, possibly from Valle Crucis Abbey being the other two.

 

Gresham 200 – decorated slab, late 14th century

This is a very damaged slab recorded by Grsham (1968: 220) as possibly part of Gresham 98 (but there is no proof of this). Sandstone, broken at the foot, and trimmed on both sides, it is weathered and flaked. There is part of a sword on the right (sinister) side with a leaf pattern behind. There are curving stems on the left (dexter) side too: lanceolate leaves set in the form of a star. Along the cross-shaft runs the text: (HIC:IAC)ET: GYEAN Vach… in Lombardic capitals.

Gresham 206 – cinquefoiled canopy, late 14th century

This canopy surrounds Gresham 165 and it is judged to be later (Gresham 1968: 227-28).

Other Medieval Monuments

When I visited, I forgot to check first with Gittos and Gittos’s (2012: 380) reworking of Gresham’s data. It seems Caerwys was one of many churches where Gresham didn’t notice, or simply didn’t consider it important, to record all the medieval stones.

Brian and Moira note two additional monuments, one built into the churchyard wall by the gate: a cross slab of tied bracelet type I didn’t spot. The other is in the same installation as the others and I did photograph. It is a complete cross slab incised with a straight arm cross on stepped calvary and bas-relief, with Latin inscription down its right side in textura letters. It is reused as a 17th-century memorial with an inscription written over the cross head. They do not propose dates for these additional memorials or record the text, but you can see: HIC IACET beginning the original medieval inscription quite clearly.

Their Later Uses

What is striking about the effigy is its prominent place, reusing a canopy built much later and perhaps originally containing another effigy. The reuse of medieval grave-slabs in the 17th century is also worthy of note. More striking still is the undated arrangement of medieval and post-medieval slabs, now constituting a backdrop to the Book of Remembrance. This is unlikely to be the only example of medieval and early modern memorial spolia being redeployed to commemorate the dead of the world wars, so please send me any other prominent examples you’ve come across!

IMG_6249The recent addition of heritage information is a further strand to their biography. Following a grant, the church now has a leaflet and sign boards explaining the effigy and the slabs. Well done Caerwys church!

IMG_6241

References

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