I was recently visiting St Cynfarch and St Cyngar’s church, Hope (Flintshire) for my daily exercise and I saw a fragment of carved medieval grave-slab reused into the south wall. I hadn’t seen this photographed before, so I took a quick snap.

In a recently published article, Moira and Brian Gittos (2019) describe this stone for the first time, but do not illustrate it. It is one of three fragments of grave slab they identify in the south wall of the church and describe it as:

Fragment of a grave slab built into south exterior wall, between the first and second windows from the west. Appears to be upside down, showing the bottom of a shield with some letters. A sword emerges diagonally from below it and there is some foliage on the opposite side.

They are influenced in this interpretation by a series of grave slabs showing heraldic shields with diagonal swords passing under them known from north-east Wales, from Valle Crucis (Gresham 122), Basingwerk Abbey (Gresham 125), Llanasa (Gresham 126), Llanfair-dyffryn-Clwyd (Gresham 129), Cilcain (Gresham 130), Gresford (Gresham 136), Farndon (Gresham 137) and Ruabon (Gresham 138). There are further shields with diagonial swords running under them but with no inscription around their border, so the presence of a text isn’t the deciding factor in interpreting this fragment as a sword-and-shield grave slab (e.g. Bangor Is-coed – Gresham 119 & St Asaph Cathedral – Gresham 140). However, the problem with this interpretation is that only Farndon (Gresham 137) has anywhere approaching a rounded bottom to its shield and, despite fragmented, it is evident that if this is a shield, the Hope one is rounded, not pointed unlike all others from north-east Wales.

The alternative is that it is a fragment of a cross-head with a straight object running diagonally into it. However, if so, there is no direct parallel, since circular cross-heads don’t seem to have staffs or swords or spears or croziers, or even vegetation, running diagonally into them within the existing corpus for North Wales. Still, crosses with swords and spears like that from Valle Crucis (Gresham 54) are possible analogies.

Sadly, this fragment is evidence of a (likely) 14th-century high-status grave within the church, but its original full design, let alone its original position, are lost to us.

Gittos, B. and Gittos, M. 2019. Gresham revisited again: a further look at the medieval monuments of north Wales, Archaeologia Cambrensis 168: 197-227.

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