Sunday 26 February 2017

The Artognou Stone

“No evidence whatever has been found to support the legendary connection of the castle with King Arthur. The earliest reference to this connection is in the works of Geoffrey of Monmouth, who wrote when the first Norman castle was being built. Probably the then existing ruins of the Celtic monastery suggested to him that there was an earlier settlement on the site, and the rest was supplied by his vivid imagination”. - CA Ralegh Radford, Tintagel Castle, (1935).

The Cell by the Sea  
Geoffrey of Monmouth tells the tale of how Gorlois, the Duke of Cornwall, on realising that Utherpendragon had fallen in love with his wife Ygerna, had her locked up in his strongest castle at Tintagel. He then shut himself up in another castle within sight of Tintagel, known as Damelioc. With the aid of Merlin's magic Utherpendragon entered the castle at Tintagel and seduced Ygerna. That night Arthur was conceived.

Arthur has been associated with Tintagel since Geoffrey wrote his “History of the Kings of Britain” c.1136; there is a complete absence of an earlier Cornish tradition from which Geoffrey could have based his account on, leaving many to conclude that the Arthurian events at Tintagel in his work were purely his own invention. After Geoffrey, Arthur's association with Tintagel quickly fades from the Romances and the connection is limited to the tales of 'Tristan and Iseult' as the seat of King Mark of Cornwall.

Tintagel Castle
The Cornish historian Henry Jenner believed that Geoffrey introduced Tintagel Castle into the story because of its dramatic setting upon the high cliffs of the north Cornish coast. At the time Geoffrey wrote there is no evidence of the medieval castle which was not built until 1230, nearly a hundred years later. Jenner maintained that the original version of the story refers to Castle-An-Dinas, near St Columb Major, and that the only Damelioc in Cornwall is in St Dennis in sight of Castle-An-Dinas.

The Iron Age hill-fort of Castle-an-Dinas is situated some 700 feet above sea-level, consisting of three concentric rings of 850 feet diameter, with a single entrance on the south-western side. Two Bronze Age barrows are situated in the interior. Since the 15th century the earthwork has been associated with the Arthurian legend; William of Worcester claimed that the hill-fort was the place where Gorlois, Duke of Cornwall, died. The hill-fort is also known as 'Arthur’s Hunting Lodge’ (or Hunting Seat) from which Arthur rode out across Goss Moor. A stone in St Columb was said to bear the footprint that Arthur's horse made whilst he was out hunting.

Three miles south of Castle-An-Dinas, is a conical hill crowned by a small circular fort enclosing the Church of St Dennis, the old name of which was 'Dimelihoc' (clearly Geoffrey's Damelioc), now known as Domellick. Castle-an-Dinas is clearly visible from here whereas Tintagel is not, being some twenty miles distant. It would seem Jenner was correct.

Following Jenner, excavations at Tintagel by Courtenay Arthur Ralegh Radford in the 1930s and 1950s interpreted the Headland as an early Christian monastic settlement with no Arthurian associations, a view that endured for nearly fifty years before historians began to seriously question Ralegh Radford's interpretation.

He referenced the excavation Sites on the Headland as A, B, C, etc, with the first being the site of the earliest buildings of the Celtic monastery. Site A consists of a medieval chapel built across Post Roman buildings. These earlier buildings Ralegh Radford considered to be the site of the nucleus of the cult of the Celtic Saint Juliot, the medieval chapel being built across the Saint's cell. To the south-west of the chapel is the base of a tomb-shrine, a type well-known in Ireland used to contain sacred relics. North of the chapel Ralegh Radford identified four shallow, rock-cut graves that he considered to be evidence of the monastic cemetery.

St Juliot's chapel
The absence of a substantial communal hall, such as that unearthed at Cadbury Castle hillfort in Somerset, precludes the possibility that the site represented the seat of a Dark Age chieftain claimed Ralegh Radford. The modest dwellings on such an exposed and desolate location, together with an oratory dedicated to a 5th century missionary Saint wholly conforms to what was known of a typical early British settlement (monasteria) he argued. Ralegh Radford saw 'The Great Ditch' as defining the landward boundary of the monastery, forming the vallum monasterium and seems to have disregarded it in the context of a typical promontory hillfort.

The 'Lives' of several Irish saints refer to a site, known as 'Rosnat' where they would go to study theology and sacred scripture, that was clearly across the sea in Britain. The location of Rosnat has continued to elude historians but Galloway in Scotland and St Davids in Wales were favoured possibilities. In the early 1970's Cornish historian Charles Thomas speculated that if a Cornish monastery, perhaps associated with Mawgan, did indeed exist at Tintagel it could have been Rosnat which is always described as south-east from Ireland.

The ecclesiastical interpretation offered by Ralegh Radford, himself an Arthurian since his father (Arthur Lock Radford) took him to visit Bligh Bond's excavations at Glastonbury in 1910, was a considerable shift from the then current thought that saw Tintagel as an Arthurian site since it was popularised as such by poets such as Alfred Lord Tennyson and Robert Stephen Hawker, the eccentric parson poet from Morwenstow, during the Arthurian Revival of the Victorian Age.

Ralegh Radford never completed a full report of his Tintagel excavations; his lack of documentation and his monastic interpretation of the site were viewed with some suspicion; an enormous amount of 5th and 6th-century pot-shards, originating from the Mediterranean and Byzantine world, have been uncovered at Tintagel; more than almost all other sites in Britain combined. It seems highly unlikely that a monastery would be that involved in trade on such a scale. Indeed, the pottery evidence suggests a high status site.

The Song of the Western Men
In 1983 a grass fire on the island plateau exposed a much larger number of building foundations, casting further doubt on Ralegh Radford's monastic reading of the island.

English Heritage employed Professor Chris Morris to re-evaluate Ralegh Radford's excavations. Morris led a team of archaeologists from Glasgow University, embarking on an excavation program from 1990-99. The site of the east terrace, known as Ralegh Radford's Site C where the low remains of stone walls identified a building consisting of three connected rooms, was included in Morris's program for excavation.

Tintagel, the Headland (copyright English Heritage)
On 4th July 1998 the archaeologists discovered a broken slate 35cm by 20cm bearing an inscription. The stone (designated RF3486) was found used as a cover for a drain running around the south-western corner of a building on Site C in an undisturbed 6th century layer on the east terrace of the Headland. The inscription bears the letters: PATER COLI AVI FICIT ARTOGNOU COL[I] FICIT which Charles Thomas translated as “Artognou, father of a descendant of Coll, has had this made”. It is claimed that the name “Artognou” would have been pronounced as “Arthnou” hence the tenuously claimed link to the legendary King Arthur. The little-known name “Arthnou” is recorded in Brittany in the 9th century and may have been a Brittonic name in use in south-west Britain as well as across the Channel. The graffito may be evidence of a scribe simply practising on a small redundant slate prior to making the full inscription, if he ever completed one.

At the time of the discovery of the inscribed slate Geoffrey Wainwright, speaking for English Heritage, declared that while the King Arthur of medieval Romance did not exist, Arthur the Dark Age warlord who fought battles in the 6th century was a historical reality. Wainwright described the discovery at the find of a lifetime and saw it as evidence for the historical Arthur, “close enough to Arthur to refer to the legendary warrior king”.

A media frenzy ensued with newspaper headlines declaring that evidence of King Arthur had been found at Tintagel. A later newspaper article soon declared the find a hoax citing a Plymouth man who claimed to have inscribed the slate with a pair of compasses during a school trip to Tintagel in 1980. The hoax has since been disproven as the slate was discovered in undisturbed layers of earth deposited in the 6th century by the project officer and supervisor Kevin Brady. Further, surely a hoaxer would have inscribed the name “Arthur” not something obscure but similar sounding.

Above the “Artognou” inscription is part of an earlier inscription, given little publicity at the time of discovery, but initially interpreted as the deeply incised letters “VAXE”, possibly the tail-end of an inscription in classical form. Microscopic examination has revealed that the `ARTOGNOU' inscription post-dates this inscription.

The upper text consisting of four larger letters is typical late Roman period. Letter 1 cannot be 'V' as it has two descenders and is therefore said be either 'II' or 'H'. Letter 2 has been identified as 'A' and letter 3 as 'V' with an unusual downward prolongation. It is suggested that Letter 4 posses a downward hook on its lower terminal making it a letter 'G' of the type known as a 'sickle-G'. It should be read as Roman capitals, either 'II A V G' or 'H A V G'.

Accepting that letters 2 to 4 read as 'AVG' this would give the conventional abbreviation of the Imperial title 'Augustus' as found on Roman-British milestones of the late 3rd and early 4th centuries.
With letter 1 = 'II' this suggests the upper inscription should be read as [LEGIO] II AVG [VSTA], the Second Legion Augusta.

In the 1st century AD Legio II Augusta participated in the Roman invasion of Britain under the command of Vespasian. From 55 AD the Legion was stationed at Isca Dumnoniorum, Roman Exeter, presumably patrolling the lands of Dumnonia (Devon and Cornwall). About Twenty years later the Legion moved to Glevum (Gloucester) before being transferred to Isca Silurum (modern day Caerleon) in south Wales shortly after. Under Septimius Severus much of the II Augusta moved to Scotland in 208 AD. The last record of II Augusta is in the Notitia Dignitatum which lists the Legion at Rutupiae (Richborough, Kent) under the command of the Count of the Saxon Shore; Isca Silurum by then abandoned.

The evidence for a Roman presence at Tintagel in the 1st century AD therefore is slight, calling into question the validity of the interpretation of the upper text as a reference to Legio II Augusta. However, later Roman period activity at Tintagel cannot be ruled out.

In 1981 re-examination of ceramics found on the Tintagel Headland pre-1938 among Ralegh Radford's collection identified Oxford Red Colour Coated ware, widely distributed across Roman Britain during the 3rd and 4th centuries AD that had been incorrectly identified as post-Roman imports (Phocaen Red slipped ware). Furthermore, during Ralegh Radford's 1955 re-excavation of landward side of the Great Ditch a small coin hoard was discovered in a rock cleft. Ten Roman coins were found in a shrivelled leather drawstring purse dating from Tretricus (270-74 AD) to Constantius II as Augustus (337-61 AD).

The Artognou Stone
In consideration of the above, the first letter of the upper text of slate RF3486 is more likely to be 'H' which would give 'HAVG' and possibly an Imperial inscription 'H[onorius] AVG[ustus]'. The emperor Honorius was Augustus from 393 to 423 AD. This may indicate the slate was used as an notice or label on an official structure on the Headland around 400 AD which was still regarded as being within Imperial administration, perhaps related to the trade of Cornish tin.

Once the building went out of use with the termination of the Roman governance of Britain the slate would have become redundant, later inscribed with the second text relating to Artognou, Paternus and Coliauus, demonstrating the continued use of Latin in the southwest of Britain after the Romans, before finally being trimmed to fit as a drain cover in the 6th century.

The absence of any convincing archaeological evidence has led to the collapse of the ecclesiastical interpretation of post-Roman Tintagel. The Headland is now referred to as a “high status secular site” seasonally occupied by the kings of Dumnonia. A series of earth mounds around the parish church, dedicated to Saint Materiana, six hundred yards along the north Cornish cliffs on the mainland, may be the Royal burial site.

A new program of archaeological investigations at Tintagel has already declared the discovery of a 'Dark Age' high status building on the Headland in July 2016. The media circus that followed declared it as the discovery of King Arthur's palace. However, as with the inscribed 'Artognou' slate, this is not evidence for Arthur.

Ralegh Radford may have been wrong about the Celtic Monastery, but he was right about Arthur. 

Copyright © 2017 Edward Watson

R C Barrowman, C Batey, C D Morris et al, Excavations at Tintagel Castle, Cornwall, 1990-1999, The Society of Antiquities of London, 2007.
O J Padel, Geoffrey of Monmouth and Cornwall, CMCS 8, 1984, pp.1-27.
O J Padel, Some South-Western Sites with Arthurian Associations, pp.229-234, in R Bromwich et al, The Arthur of the Welsh, University of Wales Press, 1991.
CA Ralegh Radford, Tintagel Castle, HMSO (1935), Second edition 1939.
CA Ralegh Radford and Michael J Swanton, Arthurian Sites in the West, University of Exeter Press, (1975), Revised edition 2002, pp.26-37.
Charles Thomas, Rosnat, Rostat, and the Early Irish Church, Ériu 22 (1971), pp.100–106.

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Sunday 12 February 2017

The Complete King Arthur

Few legends have had the enduring influence of those surrounding King Arthur. Many believe the stories are based on historical truth. For others Arthur represents the archetype of the brilliant monarch reigning over a fairy-tale kingdom, offering his knights the opportunity to prove their mettle in battle and find gnostic illumination through initiation into sacred mysteries like that of the Grail.

John and Caitlín Matthews have been studying the Arthurian legends and their background for more than 40 years. Recognised authorities on myths and legends of the Celtic tradition, they are the prolific authors of more than one hundred books on myth, faery, the Arthurian Legends and Grail Studies, including 'Arthur of Albion', 'The Arthurian Tradition', 'The Grail Tradition', 'The Grail Seeker’s Companion', 'Merlin: Shaman, Prophet, Magician', 'Taliesin: The Last Celtic Shaman', 'Sir Gawain, Knight of the Goddess', 'King Arthur's Raid on the Underworld'.

Their latest book "The Complete King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero" presents the culmination of those many years of research in the Arthurian legend, in which the authors examine the historical and mythological evidence for every major theory about the existence of Arthur, piecing together the many fragments that constitute his image.

This new book promises to be a comprehensive examination of the historical and mythological evidence for every major theory about King Arthur, examining 1,800 years of evidence for Arthur’s life and the famous series of 12 battles fought against the Saxons in the 6th century.

In the "The Complete King Arthur" the Matthews' reconstruct the history of 6th century Britain, the period when the first references to Arthur and the core events of his reign appear. The book will explore the history of every Arthur candidate and the geographical arguments that have placed him in different locations,

Examining other literary figures from the 5th century such as Vortigern and Ambrosius, the authors also break down the plots of all the major Arthurian romances, including those by Chretien de Troyes, Sir Thomas Malory, and Robert de Boron, to reveal the historical events they are based on.


Arthur of the Battles 

"So where did Arthur of the Battles originate? There is a poem in the Book of Taliesin that gives us a clue to his antecedents and makes powerful sense. Already mentioned in chapter 1, where it has been seen as complementary evidence for the Roman origins of Arthur, “Kadeir Teyrnon” may also support the antecedents of a fifth-century northern Arthur. The poem discusses the ruler of Britain as a man born and bred on the Wall as well as one militarily qualified to its supervision. 

Declare the clear ode 
In inspiration’s own metre: 
A man sprung of two authors, 
Of a cavalry wing’s steel. 
His spear and his wisdom, 
His judicious course, 
His kingly sovereignty 
His assault over the Wall, 
His rightful seat Amongst the defenders of the Wall. . . . 

From the slaughter of chieftains, 
From the destruction of armies, 
From the loricated legion, 
Sprang the Guledic, 
Around the fierce old boundary.4

The “fierce old boundary” is none other than Hadrian’s Wall (see plate 3). This poem suggests a man who was born either of native stock and Roman lineage or perhaps one who is half-native and half-foreigner; we might take our pick from the men of Rheged, the Gododdin, or of Pictish or Dalriadan origin, which might help explain from whence the name “Arthur” was first introduced."

The Complete King Arthur: Many Faces, One Hero by John and Caitlín Matthews is due publication by Inner Traditions in April 2017.

*NOTE: Posting news / information of a books publication is not necessarily an endorsement of its contents by the author of Clas Merdin.

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Wednesday 1 February 2017

St Brigid's Cross

Imbolc, synonymous with Saint Brigid's Day, is celebrated annually on 1st February. One of the four major seasonal festivals along with Beltane, Lughnasadh and Samhain, Imbolc is one of the oldest feasts celebrating the arrival of spring in Celtic mythology. Since the earliest of times Imbolc has been associated with the goddess Brigid, the goddess of the dawn.

Imbolc is thought to have been significant in Ireland since the Neolithic period as attested by the alignment of some Megalithic monuments.

The illumination of the passage and chamber by the sunrise on the winter solstice at the Neolithic passage tomb at Newgrange is world famous. Similar solar alignments can be found at many other passage tombs.

Significant that at Newgrange it is only the light that enters through the light box above the main passage entrance that reaches the back of the chamber. Recently Michael Gibbons has claimed that the light box was “fabricated” during reconstruction by Michael O’Kelly in the 1960s. But when considered with solar alignments at other passage tombs in Ireland this claim seems nonsensical.

Today celebrated on 1st February, Imbolc is considered to mark a Cross Quarter Day indicating the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, astronomically calculated to fall between the 2nd & 7th of February.

At the 5,000 year old Mound of the Hostages on the Hill of Tara the rising sun at Imbolc enters the passageway and illuminates the chamber.

At Loughcrew a cluster of megalithic cairns are aligned to display tricks of light at certain solar festivals. A beam of light at sunrise on the spring and autumnal equinoxes illuminates the passage and strikes the backstone of the chamber at Cairn T.

But on St Brigid's Day at Loughcrew Cairn L a beam of light from the Imbolc sunrise illuminates the passage and chamber and strikes a six-foot tall limestone standing stone in the cairn.

Perhaps memory of Brigid stretches back to the days of the construction of these Neolithic mounds. Her cult is certainly ancient. Saint Brigid's Cross is one of the archetypal symbols of Ireland, while today it is considered a Christian symbol, it seems to have its roots in the pre-Christian goddess Brigid.

Brigid's Cross was traditionally made of rushes on the eve of Brigid's feast and hung on kitchen walls, over doorways and windows to protect the the household from harm, a custom that can be found surviving in many Irish homes today, although it is likely far older than Christianity.

However the tale of the creation of Brigid's Cross is somewhat confused, and there are various versions, one story goes like so:

"There was an old pagan Chieftain who lay delirious on his deathbed in Kildare (some tales say this was her father) and his servants summoned Brigid to his beside in the hope that the holy woman may calm his restless spirit. Brigid is said to have sat by his bed, consoling and calming him and it is here that she picked up the rushes from the floor and began weaving them into the distinctive cross pattern. Whilst she weaved, she explained the meaning of the cross to the sick Chieftain. It is thought her calming words brought peace to his soul; he was so enamoured by her words that the old Chieftain requested he be baptised as a Christian just before his passing.

Since that day, and for the centuries that followed, it has been customary on the eve of her Feast Day (1st February) for the Irish people to fashion a St. Brigid's Cross of straw or rushes and place it inside the house over the door."

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