Volume III | Chapter 7 |
Topography and Distribution of Anglo-Scandinavian-Period SculpturesNext Back to catalogue index
by James Lang

Within the city of York, the corpus of Anglo-Scandinavian carvings was almost doubled by the discovery of the cemetery under the south transept of the Minster (Hope-Taylor 1971; Phillips 1985). It lay sealed by the footings of the Norman church built by Archbishop Thomas I (1070–1100), many of its grave-covers and end-stones still marking graves (Ills. 416–17). The excavation confirmed stratigraphically what had only been assumed by earlier scholars: that such monuments are indeed pre-Conquest, and that they are funerary in function. The proximity of the graves to the late eleventh-century foundations at first led to a very late dating in scholars' minds, but it has been demonstrated that the gravestones were reused, even cut and dispersed as fragments, in their excavated context (Lang 1978b, 151–2). Stylistically they appear to be a century earlier, and their primary locations were probably somewhere else in the same cemetery, which had a long duration, to judge by the results of Carbon 14 analysis of the skeletal material. 7

The graves were not orientated east–west, though they were undoubtedly Christian, but were aligned with the Roman headquarters building (Hope-Taylor 1971, 27). The grave-covers, both flat and coped, were placed lengthways over the burials, sometimes with small head- and foot-stones at each end. Some of these upright elements were found to be cut down from taller shafts, and supported by rough packing stones. No large shafts were standing in the graveyard; they were, however, found incorporated into the foundation raft of the late eleventh-century cathedral (Lang 1978b, 151), possibly as part of a levelling process for the building of the church, or possibly because, without their heads, they made good ashlar. The flat grave-covers, like comparable pieces in several of York's parish churches, are of closely similar dimensions which, in turn, conform to some of the large building-blocks from the headquarters building, and may therefore represent Roman ashlar reused (see Chap. 3). It is, moreover, possible that the coped grave-covers (for example, no. 44), began as lids from Roman sarcophagi, which abound in York. There is certainly evidence for the sculptors adapting Roman worked stone in two cases: the inscribed no. 42, which unashamedly adds a text to a Roman tombstone, and no. 37, originally a half pillar.

The grave-covers, together with some of the Minster shafts, constitute the York Metropolitan School (Lang 1978b, 145–53; see below, Chap. 10); yet grave-covers of this school are not confined to the prestigious Minster cemetery. Examples also occur elsewhere in York at St Mary's Abbey (no. 1), St Denys (no. 1), and St Mary Bishophill Junior (no. 6), with a surprising outlier at Gainford (no. 20) in co. Durham (Cramp 1984, i , 86–7).

The parish churches of York have yielded many pieces, usually found built into later fabric. It is interesting to note qualitative differences in the material from each church. St Denys, St Mary Castlegate, and St Mary Bishophill Junior, have each produced ambitious and well cut pieces, whilst St Mary Bishophill Senior makes up in quantity what it undoubtedly lacks in perfection. The city's prosperity during the tenth century, glimpsed through the material from the Coppergate excavations, undoubtedly encouraged patronage of the workshops which, in some instances, seem almost to have mass-produced funerary sculpture, probably for secular customers as much as the church.

In the East Riding, there is a complete absence of Anglo-Scandinavian monuments in Holderness, and even on the Wolds. There is nothing of the profusion of carvings found across the Marishes (in the Vale of Pickering) in Ryedale. As in the Anglian period, the geology of the region led to the importation of stones from neighbouring areas: North Frodingham 1 and Nunburnholme 1 each have York associations stylistically (see Chap. 3), whilst the Barmston hogback very probably came from Lythe, near Whitby. Only Sherburn, lying at the foot of the northern escarpment of the Wolds near one of the shortest crossing points of the Vale of Pickering, has monuments in number. Sherburn's contacts are of considerable interest. One of its shaft fragments, no. 4, is closely matched by Lastingham 1, a considerable distance away. Even further, the iconography of Sherburn 1 and 3 links the site with Leeds (West Riding) and Bedale (North Riding) (Lang 1976, 90–2; McGuire and Clark 1987, 36–9). Apart from Barmston, there are no coastal sculptural sites in the area of this volume; Hunmanby and Folkton lie back from the sea and seem to be associated with a route parallel to the river Derwent along the north-western edge of the Wolds.

To the north in Ryedale, the distribution falls into three closely related groups: the villages lying on the road from Helmsley to Scarborough; the dales of the moors above; and the cluster at the western end of Ryedale.

The line of sites from Helmsley to Pickering follows the 300 foot contour on the south facing slope of the North Yorkshire Moors. The sculpture, usually cut from local stone, lies in the present parish churches which are sometimes less than a couple of miles apart: for example, Middleton and Pickering. The present boundaries form long, linear parishes running north-south, each with a portion of moorland, spring-line, east–west road, and marsh. Bearing in mind the secular portraits of much of the Anglo-Scandinavian sculpture in this sector, it is tempting to see the distribution of carvings in relation to possible land-holdings in the tenth century. Each site in this grouping would have enjoyed easy access to the coast and to York, with rich land for farming.

To use sculpture as a measure of settlement pattern can be dangerous (Sawyer 1971, 164–5; Lang 1988b, 5–6), especially when related to place-names. Collingwood (1908, 120–1), tried to analyse the distribution of Viking-age sculpture among Anglian and Scandinavian place-names, but without very significant results. In the narrow dales of the North Yorkshire Moors it is clear that Anglian ecclesiastical sites, like Lastingham, Kirkdale, and, perhaps, Levisham, continued in the Anglo-Scandinavian period as cemeteries, since their sculpture spans both periods. This does not necessarily imply contemporary settlement at the sites themselves.

In the shelter of the Howardian Hills, close to the 'street' connecting the moors with Malton, and controlling access to Ryedale from the Vale of York, lies the cluster of sites which are distinctive in having little or no stylistic relationships with one another. Only Hovingham and Stonegrave already possessed Anglian sculpture, as far as we know. Stylistically, there are occasional links with carvings across the Marishes: Nunnington 1–2 with Pickering 1; Hovingham 1 with Middleton 3; Oswaldkirk 1 with Kirkdale 9. The line of communication along the narrow ridge was probably easier than across the low-lying marshland. Hovingham and Stonegrave may have been the original focus, since their importance as Anglian ecclesiastical centres is established, but the group may, apart from Stonegrave, represent the patronage of land-owners associated with northern Ryedale.

I am grateful to D. Phillips for this information.

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