Volume III | Chapter 4 |
Topography and Distribution of Anglian-Period SculpturesNext Back to catalogue index
by James Lang

The Anglian settlement of eastern Yorkshire depended in large measure on routes dictated by rising land and consolidated by the Romans. Some sculpture sites of the pre-Viking period lie on or near these thoroughfares, sometimes, like Londesborough and Hovingham, at locations where the name or Romano-British remains indicate a pre-Anglian habitation (see Chap. 1). There are also geological constraints on the distribution (see Chap. 3). The chalk and boulder clay of the East Riding were unpropitious for the production of stone monuments, so that pieces like Wharram Percy 1 and Patrington 1 must have been imported, in either finished or unfinished form, along the roads leading to the crossing of the Humber at Brough. There is no documentary evidence for any of the East Riding sites being ecclesiastical centres during the Anglian period; neither do the royal sites near Driffield and Goodmanham have early sculpture associated with them. One can only assume that Christian centres of some kind existed at the sculpture sites in the eighth and ninth centuries, and regret that none of the pieces was discovered in situ. Given that Nunburnholme 1 and Leven 1 are late Anglian, the earliest sculptural remains of the East Riding are indeed sparse.

Further north, where freestone is more readily available, the earlier monuments were still imported, perhaps from the Whitby area (see Chap. 3). On the southern flanks of the North Yorkshire Moors, two of the sites are well documented monasteries of the late seventh century. Hackness was a cell of Whitby (see Chap. 1), lying in the shelter of hills some four miles from the coast. The two slabs at Hackness (nos. 2–3) are geologically related to the Whitby area and stylistically in accord with the Hiberno-Saxon traditions of Northumbrian monasteries. The remoteness of Hackness in relation to lines of communication is an expression of the Lindisfarne type of monasticism which is recorded by Bede at Lastingham. Nevertheless, links did exist between Hackness and Whitby, as the account of Abbess Hild's death verifies (Bede 1969, iv , 23, 412–13). The inscribed shaft, Hackness 1, even though it is made from local stone, reflects the Whitby connection as well as confirming its literate, monastic milieu.

Bede's detailed account of the foundation of the monastery at Lastingham by Cedd offers an insight into the topography of the site at the end of the seventh century. Yet, despite the convention of its being in a place which 'seemed better fitted for the haunts of robbers and the dens of wild beasts than for human habitation' (Bede 1969, iii , 23, 286–7), the actual siting is sheltered and near enough to the east–west route along Ryedale. The earliest carving there is an architectural decoration (no. 9), confirming Bede's account that there were stone buildings at the site.

Not far to the south-west of Lastingham lies Kirkdale, with its two ambitious grave-covers (nos. 7–8). The church lies near the head of a narrow valley unsuited to settlement and has endured several rebuilds, one of the eleventh century (see no. 10; Chaps. II, XI). The slabs were possibly from shrines contained within the earliest church, one originally possessing a metalwork setting of the kind found on Lastingham 4 and Middleton 9. The proximity of these places may represent a cluster of sites dependent upon Lastingham, whose primacy rests upon Cedd's royal foundation and the survival of parts of what could be an abbot's seat (no. 10).

A similar cluster of connected ecclesiastical sites may have existed at the western end of Ryedale, though the sculpture varies stylistically and in period. Gilling East 1 lies close to Roman roads and is not far distant from Stonegrave, where a monastic community is recorded in the eighth century (Whitelock 1955, 764–5). Equally near is Hovingham, where the Anglian sculpture dates from the ninth century. Hovingham 5 is cut from imported stone and is related stylistically to sculpture in the Ripon area and in the East Midlands. This group of sites is sheltered from prevailing westerlies by hills whose ridges carry ancient route-ways, both north and south, and eastwards to the coast. They serve as a fulcrum to roads connecting Malton with the Humber crossing at Brough, the Vale of York, and the Vale of Pickering, though the latter would have been waterlogged at this period. Even today the area is known as The Marishes.

Kirby Misperton lies on an island of Kimmeridge clay and its sculpture demonstrates the sometimes wide-ranging contacts between Anglian sites. No. 1 is analogous to Hovingham 3 and Levisham 3, forming a linear distribution pattern for this unusual type of monument. The distinctive interlace of Filey 1 also occurs at Kirkbymoorside, Kirby Misperton, and Stonegrave, its spread extending the whole length of the Vale of Pickering. Only Hunmanby occupies a north-facing site; the majority of sites with early sculpture are in sheltered locations.

In York (Fig. 2), the earliest Anglian carvings (nos. 11–24) are associated with the Minster, though none has yet been found in a primary context. Their crispness and fine dressing might hint that they were originally located within a building, and the rougher dressing of one face compared to the other three in some instances (nos. 13, 19) suggests that these may have stood against a wall. No archaeological trace of the pre-Conquest cathedral of York has yet been found, and even its precise location is uncertain; most likely it stood in the courtyard of the Roman headquarters building, to the south of the Romanesque and later churches. 6 In the time of St Wilfrid (ob. 709) a porticus of St Gregory is recorded in connection with this church (Bede 1969, ii , 20, 204) and this, or something like it, would be a probable setting for the early grave-markers, which do not occur elsewhere in the city. Perhaps the delicately cut no. 1 (Ills. 1–5) also stood indoors originally, as it shows little sign of weathering, in contrast to the later grave-covers from the Minster cemetery.

Anglian monuments dating from the eighth and ninth centuries have also been found at other sites: at St Leonard's Place, near the north-east bank of the Ouse, and from the area of the former Roman colonia south-west of the river, within which, it has been recently suggested, the site of the monastery of the Alma Sophia lay (Morris 1986; see Chap. 2).

I am grateful to D. Phillips for this information.

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