Saturday 31 December 2016

Tintagel: Creating Camelot - Part 2

>>  Continued from Tintagel: Creating Camelot - Part 1

Archaeological excavations at Tintagel this year led to what has been hailed as the discovery of 2016 generating a media frenzy with headlines such as 'King Arthur's Tintagel 'birthplace' dig finds royal seat' 13 claiming the discovery will ignite debate in Arthurian research circles because, in medieval tradition, Arthur was said to have been conceived at Tintagel.14

Tintagel and Arthur 
After Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniæ, c.1136AD), Tintagel plays very little part in the Arthurian cycle and does not figure strongly in Arthurian Romance. Significantly, the tales of Tristan and Iseult are situated in the south-west of England and cite Tintagel as the seat of King Mark, ruler of Cornwall.

However, The High History of the Grail (Li Hauz Livres du Graal, or Perlesvaus) dated c.1200-10, Lancelot and Gawain visit a little castle in a combe in which the enclosure of the castle was fallen down into an abysm. A priest emerged from a chapel situated above an ancient hall and told them that it was the great Tintagel. When the knights enquired as to why the ground was all caved in about the castle, the priest replied that after King Utherpendragon had slept with Ygerna, after Merlin had changed him into the semblance of Gorlois, and conceived Arthur in a great hall that was next to the enclosure there where this abysm is. And for this sin the ground has sunken.15 As the Perlesvaus is claimed to have been written at Glastonbury in Somerset we should not be surprised if it contains first hand knowledge of south-west England. The anonymous author of the Perlesvaus, like Geoffrey, must have visited the site before Richard, Earl of Cornwall, built his castle in the 13th century.

The Medieval Gateway on the Headland
By 1233 Arthur’s legendary connection with the site, no doubt, inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build a castle on the mainland at Tintagel and the island courtyard, the ruins of which remains today. A century later the castle had begun to decay and fall into neglect. Although Richard's medieval castle was little used, imaginative legends continued to flourish and the site attracted antiquarians over the course of time.

Around 1480 the antiquary William Worcestre claimed Tintagel as the place of Arthur’s birth in addition to his conception there as stated by Geoffrey. John Leland visited the castle in the 16th century and by 1650 the name 'King Arthur’s Castle' appears for the first time, which by now had become a tangled concoction of literary accounts entwined with local lore.

By the 19th century writers such as Charles Dickens, Alfred Tennyson, Algernon Swinburne, Thomas Hardy and the local Cornish antiquarian and poet Robert Stephen Hawker drew inspiration from visiting the dramatic cliff-top setting of Tintagel, and coupled with the legends, prompted the Arthurian Revival in the Victorian Age.

Local people like Florence Nightingale Richards, were by now acting as guides and escorting wealthy Victorian tourists through the ruins pointing out features linking the site to Arthur, such as Arthur's Footprint, which is reputed to have been imprinted in the solid rock when Arthur ‘stepped at one stride across the sea' to Tintagel Church (1889). The Parish church dedicated to St Materiana is one third of a mile distant - is this another reference to Arthur as a giant? Below the King's Seat on the highest point of the headland are a series of depression in the rockface known as Arthur's Cup and Saucers.16

St Materiana's Church from the Headland
Near the site of the chapel on the Headland is would appear to be a rock-cut grave of the medieval period. This was recorded by Leland in the 16th century and so has lain open since at least this point. John Norden wrote of this feature around 1600:

“Ther is in this Castle a hole hewed out of a rocke, made in manner of a graue, which is sayde to haue bene done by a Hermite for his buriall; and the gravue will fitt euerye stature, as it is effabuled; but experience doth not so assure me.”

In more recent times this rock-cut depression has acquired its own identity and is now variously known as King Arthur’s Bed, Elbow Chair or Hip-Bath. However, there is no record of any of these 'Arthurian' features before the 19th century. Indeed, in 1863 when the scientist and antiquarian Robert Hunt visited Tintagel to obtain folklore he was told by the man in charge of the castle that he had no Arthur stories to tell. Charles Thomas notes that “nearly all overt Arthurian details first appear in print about 1870”.17

By the 20th century Arthur-mania had developed a firm grip on the Cornish village. The wealthy businessman Frederick Thomas Glasscock moved to Somerset from London and founded the Order of the Fellowship of the Knights of the Round Table converting Trevena Hall into King Arthur's Great Halls of Chivalry, famous for its stained glass windows featuring the Arthurian legend. Since the 1950s, the Great Halls has been used as a Masonic meeting place and home to the King Arthur Lodge.

Tintagel through the Ages
Archaeology has failed to find Geoffrey's fortress at Tintagel, or indeed any fortress that preceded it. Thomas Charles lists five main periods of activity at Tintagel.

Nothing Prehistoric (Period 0) can be assigned to either the church or the headland, save a few flint chips, some worked, picked up from paths on the headland. Evidence for Period I, Roman, comes from two inscribed milestones from the area, one now in Tintagel church and one at Trethevy 1½ miles east, from the 3rd and 4th centuries, and some Roman coins of the same period, sherds of 4th century Roman wheel-made pottery (Oxford Red slipped ware) and locally made jars and bowls from the same date suggest a presence but limited activity.18

Period II remains near the Headland summit
Period II at Tintagel has been referred to as 'Arthurian' or 'Dark Age', this term is now unfashionable as it was certainly not a 'Dark' period as such on the headland with vast amounts of pottery and structures found from excavations carried out in the 1930s and again in the 1950s by C. A. Ralegh Radford, who claimed that the site, due to the relative isolation and harsh environment, was an early Christian monastery from the 5th through to the 8th century. When the first official HMSO guidebook was published in 1935 author Ralegh Radford was at pains to stress that there was no evidence whatsoever to support the legendary connection of the Castle with King Arthur. The legendary tales of Tristan and Iseult place King Mark at Tintagel in this Period.19

Period III starts at the end of Period II, around 600, to 1230 when Richard, Earl of Cornwall built the medieval castle.  The chapel, standing among the ruins of 5th - 7th buildings (perhaps that witnessed by Lancelot and Gawain in the Perlesvaus), dates from this Period, probably around 1150. The Domesday Book survey of 1086 fails to mention Tintagel, but the first allusions to the headland as a stronghold of Cornish kings falls within this period.20

The construction of the Castle in 1230-40 marks the commencement of Period IV. The structural sequence of the Castle has yet to be determined as much of its remains are now missing. The Post Medieval period to present, Period V, commences from the 16th century; by now the castle is in ruins after hundreds of years of neglect.21

Excavating Camelot
Ralegh Radford's monastic interpretation has now been shown to be incorrect. Several works have since re-evaluated Radford's findings, although there are very little records surviving from his excavations, the ceramic assemblage from his excavations, and analysis of the Medieval literature and historical documents, led to general dissatisfaction among archaeologists of his early monastic interpretation.

Further archaeological excavations in the 1960s and again in 1976–81 recovered a remarkable quantity of imported pottery datable to the final Roman and mostly the early Post-Roman period through to the early 7th century. In the mid-1980s a fire on the Tintagel headland led to considerable erosion of the topsoil, and over 100 more building foundations than were recorded by Radford could be seen. Ceramic analysis suggests that Tintagel was the leading centre in south-west England for trade with southern Gaul, the eastern Mediterranean, and North Africa.

Living on the Edge: building remains on the terrace
In the 1990s a project sponsored by English Heritage and Glasgow University was set up to re-evaluate and validate Radford's work by  specialists such as Charles Thomas. The Cornwall Archaeology Unit carried out excavations on previously unearthed buildings. The findings indicated that the site was almost certainly a high status site with far reaching contacts, possibly functioning as a citadel of the Dumnonian rulers.

A radiocarbon dating sequence for the phases of building on the Lower Terrace suggests that the final phase of occupation dates to 560 - 670. However, this is just one site and cannot as this time  be accepted as representative of the abandonment whole headland.

Evidence of Arthur? 
In 1998 a broken inscribed stone, known as the Tintagel Slate or Artognou Stone was found within a sealed 6th century layer on the eastern terrace of the site. The stone, which was broken and re-used as part of a drain, has two inscriptions. Charles Thomas later dated the slate to the 6th Century, which initially caused a frenzy of claims in the press as evidence of King Arthur at Tintagel.

Dr Geoffrey Wainwright, at the time chief archaeologist at English Heritage, is reporting as saying that “Tintagel has presented us with evidence of a Prince of Cornwall, in the Dark Ages, living in a high-status domestic settlement at the time Arthur lived. It has given us the name of a person, Arthnou. Arthnou was here, that is his name on a piece of stone. It is a massive coincidence at the very least. This is where myth meets history. It's the find of a lifetime.” He added the inscribed name was “close enough to Arthur to refer to the legendary warrior king”.

Charles Thomas has suggested that Tintagel was the *Durocornovio (‘Fort of the Cornovii’), as listed in the Ravenna Cosmography, which the Roman coins may support, and both commercial and locally made pottery of the 3rd and 4th centuries. After the Romans, the site's role in the kingdom of Domnonia seems to have provided an important link to the world far beyond the British Isles with imported artefacts found at Tintagel alone demonstrating that from about AD 450 until about AD 650 Tintagel was a prosperous and highly significant site, closely involved in trade with the Mediterranean world.

The headland was found to be covered with many small rectangular buildings, some visible today. However, the exact nature of Post-Roman Tintagel remains elusive with the main focus of activity for this site in the centuries immediately following the Roman withdrawal. The best interpretation on current evidence appears to be a seasonally occupied fortress or royal seat of the post-Roman kings of Dumnonia, which would agree with the tales of Tristan and Iseult which cite Tintagel as the seat of King Mark. After the mid-7th century there is little evidence of activity on the island for the next 500 years.

To date, no evidence of any catastrophic destruction has been found. However, the latter half of the 6th century and the 7th century were notorious for a plague pandemic which, having killed millions throughout the Mediterranean world, almost certainly devastated parts of Britain arriving through a key trading centre such as Tintagel.

Where History Meets Legend
Evidence for a real King Arthur has evaded identification for over a thousand years. Archaeology has failed to positively uncover any firm trace of his existence; at best we can only be certain of his existence as a character of  literature and legend.

The Medieval Courtyard on the Headland, overlooked by the Camelot Castle Hotel
Significantly, there is no evidence of Arthur's existence at Tintagel prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth or from modern day excavations. But the legend lives on, stronger than ever, and since the Arthurian Revival in the Victorian Age tourists have created the demand to seek him out, coinciding with the first records of 'Arthuriana' at Tintagel in the 19th century.

I last visited Tintagel in 2013 feeling somewhat disappointed with the place. Since that visit English Heritage (EH) has made many changes to enhance the visitor experience (their words, not mine). EH certainly makes the most of Tintagel as its top Arthurian draw and fifth ranking visitor attraction. It has to now it is a Trust since the government separated it off from Historic England. The Government claims "The new charitable status will give English Heritage freedom to raise funds – with a target of finding a further £83 million from third parties.... that, within ten years, it will be self-financing and no longer depend upon support from the taxpayer."22

With a huge financial burden placed on EH one can understand the pressure to increase visitor numbers. EH are currently presenting a fresh interpretation of history and legend at Tintagel, ever hopeful of increasing visitor numbers and revenue. In their mission statement on their website EH claims to “seek to be true to the story of the places and artefacts that we look after and present. We don't exaggerate or make things up for entertainment's sake. Instead, through careful research, we separate fact from fiction and bring fascinating truth to light.23

As part of EH's plans to improve the “visitor experience” at Tintagel Castle, the Beach Cafe has been refurbished and a new exhibition constructed exploring the history of Tintagel Castle and the Arthurian legends. Ongoing plans for Tintagel, EH claim, will include an “imaginative new outdoor interpretation” that will feature interactive exhibits and informative panels in addition to a range of artworks crafted in bronze and stone bringing history and legend to life.  A new bridge linking the medieval castle to the headland is planned for 2019. A series of panels will reveal 1,500 years of Tintagel's past which will create a journey of discovery where the visitor can explore the history of the castle and the role that legends have played in shaping the site - from a royal stronghold to thriving trading port, to a castle of romantic stories.

Yet, the new EH interpretation has led to claims of “Disneyfication” of the site and questioned the organisation's responsibility as Guardians of Heritage.

A stone compass points to places connected with the tales of King Arthur. Merlin's face has been carved in the rocks on the beach and on the island and a bronze sculpture, named Gallos, inspired by the legend of King Arthur and the historic royal figures associated with Tintagel, has been mounted on the Headland. This dramatic site in its cliff-top setting, rich in history, really does not need this fusion of history and legend.

Creating Camelot
In August 2016 another press frenzy ensued when English Heritage-funded archaeologists from of the Cornwall Archaeological Unit on a 5 year program announced they have discovered the impressive remains of a probable Dark Age royal palace at Tintagel that immediately became linked with King Arthur. The one-metre thick walls have been interpreted as those of the main residence of the 6th century rulers of an ancient south-west British kingdom, known as Dumnonia.

“The probable palace which the archaeologists have found appears to date from the 5th and 6th centuries AD – which would theoretically fit well with the traditional legends of King Arthur which placed him in precisely those centuries. Whether coincidence or not, the way in which the new evidence resonates with Britain’s most enduring and popular medieval legend is sure to generate renewed popular and scholarly interest in the site.24

However, English Heritage cannot be held accountable for the reaction of the Press, yet a 5 year excavation plan is bound to produce ample Arthurian publicity for the site, increasing visitor numbers and we will almost certainly see further press releases like the "Artognou Stone'" debacle in 1998.

Is this Camelot? Certainly not. According to a retired professor the true location of Camelot is a small Roman fort at Slack, situated on the Roman road from Chester to York, outside Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire, known as Camulodunum.25

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson

Notes & References
13. King Arthur's Tintagel 'birthplace' dig finds royal seat - BBC News Cornwall - 3 August 2016
14. Dark Ages royal palace discovered in Cornwall – in area closely linked to the legend of King Arthur - David Keys Archaeology Correspondent, The Independent - 2 August 2016
15. The High History Of The Holy Graal, Translation by Sebastian Evans, 1898, text based on that published by J.M. Dent & Sons, London, 1910.
16. Paul Broadhurst, Tintagel and the Arthurian Mythos, Pendragon Press, 1992.
17. Charles Thomas, English Heritage Book of Tintagel: Arthur and Archaeology, Batsford, 1993.
18. Ibid.
19. Ibid.
20. Ibid.
21. Ibid.
22. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Press Release 6 December 2013.
23. English Heritage Mission Statement
24. Dark Ages royal palace discovered in Cornwall – in area closely linked to the legend of King Arthur by David Keys, Archaeology Correspondent, The Independent,  2nd August 2016.
25. Ex-Bangor University Professor reveals 'true Camelot' - BBC Norh West Wales 18 December 2016.

Further Reading:
Authority, authenticity and interpretation at Tintagel by Dr. Tehmina Goskar

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Friday 30 December 2016

Tintagel: Creating Camelot - Part 1

“Answered Ulfin, when no power on earth can enable us to come to her where she is inside the fortress of Tintagel? The castle is built high above the sea, which surrounds it on all sides, and there is no other way in except that offered by a narrow isthmus of rock. Three armed soldiers could hold it against you, even if you stood there with the whole kingdom of Britain at your side.” - Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, (VIII.19)1

Geoffrey and Cornwall
In response to Utherpendragon's threat to lay waste his lands Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, retreated to the fortified camp at Dimilioc and placed his wife Ygerna in the security of castle at Tintagel on the coast. Uther then took counsel with Ulfin of Ridcaradoch, one of his soldiers and a familiar friend, telling him of his desire for Ygerna and that if he cannot have her he feared he would suffer a physical breakdown. Ulfin said they would find it impossible to breach the castle and suggested the king approach Merlin the Prophet. By magic, Merlin gave Uther the appearance of Gorlois, and he then entered the castle at Tintagel and slept with Ygerna, who that night conceived Arthur, the Boar of Cornwall.

Most modern commentators accept that Geoffrey must have had first-hand knowledge of Tintagel to provide his accurate description of the site on the north Cornish coast in his History of the Kings of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniæ, c.1136AD). However, it is often quoted that there is no record of the name before Geoffrey's work and therefore he must have invented it.

Oliver Padel cites several locations in Cornwall from Geoffrey's work suggesting that he very likely visited the area prior to writing his Historia. Gorlois is beseiged at Dimilioc.2 Lewis Thorpe identifies this as the Iron Age earthwork of three concentric ramparts and ditches bearing the name of Tregeare Rounds, known locally as Castle Dameliock, near the village of Pendoggett, five and a half miles south-west of Tintagel.3 Ditmas argues for the Iron age hill fort known as Dimilioc at St Dennis, 20 miles south of Tintagel.4

According to Geoffrey, Arthur's final battle is fought against Mordred at the bank of the Camblam, identified as the river Camel, barely four miles south-east from Tintagel. Just off the B 3314 between Camelford and Tintagel, by a stream at Slaughterbridge lies a 6th century inscribed stone, locally referred to as 'King Arthur's Stone', said to mark the spot where King Arthur met Mordred. And of course the name 'Mordred' is the Cornish version of the name 'Medraut' that appears in the 10th century Welsh Annals.5

Yet for all his apparent affection for Cornwall, Geoffrey places Arthur's court at the City of the Legions in south-east Wales, identified as Caerleon on the river Usk on the northern edge of the modern city of Newport. Geoffrey has Caerleon as one of the most important cities in Britain, so it seems an obvious choice for the seat of its King. However, he was probably influenced by the ruins of the Roman legionary fortress, Isca Augusta. If his abode was Monmouth, at least at one time as his name suggests, he probably had first hand knowledge of the ruins, just 20 miles south. In his preface to Malory's Le Morte d'Arthur William Caxton describes the ruins of a city sounding very like Caerleon,“in Camelot, the great stones and the marvellous works of iron lying underground, and the royal vaults which many now living have seen.” However Malory himself locates Camelot at Winchester.6

Merlin and Cornwall
Prior to his Historia, Geoffrey circulated, certainly by 1135, the Prophetiæ Merlini, a short Latin work containing a number of prophecies attributed to Merlin. Geoffrey later included the Prophecy in his main work at Book VII, thereby introducing Geoffrey's wizard to the Arthurian legend.

Shortly after Geoffrey, John of Cornwall produced his own version of the Prophetiae Merlini, sometimes called The Prophecy of Ambrosius Merlin concerning the Seven Kings,which he claimed was revived from a lost manuscript in the Cornish language, which he translated sometime between 1141 and 1155 at the request of Robert, Bishop of Exeter.8

John has been accused of imitating Geoffrey of Monmouth's Prophetiae Merlini, but less than a third of the verse prophecies are mirrored in Geoffrey's work, the remainder would appear to be direct translations from a Cornish source and it is today argued that John based at least part of his Prophecy upon a genuine contemporary Cornish prophecy dating from about the early 12th century, correcting much of Geoffrey’s Merlinic prophetic material in the process.9

John includes a substantial amount of explanatory detail in the way of glosses, providing much detail deficient from Geoffrey's Prophecy. John includes a gloss at line 91 which refers to the entry of an old man into Cornwall, who then laid siege to the castle by the Periron, that is, Dindaiol. The Periron is identified as the stream that outflows at Tintagel (Dindaiol).

John’s original manuscript spelling of 'Dindaiol' has been seen as providing a genuine Cornishness that he may have perceived as lacking in the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth making it necessary for John to reproduce the Prophetiae Merlini in its correct, original form. Michael Faletra suggests that the second element of Dindaiol (from *tagell) allows identification of the form as uniquely Cornish rather than Welsh or Breton, thus demonstrating that a body of Old Cornish prophetic material, independent of Geoffrey, was in existence by at least the early 12th century.10

Significantly, then, in consideration of John of Cornwall's Prophetiae Merlini, it can be argued that the name Tintagel was known prior to Geoffrey of Monmouth, indeed, the modern-day village of Tintagel was known as Trevena until the 19th century. The name is consistent with a Celtic etymology; Padel suggests that the name is from Cornish *dyn = fort and *tagell = neck, throat, constriction narrow, i.e. Tintagel = fort of the constriction, which is a very apt description of its setting linked only to the Cornish coast by a narrow isthmus. It would appear that originally the name Tintagel referred to the headland only.11

The ruins of the medieval castle on the mainland
If Geoffrey did not invent the fortress at Tintagel, and the medieval castle was not built until around 1230, a hundred years later, from the above, it suggests some form of promontory-fortress was situated on the headland for which memories, at least, survived in to the 12th century. However, prior to his Historia there is no record of any link to the site with King Arthur. Yet, Cornwall is known to have possessed a rich body of Arthurian folklore, not attached to Tintagel, before Geoffrey wrote his magnum opus.

Terra Arturi
Around 1142 Herman of Tournai’s wrote 'Miracula Sancte Marie Laudunensis' (The Miracles of St. Mary of Laon) which included an account of  a local Cornish belief in Arthur’s survival. Herman's work recounts miracles witnessed by nine canons from Laon cathedral on a fundraising relic tour through England in 1113.

Whilst travelling between Exeter and Bodmin, the canons were told that they were entering the “Lands of Arthur” and were shown various local sites that were associated with him, such as the Seat and Oven of King Arthur. The Seat has not been identified but the Oven was probably the ‘King’s Oven’ (furnus regis) recorded on Dartmoor a century later.

At Bodmin a man with a withered arm came to the canons of Laon seeking to be healed of his affliction. In conversation with the canons the man claimed that Arthur still lived. Members of the French party apparently made mock of him for talking such a nonsense. The Cornish crowd supported the man's claims in King Arthur's survival and a brawl broke out.

View from Tintagel
King Arthur’s existence in the form of a raven or chough is still extant in Cornish folklore and there are a number of sites which claim to be associated with Arthur in the Cornish wilderness. For example, there are numerous megalithic structures, Portal Dolmens, known as Coetan Arthur, or ‘Arthur’s Quoits’; on the lane to Trewethett Farm, near Bossiney, is a large rock slab, claimed to be the capstone of a collapsed Dolmen that was thrown there from Tintagel by King Arthur; in St Columb, Goss Moor, ‘Arthur’s Stone’ is said to bear the impression of the footprints of Arthur’s horse; 'Arthur's Hall' and 'Arthur's Troughs' on Bodmin Moor; ‘Arthur’s Hunting Lodge’ (or Hunting Seat) in Castle-an-Dinas; ‘Arthur’s (or Giant’s) Grave’ at Warbstowe;  'Arthur’s Chair’ at Tintagel.12

This shortlist is not exhaustive but sufficient to demonstrate Arthur was very much in existence in the Cornish landscape prior to Geoffrey's writings as witnessed by the Canons of Laon. Yet, it must be conceded, that there is absolutely nothing to connect Arthur to Tintagel before Geoffrey.

>> Continued in Tintagel; Creating Camelot - Part 2

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson

Notes & References:
1. Geoffrey of Monmouth, The History of the Kings of Britain, Lewis Thorpe, translator, Penguin, 1966.
2. Oliver Padel, Geoffrey and Cornwall, Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies (CMCS 8), 1984.
3. Thorpe, op.cit.
4. E. M. R. Ditmas, A Reappraisal of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Allusions to Cornwall, Speculum, Vol. 48, No. 3, 1973, pp. 510-524.
5. John Morris, Ed. & Trans., British History And The Welsh Annals, Phillimore, 1980.
6. Caxton's Preface, p.xiii in Malory Works, Eugène Vinaver, Ed., Oxford University Press; 2nd Edition, 1977,
7. Julyan Homes, An Dhargan a Verdhin: The Prophecy of Merlin by John of Cornwall, Cornish Language Board, 2nd Edition, 2001.
8. Ibid. Holmes claims that John's original source must date from 950 AD.
9. Michael J. Curley, A New Edition of John of Cornwall's Prophetia Merlini, Speculum 57, 1982, pp.217-249.
10. Michael A. Faletra, Merlin in Cornwall: The Source and Contexts of John of Cornwall’s Prophetia Merlini, Journal of English and Germanic Philology, Volume 111, 2012, pp. 304-338.
11. Oliver Padel, Cornish Place-Name Elements, English Place-Name Society, 1985.
12. Thomas Green, Arthuriana, The Lindes Press, 2009.

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Wednesday 21 December 2016

The Wild Hunt: A Midwinter Tale

“Right at the South end of South Cadbury Church stands Camelot. This was once a noted town or castle, set on a real peak of a hill, and with marvellously strong natural defences..... Roman coins of gold, silver and copper have been turned up in large quantities during ploughing there, and also in the fields at the foot of the hill, especially on the East side. Many other antiquities have also been found, including at Camelot, within memory, a silver horseshoe.” [John Leland, Itineray] 

Arthur's Hunting Causeway
On Midwinter Night Arthur and his knights are said to ride over the hill fort at South Cadbury, (Cadbury Castle) in Somerset and down through the ancient gateway where their horses drink at a spring beside Sutton Montis church. Whether or not they can be seen, their hoof beats can be heard. Below the hill are traces of an old track running towards Glastonbury, called Arthur's Causeway or Hunting Path, where the din of spectral riders and hounds goes past on winter nights.

This is Arthur leading the Wild Hunt, a folkloric theme common throughout northern Europe, generally described a noisy phantom group of huntsmen on horseback racing through the sky at night accompanied by a pack of spectral hounds. The hunt is said to occur on dark winter nights with a full moon, from Samhain until May Eve, peaking on the night of midwinter, the shortest day of the year.

The hunters may be either faery or the deceased, but the leader is often associated with the Germanic god Woden (Odin). Other leaders of the hunt include such figures as Herne the Hunter, King Herla and Wild Edric.  The Anglo Saxon Chronicle entry for the year 1127 records an apparent sighting of the Wildhunt:

“Let no one be surprised at what we are about to relate, for it was common gossip up and down the countryside that after February 6th many people both saw and heard a whole pack of huntsmen in full cry. They straddled black horses and black bucks while their hounds were pitch black with staring hideous eyes. This was seen in the very deer park of Peterborough town, and in all the woods stretching from that same spot as far as Stamford. All through the night monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Reliable witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been twenty or even thirty of them in this wild tantivy as near as they could tell.”

A 13th century French version, probably of Breton origin, is known as the Chasse Artu. The French tale records how a woodcutter met the Wild Hunt on a moonlight night near the Mont du Chat, so named from Arthur's fight with a monster cat. The woodcutter was told that the hunting-party was of Arthur's household and his court was nearby.

A similar tradition survives in southwest England where King Arthur is said to lead the Wild Hunt out from Glastonbury Tor along the trackway to South Cadbury. In the 16th century the King's antiquary John Leland recorded a memory of King Arthur and his Knights sleeping under the hill at Cadbury. Another local tradition claims that if one leaves a silver coin with one's horse on the trackway at Cadbury on Midsummer's Eve, the horse will be found to be re-shod in the morning.

The causeway, also known as King Arthur's Hunting Path, links the hill fort at South Cadbury directly to Glastonbury Tor in a straight line, 11 miles distant. Glastonbury Tor is the abode of that other well-known “conductor of souls to the place of the dead”, and leader of the Wild Hunt, Gwyn ap Nudd.

The Wild Hunt
Gwyn the Huntsman
Gwyn son of Nudd is in origin a Celtic deity, his name means “white, bright, shining” commonly associated with reference to Otherworldly, Sacred. He is son of Nudd, cognate with the Celtic deity Nodens, associated with healing, whose adoration in Britain is attested at the temple complex at Lydney Park in Gloucestershire, overlooking the Severn. At Lydney a number of stone or bronze statues of dogs have been found suggesting a connection with hunting. The dog is often found alongside Celtic deities linked with hunting and healing.

Gwyn's association with hunting may have led to his inclusion in Arthur's retinue in Culhwch and Olwen, in which he leads the hunt for the supernatural boar Twrch Trwyth.

In the medieval poem The Dialogue of Gwyn ap Nudd and Gwyddno Garanhir, from the 13th century compilation known as The Black Book of Carmarthen (Llyfr Du Caerfyrddin), Gwyn relates his exploits on the battlefield and his role as a psychopomp who gathers the souls of fallen British warriors:

“I have been where the soldiers of Britain were slain
From the east to the north
I am the escort of the grave.
I have been where the soldiers of Britain were slain.
From the east to the south
I am alive, they in death!”

His role as a psychopomp is paralleled in his role as leader of the Wild Hunt, in which he leads a pack of supernatural hounds known as the Cŵn Annwn to harvest human souls. In Welsh folklore, to hear the baying of Gwyn's hounds was a portent of an imminent death in the family. In The Dialogue poem Gwyn is also accompanied by a hound, named as 'Dormarth of the ruddy nose', and witnessed a conflict before Caer Vandwy, an Otherworldy fortress mentioned in the early Arthurian poem Preiddeu Annwn.

In later tradition Gwyn became known as the king of the Tylwyth Teg, and in The Life of Saint Collen he is again linked to Glastonbury Tor which seems to have been a portal to the Otherworld.

The Cŵn Annwn
In The First Branch of the Mabinogi Pwyll Prince of Dyfed is hunting at Glyn Cuch when he encounters another pack of hunting dogs which are of a colour he has never seen before on a pack of hunting dogs; they were a brilliant shining white, and their ears red; “and as the exceeding whiteness of the dogs glittered, so glittered the exceeding redness of their ears”. Pwyll had come across the dogs of Arawn king of Annwn, these are the Cŵn Annwn.

Another name for this phantasmal canine pack is 'Cŵn Mamau' (Hounds of the Mothers), or 'Cŵn Cyrff' (Corpse-Dogs); the Hounds of Annwn, the white, red-eared hounds of Celtic myth, were death omens, described as chained and led by a black-horned figure. These spectral dogs appeared only at night to foretell death, sent from Annwn to seek out corpses and human souls. Usually heard or seen in midwinter, the hounds are associated with the sounds of migrating wild geese. The howling of these demonic dogs is generally seen as a death portent to anyone who heard them.

In England they are known as the Gabriel Hounds, or 'Gabble Retchets'. These are essentially a regional variation of The Cŵn Annwn, and many others can be found across Northern Europe. In Dartmoor it is said you can hear the baying of the Wisht Hounds as they hunt for un-baptised babies. The legend of the Wisht hound is said to be the inspiration behind Conan Doyle's ‘Hound of the Baskervilles'. In the Parish of St Germans in Cornwall the legend of 'Dando's Dogs' tells how a priest became a demon huntsman.

Dormarth the Gatekeeper
In the poem The Dialogue of Gwyddno Garanhir and Gwyn ap Nudd, Gwyn tells us:

“handsome my dog and round-bodied,
And truly the best of dogs;
Dormach was he, which belonged to Maelgwn.

Dormach with the ruddy nose! what a gazer
Thou art upon me! because I notice
Thy wanderings on Gwibir Vynyd”  

Here the name of Gwyn's dog Dormath (Dormach), means “Death's Door” as such it relates to the ancient belief in dogs as guardians of the gateway to the Otherworld. For example, in Egyptian mythology, Wepwawet, whose name means “opener of the ways”, is often depicted as a wolf standing at the prow of a solar-boat; the basic Indo-European myth, of the dog that keeps watch over the realm of the dead. There are many more throughout the mythologies of the world.

The Glastonbury Zodiac is an envisaged circle, some eleven miles in diameter, of twelve giant effigies present in the Somerset landscape, each representing one of the signs of the zodiac first studied by Katharine Maltwood in the 1920s. Maltwood saw gigantic figures of the zodiac outlined by tracks, field boundaries and the courses of streams and rivers combining natural and man-made features and claimed it was the original of King Arthur's Round Table on which she first published anonymously in the 1930's.

Maltwood was inspired by Sebastian Evans 1898 translation of The High History of the Holy Grail. Originally written in the early 13th century in Old French and intended as a continuation of Chretien de Troyes' unfinished work Perceval, or the Story of the Grail. The author of the work is not recorded but toward the end it states:

“The Latin from whence this history was drawn into Romance was taken in the Isle of Avalon, in a holy house of religion that standeth at the head of the Moors Adventurous, there where King Arthur and Queen Guenievre lie”

From this Maltwood was convinced The High History was written at Glastonbury and  King Arthur's Round Table was a planisphere drawn on the Somerset landscape.

The Girt Dog of Langport (Mary Caine)
Situated outside the circle of the Zodiac, Maltwood saw the shape of a giant dog with its nose situated at Burrow Mump, its ear is at Earlake Moor, near Othery, and its tail at Wagg, with the course of the River Parrett forming the line of its belly. This is the Girt Dog of Langport. The Glastonbury Zodiac remains controversial but the Girt Dog is the most convincing landscape figure of them all.

The earliest reference to the dog is in a folk song sung at wassail time, which was first recorded in 1895 and published by Cecil Sharp in a collection of folk songs in 1909, yet, the Wassail tradition is an ancient one, still practised in Somerset.

Thus, the Girt Dog seemingly guards this star temple, the entrance to the Glastonbury Zodiac and Avalon, like Cerberus of Greek mythology, the watchdog at the entrance to Hades. As guardian to the entrance to Avalon the Girt Dog has been likened to Gwyn ap Nudd's dog Dormath; indeed, as we have seen, “Dormarth” means “Death's Door.

At 24 metres (79 ft) high, Burrow Mump is located where the River Tone and the old course of the River Cary join the River Parrett. In the surrounding low lying land of the Somerset Levels it is a an unusual high spot and has the appearance of being an artificial, man-made sighting point. On top of the mump is ruined chapel, dedicated to St Michael, built in the late 18th century on the site of an earlier church built in the 15th century, in turn thought to have been constructed over an early Saxon chapel.

Indeed, with the ruins of St Michael's Church on top of Burrow Mump it bears all the hallmarks of a miniature Glastonbury Tor, 11 miles distant. The alignment from Burrow Mump to Glastonbury Tor   aligns perfectly with the sunrise on 1st May and by extension, from Cornwall to Norfolk, has been termed the St Michael Line.

There is little doubt that the 'burrow' or 'mump', both words mean 'hill', has been shaped by the hand of man. The A361 road, from Glastonbury to Taunton, runs dead straight past Burrow Wall to circle around the Mump, the dog's nose, before crossing the river Parrett. The 'Mump' is geologically described as a natural outcrop of Triassic sandstone capped with Keuper Marl, typically red in colour.

The definition of “ruddy”, as in the description of Dormath's nose, is "healthy red colour", the same as the red clay of the artificial mound of Burrow Mump. So here we find a gigantic dog, the Girt Dog of Langport, with a red nose guarding the way to Avalon, bearing an uncanny similarity to Gwyn's dog, Dormarth, with the name meaning “Death's Door” also with a red nose.

The Somerset Parallelogram (after Nicholas Mann) - not to scale
Katherine Maltwood wrote that Alfred's fort at Athelney (Burrow Mump) and Camelot Castle of South Cadbury are both equidistant from the Isle of Avalon (Glastonbury), recognising this arrangement formed a closed triangle with two equal sides, 11 miles each. At each point stood a church dedicated to St Michael.

Significantly, the tip of the Girt Dog's, or Dormath's, nose sits at the end of another 11 mile line, exactly parallel to Arthur's Causeway, the line of the Wild Hunt, extending from Burrow Mump to Hamdon Hill near Montecute, and the intersection with the St Michael Line. Nicholas Mann plotted these points within an accuracy of 200 yards, that is within one percent. Linking these sites, Yuri Leitch has extended Maltwood's Triangle to a four-sided geometric pattern he describes as the Somerset Parallelogram. Surely this arrangement of four ancient sites, 11 miles equidistant, designated by a Gatekeeper Dog, is beyond coincidence?

Whether one believes in the Glastonbury Zodiac or not, surely Maltwood was correct when she suggested that “these ancient landmarks should reveal more than one lost secret.

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson

Bruce Lincoln , The Hellhound, in Death, War, and Sacrifice: Studies in Ideology & Practice, 1991
Alby Stone, Hellhounds, Werewolves and the Germanic Underworld, Mercian Mysteries, 1994.
Bob Trubshaw, Black dogs: guardians of the corpseways ,  Mercian Mysteries, 1994.
Yuri Leitch, The Maltwood Triangle in Signs & Secrets of the Glastonbury Zodiac, Avalonian Aeon Publications, 2013, pp.109-118.
Thomas Green, Concepts of Arthur, Tempus, 2008.
Katharine Maltwood, Guide to Glastonbury’s Temple of the Stars, James Clarke & Co, New Edition, 1987. (First published 1935).
Katharine Maltwood, The Enchantments of Britain: King Arthur's Round Table of the Stars, James Clarke & Co, New Edition, 1987. (First published c.1933).
Mary Caine, The Glastonbury Zodiac: Key to the Mysteries of Britain, (self published), 1979.
Jennifer Westwood, Albion: A Guide to the Legendary History of Britain, Grafton, 1985.
Nicholas R Mann, Glastonbury Tor: A Guide to the History and Legends, Triskele, 2nd Edition, 1993.

Edited 22/12/16
Updated 26/12/16

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Saturday 17 December 2016

Barlaston Hoard declared as Treasure

More rare artefacts found in Staffordshire fields declared treasure by County Coroner

A hoard of Roman coins found in a field in Barlaston has been ruled as treasure, a coroner has found. The majority of the find will now go on display at The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery in Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent, where there is already a permanent Staffordshire Hoard display.

The hoard was found by Stephen Squire of Barlaston who told North Staffordshire Coroner’s Court that he had been metal detecting with the owner's permission in a field near in his home village of Barlaston, Staffordshire, earlier in 2015. On this occasion he found a handful of coins, but when he returned to the site on 4th October 2015 he made a further discovery of more than 2,000 items, mainly coins but included a piece of copper alloy metal, an iron tool and a crucible of lead. Mr Squire duly reported the find to the British Archaeology liaison officer for the West Midlands.

The finds were then sent for analysis to Dr Richard Hobbs, curator at the British Museum in London. Dr Hobbs confirmed that 2,015 of the items were dated at around 37AD, making them of Roman origin – some of which were rare coins. Both The British Museum, who has expressed interest in acquiring three items, and The Potteries Museum are looking to set up exhibits using the treasure.

The last discovery of this size was in 2009 when ancient gold and silver val;ued at £3.3m was found in a field near Lichfield in 2009. The find, known as the Staffordshire Hoard, contained over 3,500 items of Anglo-Saxon martial decoration, predominantly sword pommels.

The Roman coins at Barlaston were discovered only three miles from the Lightwood Hoard discovered in  the  garden  of  698  Lightwood  Road, Stoke-on-Trent. The Lightwood Hoard was discovered in June 1960 by Mr J Allen who was digging in his garden when he came across a red-brown earthenware pot. Inside the pot were 2,461 coins, of which 1,739 were Roman and dated to the 3rd Century together with a further 722 coins of non-Roman origin, a pair of silver snake bracelets and part of a silver clasp. Mintmarks  indicated  that  the  hoard  was  buried after AD 276. The Lightwood Hoard is now on permanent display at the Potteries Museum.

Significantly, these hoards have been discovered not far from Roman Roads. The Lightwood Hoard was found approximately one mile south-west of Rykeneld Street and The Staffordshire Hoard was found buried in fields not far from Watling Street. In 2003 The Staffordshire Moorlands Pan, with an enamel-inlaid inscription encircling the pan listing four forts at the western end of Hadrian's Wall, was found in a field at Ilam, Staffordshire.

Under the Treasure Act 1996 all potential historic discoveries has to be reported to a coroner’s court to establish its status as treasure. Now officially declared as treasure the Barlaston Hoard will be formally valued by the Portable Antiquities Scheme's Treasure Valuation Committee. Mr Squire and the landowner have agreed to share the money.

Teresa Gilmore, finds liaison officer for the West Midlands, said: "The coins would likely have been a farmer's savings that he buried in the field or could have been a donation to the gods. We don't get many finds like this in the Staffordshire area."

Ms Gilmore urged Mr Squire to waive some of his fee to The Potteries Museum and Art Gallery, the recognised repository for archaeological finds from the county, to assist with their exhibit of the Barlaston Hoard due to open next summer.

The persisting mystery of these hoards is that someone went to the trouble to bury the treasure, presumably with the intention of retrieving it at some future point; but how they acquired it and why they never recovered it will never be known.

Haul of rare Roman coins uncovered in Barlaston field ruled as treasure - The Sentinel, 13 December 2016
Barlaston field yields more than 2,000 pieces of Roman treasure - Staffordshire Nerwsletter, 13 December 2016

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Monday 12 December 2016

San Galgano: The True Story of the Sword in the Stone

Is the 12th century sword embedded in the rock in the Montesiepi Rotunda, near the Abbey of San Galgano in Chiusdino, Tuscany, the Real Sword in the Stone that inspired Arthurian legend?

The Ruins of Sanctity
The ruins of religious houses are not an uncommon sight in England and Wales as a result of The Dissolution of the Monasteries during Henry VIII's split from Rome in the 16th century when his henchmen pulled down abbey after abbey. However, it is not such a common finding on the continent, but about 25 miles south-west of Sienna, Italy, in the isolated Valley of the River Merse, is the spectacular ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano (Abbazia di San Galgano).

San Galgano Abbey
San Galgano was the first Gothic abbey in Italy, built between 1224 and 1288, a daughter house of Casamari Abbey in the Province of Frosinone, Lazio, in turn a daughter house of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux's Abbey in northeastern France. As Tuscany's first full Gothic church the San Galgano Abbey was to be the model for the later Cathedral of Siena.

There was no 'Dissolution' in Italy, but the abbey of San Galgano started to fall in to decline from around the mid-15th century when the abbots became “Commendatari”, political appointees, who were at liberty to divert a portion of the abbey's revenues for their own private use.

The bells are said to have gone by the 16th century, when the abbot, Girolamo Vitelli, then in charge of just five monks, sold the last of the Abbey's possessions, including the lead from the abbey roof. Removal of the roof was a primary cause of structural decay and one of the first acts of the Royal Commissioners during the Dissolution as evidenced in the abbey ruins across England and Wales, immediately rendering the abbey largely unusable, thus the abandoned building quickly becoming an open quarry for local builders.

By the 17th century San Galgano Abbey was abandoned. In the early 18th century the 36 metre high bell-less tower collapsed bringing down a large part of the unprotected rotting roof timbers and masonry. However, from the beginning of the 20th century restoration and maintenance work was carried out so that today the ruins of the Cistercian Abbey of San Galgano are one of the most popular attractions of Tuscany.

The Hermitage on the Hill
The original nucleus of the Cistercian monastic complex at San Galgano was the Romanesque Hermitage on the hill of Montesiepi above the Abbey in the Merse valley. The Hermitage, also known as the Montesiepi Rotunda, was built between 1182 and 1185 as the mausoleum of Saint Galgano (1148-1181) shortly after his death, over the hut where he spent the last year of his life. At the centre of the Rotunda is the stone where Galgano planted his sword. As tales of cures at the site spread the little circular chapel on the hill soon become a magnet for pilgrims seeking miracles.

Monteseipi Rotunda
The circular church of the Montesiepi Rotunda is said to emulate the ancient Etruscan tombs of Vetulonia and Volterra, but the architect was seemingly inspired by Castel Sant'Angelo (the tomb of the Roman Emperor Hadrian). A roof was later constructed over the semi-spherical dome at Montesiepi, hiding it from external view but providing a spectacular internal view of 24 concentric circles of alternating white stone and terracotta forming the chapel ceiling, reminiscent of the Dome of the Pantheon in Rome, a spiral ascending to Heaven. To the Medieval knight the dome of the Montesiepi Rotunda must have been reminiscent of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem which was enclosed during the time of the Crusades within a Rotunda.

By the early 1200's a brick and stone atrium was built onto the circular chapel, with cornice decorated with human and bovine heads. By the 1300's the bell tower was added. As the cult of Saint Galgano grew, the Rotunda was embellished by the nobility with the addition of a ogival-style  brick Chapel on the north side around 1340. Frescoes were added to the interior by by the Sienese  master Ambrogio Lorenzetti, some of his work here has been restored and is still visible today.

Lorenzetti chapel Maestà
The paintings cover all sides of the so-called Lorenzetti chapel on two levels. The main feature is a Maestà; the Virgin Mary is enthroned with the infant Jesus surrounded by Angels and Saints. Eve lies at her feet holding a scroll. In addition to Saints Peter, Paul and the two Johns, Pope Lucius III the Saints depicted in the Maestà include two men dressed in white robes (cuccula) identified as the Cistercian monks St. Robert from Molesme and St. Bernardo of Clairvaux, with St. Guglielmo (William) from Malavalle, the hermit from whom St. Galgano drew his inspiration and whose life shares many similarities.

Galgano offers the sword in the stone to the Archangel Michael
Another fresco in the Lorenzetti chapel shows a young St. Galgano offering the Archangel Michael a sword embedded in a stone. The Archangel in turn beckons the young man towards the Maestà where Mary, the infant Jesus and the Saints await.

Over time the Hermitage of Montesiepi eventually became too small for the increasing numbers of pilgrims to the site. As a consequence, in 1218, the Bishop of Volterra commissioned the construction of a new Abbey in the plain below, just five minutes walk downhill from the Hermitage.

The Legend of Saint Galgano
Who was this Tuscan Saint who's life inspired the building of such beautiful buildings and paintings on this remote hill at  Montesiepi? 

Galgano was born at Chiusdino near Sienna, Tuscany, in the year 1148 to a noble family, son of an illiterate feudal lord, Guidotto Guidotti and his wife Dionisia. As a young knight he spent his days hunting and generally abusing the abundances that wealth brought, Galgano was well known for his arrogance, selfishness and thirst for trouble, his parents tried every means to bring him back to the right path. When Galgano's father died he moved to Sienna to a home better suited to his lifestyle of entertainment and passion. During this time he experienced his first vision of the Archangel Michael. In this vision he also saw his mother to whom St Michael was speaking, encouraging her to consent to her son joining the heavenly militia. Galgano saw his mother bow and nod her consent, then saw himself follow the footsteps of St Michael.

After this vision Galgano grew restless in Sienna and returned to his mother's home at Chiusdino and for the following five years was said to have led an obscure and penitent life. It was during this period that Galgano experienced his second vision of St Michael. The Archangel told Galgano he should embark on the path to Montesiepi, a solitary hill top covered in thick forest about four miles from Chiusdino. Once there he should offer up every worldly comfort as a sacrifice for his past sins.

On hearing of this vision Galgano's mother was disturbed at the prospect of loosing her son in her advancing years and wanted him to maintain the family succession. On taking counsel with her relatives they determined that they should find him a wife, such a young lady that Galgano would not be able to refuse.

About 20 miles from Chiusdino lived a very wealthy man by the name of Antonnio Brizzi in a grand castle at Civitella Marittima. He had a beautiful daughter named Polissena who was to be Galgano's bride and his mother's hope of keeping Galgano from Montesiepi. Galgano resisted his family's intentions for a long time but eventually agreed to see Polissena, forgetting the calling of the Archangel.

Galgano set out for Civitella Marittima when, about 4 miles from Chiusdino, in the plain of Morella his horse suddenly stopped and refused to go any further. Galgano dismounted and fell to his knees, recognising his failure he pleaded for forgiveness when the Archangel Michael appeared to him again and commanded that he followed him to Montesiepi where he should do harsh penance. From that moment on Galgano was enrolled in the army of Heaven. In the vision the Archangel guided him down a narrow and difficult path to Montesiepi where he was eventually greeted by the twelve apostles in front of a circular-shaped temple.

Inside the Rotunda
Overwhelmed Galgano drew his sword and said, “How you deign O merciful Lord to show such favour to a miserable sinner! Ah, but I could more easily plunge my sword into this stone, than obtain forgiveness for my many sins.” Galgano then thrust his sword into the rock until the whole of the blade was immersed up to the hilt forming a cross and altar to pray at. The sword was driven so deeply and with such great force, that only the handle remained visible on the surface of the rock, and is still there today, some 800 years later.

From the first day of December in 1180 this isolated place on Montesiepi, about 25 miles from the monastic community founded by Guglielmo of Malavalle, became Galgano's residence as a hermit. Disciples soon followed him there but he found ruling them was troublesome. During 1181 he visited the seven churches of Rome and then Pope Alexander III to discuss the problem, but he never found the solution as he did not survive the harsh life of a hermit following his return to the hermitage at Montesiepi; after falling ill, Galgano died on the 3rd December.

On hearing of Galgano's visit to Rome the bishops of Massa and Volterra scaled the summit of the Montesiepi to visit the hermitage. As they approached they saw Galgano kneeling down. Assuming the hermit was in deep prayer they stood back so as not to disturb him. After sometime they made some noise but Galgano remained motionless. They entered the hermit's hut to find him still and cold, he had passed away. They buried Galgano next to his sword at Montesiepi. As news of Galgano's death spread people began to journey to Montesiepi. Miracles were soon reported at the site; a leper was instantly cured and a woman's injured son was healed; soon visitors were proclaiming the sanctity of Galgano.

As we have seen above, the Romanesque round church, the Montesiepi Rotunda, was built between 1182 and 1185, within five years of Galgano's death, enclosing Galgano's tomb and his sword stuck in the rock. A Papal commission was set up in 1185 and Galgano was canonised by 1190. In that same year the Cistercians took control of Montesiepi and most of Galgano's followers then left the hill top spreading throughout Tuscany becoming Augustinian hermits. By 1220 the Cistercians built a large monastery (San Galgano Abbey) beneath the hill of the hermitage and claimed Galgano as a Cistercian Saint with Feast day on 3rd December.

The miracles claimed at Galgano's tomb attracted many pilgrims along the Via Francigena, the ancient route of pilgrimage that in medieval times connected Canterbury to Rome and on to Jerusalem via the ports of Puglia (Apulia) at the 'heel' of Italy. Indeed, the Via Francigena is first documented in the Actum Clusio, a 9th century parchment in the nearby Abbey of San Salvatore in Sienna.

A time later Galgano's body was exhumed by the faithful who wanted relics of the Saint's body. The head and face was found to be incorrupt and the blond hair still growing. The head was severed from the body and kept in the chapel and spent time on the altar of the Abbey were it was venerated for many years. The remains of the body were placed in a lead sealed casket and re-interred. Frequently Galgano's relics were carried through Sienna in procession. Around the year 1300 the relics are said to have been placed in the monastery of St Prosper of Sienna where Polissena, the bride promised to Galgano, was vested as a nun. The head remained here for a short time before being taken to the cathedral. In 1477 the head was returned to the Abbey of San Galgano at the request of the monks there. In 1550 the head was brought to the church and monastery of St Mary of the Angels by the Porta Romana, where it rests today. The hair is said to have been cut many times for relics yet always grown back as attested by Gregory Lombardelli's life of San Galgano, published 1577.

The True Sword in the Stone? 
Today the Hermitage of  Montesiepi houses one of the most enigmatic relics of the entire Tuscany region: the sword in the stone of Saint Galgano. At the centre of the tiled floor of the Rotunda is the famous sword of Galgano set in a block of rock.

Galgano's sword
From the 18th century up to current times, Galgano's sword in the stone was considered a fake, just a local medieval legend. But all doubts about the authenticity of the sword have been swept away when scientists from the University of Pavia, led by Luigi Garlaschelli, carried out a study on the sword and found the metallurgy was of typical 12th century composition, with no trace of modern alloys. The cavity in the rock follows the outline of the blade exactly, a feat entirely beyond medieval technology; indeed, even a sword manufactured today could not produce such an exact entrance into the boulder.

Garlaschelli's team also located a cavity beneath the rock where it is conjectured that the Saint's body may lie. Carbon-dating confirmed that two mummified hands in the Rotunda at Montesiepi also date from the 12th century.

The sword in the stone in the Rotunda at Montesiepi is indeed an enigma in its own right. But aside from the sword itself, there is another extraordinary aspect to this story. The sight is evocative to say the least and immediately brings to mind the well-known legend of King Arthur drawing the sword from the stone to prove his rightful kingship.

The 'Sword in the Stone' is one of the most well known episodes of the Arthurian legend but its origins remain a mystery: no satisfactory provenance is yet known; it did not derive from the Celtic west and, as much as some authors may try, no satisfactory parallel exists among the eastern tribes of the Steppes. As such the 'Sword in the Stone' is entirely absent from the earliest Arthurian tales such as The Spoils of Annwn, Culhwch and Olwen, Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, and the chronicles of Wace and Layamon.

We must therefore consider the possibility that the Arthurian legend of the Sword in the Stone could have originated from Montesiepi in Tuscany and later transmitted via pilgrim routes, such as the Via Francigena, to France and introduced in to the famous legend of King Arthur by writers of Arthurian Romance. This is a plausible hypothesis: Galgano's cross-shaped sword has been proven to date back to around 1170; the sword in the stone does not enter Arthurian Romance until the work of the Burgundian poet Robert de Boron in his tale entitled 'Merlin', c.1200. It then appears in just about every account thereafter to the last great Arthurian tale by Sir Thomas Malory. Could this be the origin of the Sword in the Stone from the Arthurian legend?

Galgano's journey, described as Dantean by Franco Cardini (Arthur in Hagiography: The Legend of San Galgano), along a narrow and difficult path, across a raging river, through a cave to emerge at Monteseipi has been compared to Lancelot's crossing of the Sword Bridge in Chrétien de Troyes' Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart (le Chevalier de la Charrette) where the river below it is swift and fierce, black and raging like a whirlpool in a storm. Chrétien's version was written between 1175 and 1181, but the earliest tale of the abduction of Guinevere appears in the early 12th-century Life of Gildas by Caradoc of Llancarfan. This ancient myth of abduction and the hero's journey to the Otherworld to retrieve his lover can be found in Orpheus and Eurydice, the abduction of Europa and the Rape of Persephone.

But this is not legend, it is history; the account of Galgano and the sword is gleaned from the hearing of the canonisation of Galgano. Indeed, Galgano was the first saint of the Church to receive a formal process of beatification, which included a public debate and testimonies from witnesses.

The Acts of beatification, which include the story of the sword in the stone, are dated c.1185, several years before the tale entered Arthurian Romance, which as we have seen above has no known provenance. Could St Galgano's tale be the origin of the Sword in the Stone?

The True Sword in the Stone?
Indeed, a study by the Italian medieval historian Mario Moiraghi argues that the story of St Galgano and his sword is the origin of the myth of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, predating Chrétien’s 'Story of the Grail' and identical to Wolfram von Eschenbach's story of 'Parsival' on more than 30 specific points.

Moiraghi claims Galgano's story was embellished by medieval troubadours as it spread from Tuscany. Moiraghi adds that the name Galgano bears a close resemblance to 'Galvano' (later Gawain), the first Knight, who often appears in the early Arthurian legends possessing the mystical sword Excalibur, Arthur's nephew and at one time his ambassador to Rome.

Moiraghi said that the testimony of Dionisa, St. Galgano's mother, delivered to the panel of cardinals considering his canonization, before 1190, contains a set of facts identical to the legend of Perceval, and the Story of the Grail, the knight who overcomes all obstacles, the central role of the sword, including all the essential elements of the Round Table myth. Moiraghi's theory that the legend of San Galgano predates rather than copies the story of Arthur is supported by the tests carried out by Luigi Garlaschelli on the sword.

It must be admitted that the story of Saint Galgano does contain many of the essential elements of the earliest Grail stories. The Rotunda at Monteseipi has been described as an inverted chalice, an allusion to the Holy Grail, or perhaps the Round Table. In addition we have a Hermit's chapel which we find in the Grail stories (Perlesevaus) and a severed head on a platter as one of the Grail Hallows (Peredur, the Welsh version of Chretien de Troyes).

Is it possible the Arthurian legend had spread to Tuscany and influenced the tale of Saint Galgano?The Modena carving (before 1136) and the Otranto mosaic (c.1165) are evidence of at least oral transmission of the Matter of Britain to Southern Italy prior to Saint Galgano's exploits. Yet, there is no evidence of Arthurian literature in Tuscany before Galgano.

Although Galgano, or Galganus, may be a corruption of Galvanus, the Italian name of the Grail hero Gawain, and this may well be the precursor to the legend of The Sword in The Stone, the name 'Galgano' was quite popular in Tuscany. And we must consider the possibility that the name may be a corruption of 'Gargano' as in Monte Sant' Angelo Gargana, Puglia, where the first recorded apparition of St Michael the Archangel occurred in 492 AD.

Copyright © 2016 Edward Watson

Torchj Dei Gius Galetti, The True Story of the Sword in the Stone: A Compendium on the Life of St. Galgano, translated from the Italian edition of 1835 by Ryan Grant, Mediatrix Press, 2014.
David Farmer, Oxford Dictionary of Saints, Oxford University Press, Fifth revised edition 2011.
Vito Albergo, San Galgano Abbey, Padplaces, 2015.
Mario Moiraghi, L’enigma di san Galgano, (The Enigma of San Galgano. The sword in the stone between history and myth), Àncora, 2003. (in Italian)
Franco Cardini, Arthur in Hagiography: The Legend of San Galgano, in Arthurian Literature of the Italians, edited by F. Regina Psaki and Gloria Allaire, Wales University Press, 2014.

Edited 13/12/16

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Monday 5 December 2016

Earliest known monastic life in UK uncovered at Beckery Chapel

The remains of seven individuals unearthed at Beckery Chapel, near Glastonbury in Somerset, during excavations in May by the South West Heritage Trust have been dated to the 5th or early 6th Century AD. Director of excavations Dr Richard Brunning hailed the discovery as the earliest archaeological evidence for monasticism in the UK, predating Iona Abbey in Scotland, founded in the late 6th Century, and nearby Glastonbury Abbey, which dates from the 7th Century.

Dr Brunning envisaged a small community of monks at Beckery, more like a large hermitage living  in a few basic buildings constructed of wattle and daub, nothing grand made of stone. The earliest monks died between 425 to 579 AD with burials continuing at Beckery until the early 9th Century AD. Further tests are planned to establish if the people buried in the cemetery were local or from distant areas.

Beckery Excavations May 2016 (South West Heritage Trust)
Excavations have revealed that a small Chapel or Oratory existed at Beckery on the western side of Glastonbury. It was first dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, but later known by the name of St. Brigid. Said to be in ruins by the late 18th century, today there is no visible indication of the site of this chapel above ground. St Bridget's chapel was situated on the highest part of Beckery Hill, or “island” in a field called Chamberlains Hill.

In the 12th century William of Malmesbury (De Antiquitate) and John of Glastonbury (Cronica), 14th century, claim that St Brigid visited Glastonbury in 488 AD. Significantly, this date is very close to the traditional date of the saint's founding of the Kildare Monastery in 490 AD. The interpolated edition of William's De Antiquitate states that St Brigid stayed at Beckery.  When she returned to Ireland she left behind some relics, her bell, wallet and weaving instruments that were apparently kept at the chapel. However, the earliest Lives of St. Brigid make no mention of her coming to Glastonbury.

The site at Beckery has been investigated twice before, once by the local antiquarian John Morland in the 1880’s and then in the late 1960's by Philip Rahtz.

Morland exposed two phases of stone foundations of the chapel and the adjacent priest's house. The foundations were explored in 1887-8 and proved to be those of two chapels, one within the other. Finds of tiles and two silver coins suggest a 13th century date for the outer and later chapel, and although nothing was found to test the age of the inner foundations, the extremely massive walls of this tiny chapel would be comparable with Saxon work. One inhumation burial orientated with head to the west and without a coffin, appeared to predate both chapels. About 20ft to the north-east are the foundations of an apparently later building.

Beckery Excavations May 2016 (South West Heritage Trust)
Beckery Chapel and a small part of the neighbouring priest's house were excavated by Philip Rahtz in 1967-1968, unearthing around 60 skeletons. Some prehistoric flints and pottery, together with a few Roman artefacts were found, but Rahtz identified three main phases of settlement:

The first phase consisted of post-Roman or Anglo-Saxon activity. A possible timber structure, which contained a cist grave, (HB18) could have been either a chapel or merely a tomb-shrine. No definite plan could be defined, but there were three areas where post-holes concentrated. A cemetery was found containing at least 63 skeletons, all male apart from one woman and two children, some graves being cut by a ditch, together with wattle and daub structure, dated tentatively to the middle Anglo-Saxon period. Carbon-dating of HB18 returned a range of between 765 AD - 730 AD.

The second phase Rahtz dated to the Anglo-Saxon period and early medieval to 13th century when the first stone chapel was constructed. This chapel continued in use until the 13th century. A wall parallel to the south wall of the nave may be connected with the dedication of a “penitent's crawl” into the chapel. John of Glastonbury wrote of a hole in the south wall of the chapel through which people would crawl for forgiveness of their sins.

The final phase in which activity spanned from the late 13th century to the 15th century. The chapel was rebuilt of blue lias with mortared course masonry with deep foundations, enclosing the earlier chapel almost completely.

Rahtz concluded that Beckery was a minor monastic site, possibly with a holy shrine, in existence from Anglo-Saxon times until the Dissolution. He found no evidence that there was any activity on the site in the 5th or 6th centuries, when according to legend, the site was visited by St Brigid who reputedly left some of her relics there, which subsequently became a place of pilgrimage. Hence, the Irish name for Beckery (Bec-Eriu) means ‘Little Ireland’.

The effect of this new discovery by South West Heritage Trust on the Glastonbury Legend, which claims that Joseph of Arimathea founded the first Christian church in England, is yet to be realised. Tradition claims Joseph founded a Christian community at the site of Glastonbury Abbey. However, no archaeological evidence of a 1st century early Christian community has ever been found at the site.

This new dating evidence places the first Christian community at Beckery firmly in the days of the legendary King Arthur who Medieval Glastonbury sources claim witnessed a vision of the Virgin Mary and the infant Jesus at the chapel. And isotope studies will reveal these first monks came from Ireland. It seems a re-write is due.

Beckery Chapel near Glastonbury 'earliest known UK monastic life' - BBC Somerset 5 December 2016

Edited 06/12/16

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