Cambrian Monuments

The Cambrian Archaeological Association’s spring conference in Llangollen was just what a conference ought to be – new research, helpful discussion and a chance to get into places that aren’t usually open to the public. Howard Williams has summarised most of the papers on his blog and later posts, so this is mostly about the field visits and the monuments.

At Valle Crucis we had an opportunity to see some (though not all, unfortunately) of the medieval tomb carvings under the floor of the dorter. I had thought from Gresham’s description that these were part of the structure of the vault over the slype and chapter house, but in fact they seem to have been just dumped under the floorboards. Here we are looking at a cross finial and a badly worn stone

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and Gresham’s no. 22, a stone with an incised sword and an inscription commemorating an Owain ap Madog.

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One possibility is that this is Owain Brogyntyn ap Madog ap Maredudd, who died late C12 (this is from Palmer in his account of the excavation in Arch. Camb., 1889). The epigraphy looks a bit later than that – Gresham suggests the stone is as much as 100 years later. Either it is a posthumous commemoration or it commemorates another Owain ap Madog. Gresham also says that it would have had a cross head and this has been broken off. I’m not totally convinced by that – stones with just a sword are unusual but they do exist, though mainly in the north of England.

The stone alongside it is a real puzzle.

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It seems to be Gresham’s no. 24 (at least, we couldn’t find no. 24 anywhere else) but looks nothing like his drawing.

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The drawing is based on 19th century rubbings made after Palmer’s excavation, but it seems unlikely that the stone would have worn so badly since then. The other thing is that the stone seems to be coped, suggesting a 12th century date. Like the sword slab (if it does commemorate Owain Brogyntyn) this could be earlier than the foundation of Valle Crucis in c 1200. This raises two possibilities. We know there was an earlier settlement on or near the site which the Cistercians relocated. This could have been what the archaeologists call ‘high status’: the abbey takes its name (Valley of the Cross) from the Pillar of Eliseg, the remains of a cross erected by Concenn, ruler of Powys (d. 854) to honour his great grandfather Eliseg who had expelled the Anglo-Saxons from this part of Powys. (More on this at http://www.projecteliseg.org/ .) The valley may thus have been an assembly site for the kingdom of Powys, and a church on or near the site of the abbey could have burials of the rulers.

Alternatively, monuments (and possibly bodies) could have been moved to Valle Crucis to create a mausoleum for the royal house of Powys. There is a possibility that something similar happened at Strata Florida, where the royal family of Deheubarth were buried (http://heritagetortoise.wordpress.com/2013/07/19/strata-florida-and-the-politics-of-royal-burial/ for more on this).

Or of course we could be looking at old-fashioned monuments, possibly deliberately carved to look like earlier ones; or we could be looking at a couple of burials in the first years of the monastery’s life, possibly marking the site as a royal burial place.

There is one other possible coped stone, this one (with possible traces of lettering or decoration on the chamfer)

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reused as a window lintel. This looks like medieval reuse: we have plenty of examples of that, including this one

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over the stairs to the dorter.

Some of the other stones at Valle Crucis look as though they could be earlier than Gresham’s dating: these very plain crosses

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One with a sword superimposed

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On the other hand, this one could be later than Gresham’s suggested date.

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Ralegh Radford suggested this was the tomb of the abbey’s founder, Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, king of Powys. However, as Brian and Moira Gittos pointed out in their lecture at the conference, the fleurs-de-lys at the junction of the branches are typical of late 13th century ironwork: so this may be one of the later rulers. In its present form it isn’t actually a cross slab, but Gresham suggests the wedge shape may be the result of later recutting and that the broader end is the original base. It is very similar to a cross slab at Llanfair-y-cwmwd (Anglesey) which is thought to commemorate someone from the royal house of Gwynedd (there was  a royal palace nearby at Llys Rhosyr). The fleurs-de-lys on the Llanfair stone point downwards, but the fleurs-de-lys on the stone previously identified with Princess Siwan at Beaumaris point upwards.

This one, on the other hand, can be dated quite closely. It was found in November 1956, on the north side of the presbytery, before the high altar. Beneath it was a skeleton in a wooden coffin. It commemorates Madog ap Gruffydd Fychan, great-grandson of  the founder Madog ap Gruffydd Maelor, who died in 1306.

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Women were buried at Valle Crucis: this stone commemorates a Dyddgu

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This one commemorates Gweirca daughter of Owain

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possibly Gweirca ferch Owain ap Gruffydd Maelor II. She was the first cousin of Madog ap Gruffydd Fychan who was buried before the high altar.

There was a lot more to look at, though we were unfortunately unable to look at the monuments under the dorter floor over the chapter house (the state of the trapdoor suggested  someone had had a long and ultimately fruitless struggle with it). There are also several fragments which Gresham recorded that cannot now be found. We had to move on – to the Pillar of Eliseg and to Corwen, where there is a similar truncated cross

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(this is Howard Williams’ photo)

and the mid 14th century effigy of a priest, Iorwerth Sulien, vicar of Corwen .

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This is a rather odd design. The body looks as though it is lying under a cover, but the cover is actually formed of the folds of his chasuble: it’s almost as though he is lying down with his chasuble over his body.

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However, he is also wearing a chasuble: the upper parts of the orphreys are clearly visible. The attitude of his hands is particularly clumsy: again, this looks like an attempt to depict the body lying down with the hands placed over the chalice rather than the more usual attitude with the hands supporting the chalice. Brian and Moira Gittos pointed to the fringing on the chasuble which is very similar to that of the surcoats on the knights at Gresford, Llanarmon and Pennant Melangell. However, the style of the leaves in the spandrels of the arcading over Iorwerth’s head link ot to another group. All this testifies to the importance of really close examination and the significance of very minor points of detail in the analysis of these carvings.

The next day we went to Chirk – but that really needs another post.

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One thought on “Cambrian Monuments

  1. Pingback: Cistercian Way: Machen to Caerphilly | heritagetortoise

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