Here there be dragons….

          ….(actually, Dr Newton would describe them as wolves! ).

 Above: a standing reconstruction in wood, based upon the ninth-century, stone cross-shaft found in St Botolph’s Church, Iken, Suffolk. 

The remains of the Iken cross still has a tenon at the base for fitting into a morticed base. Stonework crosses may have been preceded by timber crosses. Joinery techniques appear to have been translated from wooden constructions to stone crosses. Also, metalwork decorations were often transmuted into skeumorphic designs on sculptured stone crosses, becoming idiosyncratic decorative motifs. Circular ‘pellets’ appearing on cross-faces, for example on the Sandbach crosses, mimic nails or rivets from metal artefacts and some crosses have large raised, round bosses imitating metalworking forms, e.g. the eight-century Kildalton Cross, Islay Scotland.

Sandbach Crosses

Gosforth cross

What interests me about Iken churchyard is that from aerial photographs it appears to be curvilinear. In Wales, Ireland and Cornwall, curvilinear churchyards are one of the main factors regarded as indicating a very early foundation (consider Bangor Cathedral in the SCA newsletter). The other evidence being early carved stones and dedication to an early saint.  There are some curvilinear churchyards purported to be of Anglo-Saxon origin, for example, Farndon, Cheshire , dedicated to St Chad a 7th-century bishop, St Nicholas’, Pyrford, Surrey, and Farnborough, Hampshire. There’s even some with a surviving church at Escomb, constructed c. AD670 and St Mary’s, Chickney, near Thaxted, Essex. Explanations for these curiously shaped churchyards vary,such as,  that they could indicate the re-use of an earlier pre-Christian site, or that the ground  was built up, if the circular churchyard surrounds a mound, to evade the probability of flooding (quite likely at Iken) or could it be evidence of  continuing Christian practices from a surviving British populous before the Anglo-Saxons? The mysterious St Botolph has been described as ‘a Scot’ (i.e. Irish) in one source about him and ” the  land occupied by Botolph’s monastery at Iken was once inhabited by Christians, presumably in British times” according to Professor Kenneth Keenan.

Certainly c.AD633 another Irish saint, Fursa, visited East Anglia and set up a monastery, as recorded by Bede in Ecclesiastical History of England :

WHILST Sigbert still governed the kingdom, there came out of Ireland a holy man called Fursa, renowned both for his words and actions, and remarkable for singular virtues, being desirous to live as a stranger and pilgrim for the Lord’s sake, wherever an opportunity should offer. On coming into the province of the East Angles, he was honourably received by the aforesaid king, and performing his wonted task of preaching the Gospel, by the example of his virtue and the influence of his words, converted many unbelievers to Christ, and confirmed in the faith and love of Christ those that already believed…. ….he set himself with all speed to build a monastery on the ground which had been given him by King Sigbert, and to establish a rule of life therein. This monastery was pleasantly situated in the woods, near the sea; it was built within the area of a fort, which in the English language is called Cnobheresburg, that is, Cnobhere’s Town; afterwards, Anna, king of that province, and certain of the nobles, embellished it with more stately buildings and with gifts….….Afterwards seeing the province thrown into confusion by the irruptions of the pagans,and foreseeing that the monasteries would also be in danger, he left all things in order, and sailed over into Gaul, and being there honourably entertained by Clovis, king of the Franks, or by the patrician Ercinwald, he built a monastery in the place called Latineacum…

Burgh Castle has been identified with Cnobheresburg


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