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Tenth Century Church Carvings, England

Sunday, February 28, 2010



This afternoon, I have decided to feature some unusual, possibly 10th century, stone carvings from the Church of St. Helen's, Bilton-in-Ainsty, Yorkshire, which I recently visited. These unusual carvings can be found in the Lady Chapel of this church which has origins dating back to Saxon times. Being of possible 10th century AD date, the carvings could be from the Viking era. The vertical stone immediately above may have been the shaft of across. This and the other stones may have been re-used as grave-markers at various times. I find these carvings pleasantly primitive and striking. In their day they were intended to convey messages at a time when most of the population would have been illiterate and Christianity a relatively new introduction.

Elsewhere today, I have been busy:

  • Designing a new web page for my main catswhiskerstours website.
  • Responding to various tour enquiries (one confirmation).
  • Posting information to my separate GlasgowAncestry blog on Brown family history.
As regards the ancestry blog, in the case of one posting, this has turned into a message board for an extended family of descendants now residing in the U.S., Australia and New Zealand. Its pleasing to see the blog functionality being used in this way.

Weather in Glasgow today is cold but dry with vestiges of snow lingering on in sheltered spots.

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Alne Church, Yorkshire, England

Friday, February 26, 2010

This evening, the focus of my blog is on the historic Church of St. Mary the Virgin at Alne, Yorkshire, England and in particular the ancient Viking and Norman carvings which attract a lot of visitor interest.

There has been a church on this site for about 850 years. The current church has many interesting facets but I am going to focus on just three which are discussed and illustrated below.

Firstly, there is the massive 12th century stone font which is still used for baptisms. This close up shows the classic Green Man image which may relate to a pre-Christian natural deity. Note the branches or vines sprouting from the mouth.

Here is the font.

This image shows shows a lintel over a Anglo-Saxon era priests door. The well worn carving may well be from the Viking era.
Finally, this video clip shows the Norman era carved arch over the main door. This is very significant and attracts many visitors. The carvings represent beasts from the Bible although there are also some secular ones.

Elsewhere, the weather today in Glasgow has proved quite miserable and not conducive to getting out for pics. However, have received quite a number of interesting private tour enquiries which I am hopeful will convert to committed tours.

Posted to my separate GlasgowAncestry blog information on McLean family history. Also did some more work on my main website.

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Anglo-Saxon Carvings, England

Monday, February 22, 2010

This evening, my focus is on an Anglo-Saxon era ( AD410-1066) carving which is located above the altar at the Church of the Holy Redeemer, York. See image below. During this period Christianity became firmly established in England. These sort of carvings would have had a combined propaganda and teaching role at a time when most of the population would have been illiterate.

This 1960s era church was built using materials and carvings transported from the demolished St. Mary the Elder Church at Bishophill which results (see this video clip) is an unusual but effective juxtaposition of 1960s and 12th century interior design which seems to work well.

Elsewhere today, I have been busy arranging various tours of Scotland. I also paid a visit to a nearby cemetery and found a memorial stone recording the deaths of 3 children in a major railway accident dating from 1913, at Ais Gill in Yorkshire, which resulted in a total of 14 fatalities.

The weather here in Glasgow has remained clear and dry but very cold, probably around freezing for most of the day. More cold weather forecast!

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Nunburnholme Cross, Yorkshire, England

Saturday, February 20, 2010

This evening, my theme is the Nunburnholme Cross, one of many such ancient carved crosses I encounter on my travels around Scotland and England. More on this below. First an update on today:

Glasgow Weather: Bright, dry but very cold with temperature at or below freezing for most of the day.

Tour Arranging: Very busy with a whole range of new tour enquiries, which is nice. Spent more time adding micro detail to a 2 week round Britain self-drive tour which I am arranging.

Ancestry Research: Posted information on Thomson family history to my separate GlasgowAncestry blog. Interestingly, one of the family actually died in the Chilean seaport of Valparaiso.

Nunburnholme Cross: Now for the interesting bit! This is a stone cross with carvings on all four sides straddling the late Saxon, Viking and Norman periods and as such is of great antiquity and interest. It was discovered during 1873 building work in the church of the same name, it was incorporated into the church porch but subsequently damaged by the iron fittings which held it in place. It was effectively cut in two but reconstructed the wrong way round. Very briefly:

  • Two sides are Late Saxon with focus on the Virgin Mary and Christ. See image above.
  • One side appears to be of Viking era date and may depict a local Viking lord plus a scene form the Norse Sigurd story which features a dragon .
  • The remaining side is a mixture of both Viking and Norman.
A video clip of the Cross can be found here. Fascinating!

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Historic Church Tour, Yorkshire, England

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Today, I enjoyed a fascinating tour of five churchyards which were selected with a common theme of links with the Viking era (AD 793-1066) and located within a 20 mile radius of York City. Each of these churches is summarised below.

Kirk Hammerton: A relatively intact church dating from end of the Anglo-Saxon era. This was built in Romanesque form and may have utilised (re-cycled) materials from local Roman era buildings. The architecture features round arches and small windows. In its day the interior would have been dark and dingy, aggravated by smokey tallow candles. The tower, which features a double splayed window at the top, may be later than body of the church. A wonderful gem of a church.

Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Alne: The key features here are:1.Decorated lintel over small, priests door may date from the Anglo-Saxon or Viking eras.2.External archway over main entrance dates from mid 12th C. A complicated and literate work made during a settled period. Carvings influenced by the Book of Beasts which describes a natural history of animals in context of God's plan for the world. Each of the beasts exhibits different behaviours.3. A 12th C font with heavily carved decoration including a 'green man'.

St. Helen's, Bilton-in-Ansty with Bickerton: Key features here are the carved stones (inside the Lady Chapel) which may have been the shaft sections of 10th C era crosses and subsequently used as gravemarkers. One depicts three children in a firey furnace.

Church of the Holy Redeemer: A fascinating building dating from the 1960s but incorporating much architectural material from the demolished church of St. Mary Bishopshill Senior, York. Key features here are:1. Late 12th C archway.2. Anglo-Saxon era carving incorporated in a feature above the altar.

Church of St. James, Nunburnholme. Key features here are:1. The interior arch which is something of a conundrum and has probably been moved from its original position; it dates from 1100 to 1140 AD.2.The Anglo-Saxon cross which is considered the finest sculpture of its type in East Yorkshire. In the past it has been split in two and then reconstructed the wrong way so the carvings are not aligned. On top of the shaft is a socket into which a cross head would have fitted. The carvings are complicated and date from various periods including Late Saxon, Viking Age and Norman. A picture of this cross against background of the arch is shown below.



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