Of direct relevance to the contested frontier landscape of the pre-Norman era is the fascinating cross at Maen Achwyfan, Flintshire. It is close to the Whitford dykes and close to where Offa’s Dyke has been considered by antiquarians as running.
Indeed, I just love Maen Achwyfan: a 10th/11th-century cross in Flintshire. It is actually really easy to find if you want to visit, located just north of the A55 at the Caerwys junction (Junction 31). So if you’re stopping for petrol or the cafe or Greggs or McDonald’s, why not take the 5 mins drive to see this awesome early medieval stone in its original location?
I’ve posted a number of times on this blog about the cross:
- Introducing the Stone;
- More pictures of the cross;
- The experience of the stone in fog!
- Discussions of the naked ‘Viking’ ‘warrior’ figure on the east face;
- A discussion of the snake around the naked ‘Viking’;
- My TAG 2015 session at the University of Bradford which included a paper with Aurea Izquierdo Zamora about the landscape context of the monument.
Recently, I revisited Maen Achwyfan. My interested in this 10th/11th-century freestanding stone cross derives from multiple sources:
- taking students there on field trips;
- research for the Early Medieval Stone Monuments book, which featured it as a case study in the Introduction talking about its materiality, biography and landscape context, and upon the book cover;
- parallels with the Pillar of Eliseg as another rare example of a surviving in situ early medieval monument that may have served as part of an early medieval assembly place;
- a 2015 TAG session on Mobility, Monumentality and Memory.
- In summer 2016 I spoke to the Cambrian Archaeological Association about Maen Achwyfan: this is featured in the latest Archaeologia Cambrensis.
- A 2016 talk on the Isle of Man about the potential commemorative significance of martial representations on early medieval stone sculpture.
On Saturday morning I went to see the Early Medieval Archaeology of Wales Archaeology Research Group (EMWARG) and outlined my latest thinking about the monument, suggesting we need to think about the art of the cross in relation to its landscape context and vice versa.
One of the areas I addressed was the interpretation of the figural scenes on the narrow southward face B. I proposed that it represents a martial figure with snakes attacking him from below and above. Below this I suggested were two figures facing each other: there are numerous possibilities from early medieval stone sculpture regarding their identity. Below this, was a beast and a tree, and features beneath the beast’s legs. Rather than a horse and perhaps linked to the legend of Sigurd the dragonslayer, I proposed it is actually a crude rendition of the twins Romulus and Remus suckling from the she-wolf. Similarities with the 8th-century Franks Casket require careful consideration.
If accepted, this shifts the interpretation of the cross away from the ‘Viking’ world exclusively and helps us consider the art as visualising the marking and protection of church lands in relation to lay patrons.