St Cyngar’s church at Hope, Flintshire, has 3 surviving early medieval stone monuments. Two are built-in externally into the medieval church’s structure and I haven’t got good photographs of them yet (F6 and F7: Edwards 2013: 357-359). They are both likely sandstone ring-headed cross grave-markers of 9th-11th-century date later reused into the medieval building. However there is another (F5) on display inside the church and on a recent visit I acquired a good photograph of it.

The carved stone was found in 2000 as a cut down and reshaped fragment found reused amidst rubble revealed during restoration work on the arcade wall between the north and south naves. Today, it is in the lady chapel wall: secure and safe but far away from its original context. It is a free-standing ring-cross carved from Cefn-y-Fedw sandstone, possibly a grave-marker according to Professor Nancy Edwards (2013: 356-357). The stone is without further ornament and so cannot be precisely dated. As with the other two, a ‘9th-11th century’ date-range is proposed by Edwards.

IMG_20190903_112417Given the simplistic nature of the carving, the absence of ‘Viking period’ ornamentation cannot really tell us much about either date or spheres of influence, sadly. Still, there are widespread parallels with other crosses in the Irish Sea orbit, including Ireland and the Isle of Man, showing that the early medieval origins of the Hopedale commote can be identified, as one might have expected, within the influence and connections of Chester and the North Wales coast. The closest parallel to all three stone-carved monuments from Hope is actually also from Flintshire, the cross-base from Dyserth (F3) (Edwards 2013: 355-356) near Prestatyn. The most elaborate ring-headed cross in North-East Wales is at Maen Achwyfan (Flintshire). So while generic at first glance, much can be said from this simple carved stone about the early medieval mortuary monuments of this part of present-day Wales.

IMG_20190903_111438The heritage interpretation – a panel suspended close by – dates from 2013. It affords basic information about the stone, and in this regard it deserves praise. I was pleased to see Professor Nancy Edwards credited in the church for her expertise and research which clearly informed the text. However, the title ‘Celtic Cross Fragment’ is perhaps not particularly helpful and revealing and ignoring the ring-headed crosses of likely 10th-century date from St John’s Chester as context perhaps reveals the tenacity of the modern Welsh/English border in how we think about this borderland region in the Early Middle Ages.

IMG_20190903_111537Unfortunately, only the curvilinear churchyard, and proximity with the early 9th-century linear earthwork – Wat’s Dyke – afford any form of archaeological context to these stones. The origins, character and significance of the possible ‘mother church’ here, and the size and nature of the burial ground in which these markers might have originally been raised, remains obscure (Edwards 2013: 15-18).

Reference

Edwards, N. 2013. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Volume III: North Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.