During the last 18 months I’ve hardly had any opportunity to visit churches due to the COVID-19 lockdowns and ensuring work-related and personal circumstances. However, as part of an ongoing book project (Williams forthcoming), it was long overdue for me to visit the small rural church and churchyard of Llanwyddelan, Powys.

The reason for my visit was to obtain new photographs to supplement and enhance the re-publication (with all due permissions, in this case generously provided by the Society of Antiquaries of London) of a note by the late Professor Dai Morgan Evans which appeared in The Antiquaries Journal in 1994.

Dai was the first to identify, record and publish his interpretation of this distinctive early medieval carved stone, incorporated into a corner buttress of the 19th-century church. Given its prominent position beside the path, the Victorian builders had clearly wished it to be on display for worshippers and visitors (Evans 1994).

My TikTok from the site-visit

Subsequently, Professor Nancy Edwards incorporated the stone into her A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Volume III. North Wales as Montgomeryshire 5 (MT5). She describes it as:

Part way across the centre of the face are two small panels of ornament defined by narrow perimeter roll mouldings. An incised horizontal line continues along the bottom to the edge of the fragment: (i) (left) an incomplete horizontal band of four-strand plait, (ii) (centre) Frets: a square unit with diagonal elements (U2/Y1)

(Edwards 2013: 442-443).

It is difficult to work out what the original function and significance of the piece was: oddly the panels of decoration are surrounded by bare, uncarved space, which doesn’t make sense were it part of a cross-shaft (for instance). The continuation of an incised line is also very odd.

What I did notice was that neither Dai nor Nancy fully identified what I discern was one categorical and one very likely small carved cross in the top-right-hand corner of the visible face of the stone. The photograph above has been rendered in black-and-white and the contrast enhanced to reveal the shallow carvings.

In the context of republishing Dai’s original article as part of his collective works, my aim is not to revise his work but in a few cases, including this one, I think readers might appreciate me making some further observations and parallels. Here, I’m aided by the availability of the superb three volumes of the Welsh corpus (Edwards 2007; Redknap and Lewis 2007; Edwards 2013). So I’ve added this footnote to the republication of the note.

…upon examination in September 2021, Howard Williams noted that these marks constitute two small inscribed crosses with expanding terminals, each c. 3cm in diameter. Comparable small incised crosses are rare but known from early medieval inscribed and sculpted stone monuments from western Britain, including Penmachno 2 (CN36), Caernarfonshire, dated between the seventh and ninth centuries AD, although larger at 15.5cm (Edwards 2013, 300). Larger still but worthy of mention is Llangernyw (D4), Denbighshire, with a diameter of 21.5cm, again dated to between the seventh and ninth centuries AD (Edwards 2013, 336). The similarly dated small conjoined crosses on Llandysul 2 (CD15) (Cardiganshire) might be a further analogy (Edwards 2007, 161–2). Yet there are further instances of comparably small crosses elsewhere, as with the cross-carved stone B26 from Llanfrynach, Breconshire, dated to the tenth or eleventh century (Redknap and Lewis 2007, 200–2), Llanlleonfel (B34), Breconshire, the crosses dated to the ninth century (Redknap and Lewis 2007, 215–20), the top of the Bodvoc Stone from Margam (G77), Glamorgan, whose inscription is sixth-century but the cross is probably later in date (Redknap and Lewis 2007, 402–8). Then there are small crosses clustering around larger ones on the possible ninth-century cross-carved stone from Reynoldston (G116), Glamorgan (Redknap and Lewis 2007, 492–3) and the cross-marked stone of seventh to tenth-century date from Bryngwyn (R1), Radnorshire (Redknap and Lewis 2007, 517–9). Guided by these parallels, it is possible that the two crosses on the Llanwyddelan stone might have been but elements of a now-lost larger ornamental and iconographic carving. Alternatively, the most likely parallels are graffiti crosses of uncertain date added to the late seventh or eighth-century inscribed stone at Capel Colman (P8), Pembrokeshire (Edwards 2007, 300–3) and the ninth-century cross-carved pillar and base at Llawhaden (P55), Pembrokeshire (Edwards 2007, 371–4). Therefore, we must keep open to the possibility that the crosses were peripheral elements of a larger early medieval ornamental design, or instead were later graffiti and thus expressions of ongoing Christian devotion and commemoration associated with the stone and its original location sometime before the church was rebuilt during the nineteenth century.

Let me know what you think, including further possible parallels and explanations.

References

Edwards, N 2007. A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales. Volume II. South East Wales. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

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

Evans, D.M. 1994. An Early Christian monument from Llanwyddelan, Montgomeryshire, The Antiquaries Journal 74: 340–343.

Redknap, M and Lewis, J M 2007 A Corpus of Early Medieval Inscribed Stones and Stone Sculpture in Wales Volume 1: South-East Wales and the English Border. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.

Williams, H. (ed.) (forthcoming). Archaeology, Antiquaries and Wales: Essays by Dai Morgan Evans. Chester: University of Chester Press.