In the church of St Mary, Cilcain, there is a fine collection of fragments of medieval funerary monuments displayed as a collection beside the south door into the nave. The most striking of these is the semi-effigy of an unnamed lady, dated crudely on the basis of the style of dress and depiction, and the leaves, to the ‘early 14th century’. It is a grey sandstone monument. The left-hand side and lower half of the slab are missing, but enough of the half-round moulding along its upper and right-hand edge survives to suggest it was originally a grave-slab, perhaps covering a stone coffin.
Gresham (1968) records his as his monument 166 for North Wales. He describes the carving as ‘crudely executed’. The head rests on a cushion. Gresham doesn’t mention the three-lobed decoration just below it on the right (figure’s left).
The head is framed by a heavy folded headdress visible. Gresham simply describes it as ‘carved in high relief’ and does not remark on the exaggerated neck and striking facial features, which are poorly rendered in his drawing. He doesn’t mention the hair on either side of the forehead, or the distinctive small mouth, symmetrical eyes, straight nose, or small chin.
Her clothing is stylised as a plain arch adorned by a striking annular brooch below the throat. Gresham describes the hands as ‘raised in prayer with the palms outwards’, carved with ‘the sleeves tightly fitting and carved in rings up to the wrists’.
The central, vertical band carries the false Lombardic capital inscription:
+ HIC: IACE… (here lies…)
On either side of the inscription is vegetation, on the right clearly with tree-lobed leaves.
Gresham likens the representation of the figure, annual brooch and hand positions to his Gresham 1: the monument from Beaumaris attributed to Princess Joan. There are numerous parallels, from the vegetal design, the placing and ornamentation of the gloved hands, to the headdress itself. Even the three-lobed plant to the right of the head is paralleled. Indeed, this might be argued to be a cruder emulation of this style. Indeed, this is exactly what Gittos and Gittos (2012: 367) argue: ‘the best effort of a local stone carver to imitate a famous monument’, although Brian and Moira cast serious doubts on Gresham’s early dating of the Beaumaris monument.
Be that as it may, I think the Cilcain monument has an eerie charm of its own, and the central inscription ties the stylised image to a specific, now-unnamed, person to whom this particular monument would have been positioned in the church and originally painted in vivid colours.
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