It’s now possible to watch me on TV talking about early medieval stone crosses in Wales! Last September, I was invited to be filmed for a BBC Two series called The Story of Welsh Art at Margam Abbey. I’m in the first episode and it is one of three!
Why did they approach me? I’ve worked on early medieval stone monument including my collaborative fieldwork with Project Eliseg. With colleagues at Bangor University I investigated the Pillar of Eliseg – early ninth-century stone cross-shaft fragment re-set in its original base upon a Bronze Age burial mound near Valle Crucis Abbey, Denbighshire. Meanwhile, I’ve published on this blog about various early medieval inscribed and sculpted stone monuments: their landscape contexts, form, ornamentation and materialities, as well as their biographies and heritage interpretations. I’ve also co-edited the book Early Medieval Stone Monuments. In that book and elsewhere, I’ve researched and published on Viking-period hogback stones – recumbent grave-covers commemorating elites of the 10th century.
I’ve learned so much from reading the work of Professor Nancy Edwards, with whom I collaborated on Project Eliseg. I am still reading and exploring more and more about early medieval stone monuments in Wales all the time and I cannont wait for lockdown to be over to get out into the Welsh landscape and explore them again! Therefore, I was delighted to contribute in a small way to the making of this television programme: offering suggestions of filming locations, being filmed at the Margam Stones Museum and providing guidance on post-production details.
When interviewed at Margam, I tried to emphasise how the Conbelin stone (see below the image from Coflein) and other early medieval crosses at Margam might have worked as expressions of faith, but also the power, prestige and identities of ecclesiastical centres, striking and memorable to visitors and in interplay with other media, including metalwork and manuscripts. For the Glamorgan disc-headed monuments, originally vividly painted (we suppose), they would have been solid, multi-coloured, striking and memorable articulations of sacred and social identities for their communities and connections, both as individual monuments and as assemblages.
Also note: the show called them ‘Celtic crosses’ but equally was at pains to explain and show their huge variability. Hence, the ethnic label, while far from ideal, served to showcase complex and shifting material expressions of Christianity, rather than a monolithic cultural tradition. This is a good thing.