Called Tomen Garmon (Garmon’s mound), a 2.4m high circular mound, 20-21m in diameter, sits in the north-west corner of the churchyard of St Garmon’s church, Llanarmon Dyffryn Ceiriog. Like the church itself, it sits on a terrace on the south side of the Ceiriog river: a natural ridge with two slight eminences, the other being beneath the church itself.
It is a tricky monument to evaluate since while the mound itself is clear, it abuts the edge of the scarp, giving it deceptive greater height from the north. Also, it is part-obscured by adjacent yew trees. At the centre of Germon’s Mound is a stone, said once to have supported a sundial (according to Archwilio). It gives the mound the added air of antiquity.
Let’s be clear: this mound has been subject to no investigation and it is therefore undated. And acutely aware of the increasingly imbecilic folks out there who damage and destroy ancient monuments: any investigation without permission would be a serious criminal offence: a heritage crime.
That said, let’s discuss what we can surmise. While Coflein is non-committal about its date and function, Archwilio presents three options as alternatives: a medieval preaching mound, a Bronze Age round barrow or a medieval motte (PRN: 100985). None of the reports by Silvester and Hankinson (2002, 2003, 2004) on early medieval ecclesiastical monuments in NE Wales reflect on the significance of the monument.
The historical morphology of the medieval church need not have incorporated the mound, so it is unclear whether it was originally within or outside of churchyard. It therefore exists as an enigma: a medieval motte remains one possibility since small mottes, denuded after centuries, are indeed widespread features of the Anglo-Welsh borderlands. A ‘preaching mound’, whether actually used or in association with the legend of St Garmon – a local Powysian saint often equated with the story of St Germanus of Auxerre and his alleluia victory against the Saxons (Evans 2005). This is an interesting idea but difficult to substantiate on archaeological grounds. Either scenario need be exclusive and discount the other. Moreover, the origins of the mound as a prehistoric monument before it was adapted for either of these uses, or simply incorporated into a medieval ecclesiastical site for other purposes, makes a lot of sense.
Having visited a number of times, I do see the comparable scale of Tomen Garmon to the demonstrably kerbed cairn of Bronze Age origin later reused for the 9th-century Pillar of Eliseg, Llandysilio. So I would support the argument that this monument likely began life as one of perhaps several Bronze Age mounds situated on the ridge above the river, this one surviving while others were removed as the medieval church was established.
However, did Tomen Garmon become associated with the burial or miracles of the local saint Garmon? Did its position inspire the location of the church or was that incidental and a later association?
For now, we can but guess, and resist the urge of reverting to the banal cliche that ‘pagan’ sites were incorporated into early Christian sites. Still, there is something to be said about Garmon’s mound in the absence of excavation data. Clearly the association with the dedication to St Garmon, has attracted attention and speculation. Evans (2005) identified at least 5 St Garmon-dedicated churches in NE Wales each with a mound in their churchyards and each potentially of early medieval origin. This suggested to Evans ‘a link between the dedications of these three sites and the presence of earthwork mounds close to them’. But what, why and when this pattern developed remains obscure.
Evans, D.M. 2005. The Origins of Powys – Christian, heretic or Pagan? Montgomeryshire Collections 93: 1–15.
Silvester, B and Hankinson, R. 2002. Early Medieval Ecclesiastical and Burial Sites in Mid and North-east Wales: An Interim Report.
Silvester, B. and Hankinson, R. 2003. Early Medieval Ecclesiastical and Burial Sites in Mid and North-east Wales: The Second Report
Silvester, R. J. 2004. Early Medieval Ecclesiastical and Burial Sites in Mid and North-East Wales. The Field Assessment and its Impact on the Overall Study