Friday, 20 March 2009

Curiouser and curiouser




I have been trying to do some research on symbolism shown on the Norman gravestones at St Michael's church the other day. Easier said than done, as there is little to make comparison with. The figure(s) on the horse(s) above remind me of a particular Pictish image, but though I have searched my dissertation (on that subject), several of my collection of books on Insular Art, and various other publications I cannot find the image I am remembering. There are two horses - either that or the sculptor couldn't count as there are three hind legs . . . There also appear to be two heads on the figure, and one figure appears to be face on to the viewer. The nearest comparison I can make is with the viewer-facing (female) rider on the Hilton of Cadboll Pictish stone. She is on a larger equine though, probably riding side-saddle and although she has another horse behind hers, it is completely mirroring the outline of her horse. The weathering on the St Michael's stone hides the original intention and design, though even allowing for the cracking at the top of the piece, I believe there are two heads, not one, and the nearer rider could be jumping sideways off his horse, arms outstretched (an early Franki Dettori perhaps . . .) or possibly they are fighting - so you are seeing the BACK of the nearer figure, wielding (right-handed) his sword and the other is right-handedly fighting back? Dunno for sure . . .



This is a very unusual pre-historical spiral symbolism to appear on a Norman burial. In "The Celtic Christian Sites of the central and southern Marches" (Sarah & John Zaluckyj), they illustrate carved stone at Llangammarch Wells, which is set into the church wall and dated to between the 7th and 9th centuries. It is the remains of a pillar stone decorated with a wheel cross (top) and below a "gingerbread-man" type figure (!) with annulets (rings) around it and a full three ring spiral starting as the prehistoric examples on say, Newgrange in Ireland.

The same sculptor is believed to have been responsible for stone carvings now built into the east wall of the porch at Llanafan Fawr, near Builth Wells, and only a few miles from Llangammarch. There are also spirals found at Moylgrove in Pembrokeshire and Tregaron in Cardiganshire, and it is suggested that there may be stylistic links with Ireland on carvings accompanying the spirals and attributed to the same sculptor. So, links with Ireland; an enduring motif or belief which hints at a belt-and-braces approach to Christianity, even a thousand years on, or just a foible of the Normans?

Thelma - I'd love your take on this.

5 comments:

Teri and the cats of Furrydance said...

Oh, these are perfect "Welcome Spring" pictures! Both green and fresh, and ancient and worn.

Rowan said...

Intriguing - I would hazard a guess that in the Celtic areas like Wales Christianity was a thin cloak thrown over the older pagan practices which have never really gone away even after 2000 years. I shall keep an eye on your comments to see whether Thelma or anyone else can throw more light on this stone.

nancy said...

Yes, intriguing is the word I'd been thinking. I hope you are able to unravel some of the mystery. I love the look of them for some reason I can't name.
The horse and rider with too many legs rings a bell somewhere in the back of my mind.
Hope all is well with you, Jennie.
nancy

Bovey Belle said...

Do you mean the Nordic horse Sleipneer (spelling?) which has 8 legs Nancy? Mine is a Pictish carving which is nagging me.

thelma said...

Hi Jennie, can't think at the moment, but on looking at The Welsh Saints by Breverton, he says "Many Welsh churches were rededicated to Michael/Mihangel, by the normans, .... there were several Celtic churches dedicated previously to Mihangel in the 10/llth century, possibly because he was the principal fighter of the dragon.
Pembrokeshire of course, had lots of settlers from Ireland over time,yet I have never seen the spiral on a celtic stone, unless there's one at Margam Abbey..
fascinating will have a think about it... The first dedication to Michael in Wales was between 710and 720, and the Anglo Saxon Chronicle gives the date for a Llanfihangel as 7l9, so Breverton says...