More Cambrian monuments

To think I only went to Chirk to get a lift to the station …

We had had a fascinating lecture from Richard Haslam in the morning, analysing the seventeenth-century marble monuments to the Myddelton family, but hulking great baroque marbles aren’t really my thing. We just missed the earlier train so I thought I might as well potter round the church with the others.

The first thing to catch my eye was this

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outside, over one of the south windows. I thought consecration cross. Brian Gittos thought it looked like no consecration cross he had ever seen and suggested tomb carving. It looks like no tomb carving I’ve ever seen either but it can go in the database as a possible.

Then inside was this, over the same south window

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more likely as a consecration cross but presumably reused – or did they do a risk assessment before the bishop climbed up with the holy oil? And the most exciting, this –

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a very  puzzling miniature effigy.

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Almost certainly a heart burial – but look at the robe of animal skins and the head under his feet. The stone has been trimmed at the left side of the figure (the right side as you look at it – heraldic sinister) but seems complete at the left, where there are traces of a chevron decoration. It was probably a wedge shape originally and has been trimmed down for use as something like a window lintel. The bottom has also been chopped off but it’s unlikely that it was ever more than a head.

As Brian and Moira pointed out, the hair styles of the two heads give us quite a precise date. The centre parting and rather bouncy curls of the main figure suggest something from after 1340. The combed-forward style of the head under his feet is seldom found after 1350 – so we are proba bly looking at something from the 1340s.  The robe of animal skins would suggest John the Baptist – standing on his own head, maybe, a bit like the statue of St Winifred in Westminster Abbey with her severed head on a plinth by her side? But this is so clearly an effigial carving that it’s difficult to interpret it as St John. Also he is normally depicted as bearded.

The church interpretation board got the heart burial right (these little effigies are often misinterpreted as children) but then went off on a riff about heart burials commemorating crusaders in the fourteenth century who were buried in the Holy Land and their hearts brought home. The vicar was very interested in our suggested corrections and took us off to see this

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(here in close-up)

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the branching shaft of a late 13th/early 14th century cross slab. Here we are admiring it.

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So glad I missed the earlier train. We didn’t get to the castle, but that is most famous to historians of tomb carving for having sold its medieval tomb slab, an intricately-carved slab with an early version of the ‘Sum quod eris’ poem (Whoever you are who pass by, stop, read and weep. I am what you will be, I was what you are. Please pray a Paternoster for me). Unfortunately, we can’t check the date and the detail of Gresham’s drawing because it was sold for a huge sum of money in 2005 to a private buyer: present whereabouts unknown. Sta, perlege, plora.

And we were very comfortable at the Wild Pheasant: they managed to cater for 2 vegans plus one gluten intolerance, and they put up with commendable patience with the middle-aged archaeologists who stayed in the bar until past closing time.

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2 thoughts on “More Cambrian monuments

  1. Thanks Maddy for a fascinating report and sorry I had to head off to help with little Williamses and missed the Chirk stage of the trip. However, please enlighten me how a National Trust-run property can sell off its medieval sculpture in 2005? A depressing and shameful state of affairs.

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

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