EARLY MEDIEVAL ECCLESIASTICAL SITES ASSESSMENT
April 2001-March 2002
The first year of the project comprised a desk-top assessment for the three counties of Carmarthenshire, Ceredigion and Pembrokeshire, assessing total of 1451 known ecclesiastical sites. The assessment resulted in a list of 323 sites with potential for early medieval origins - 154 in Pembrokeshire, 108 in Carmarthenshire and 61 in Ceredigion. The sites fall into two main categories: -
Few ecclesiastical sites in the three counties can be positively dated to the early medieval period. For example, the tradition of long-cist burial appears to have persisted well into the post-Conquest period, as in the excavated cemetery at Eglwyswrw (Pembrokeshire). However, a number of sites possess one or more characteristics that may be significant indicators of early medieval origins. The criteria include:
Indicators such as churchyard morphology, British (ie. 'Celtic') dedications, place-name elements such as eglwys, llan and merthyr are treated with more caution and do not constitute criteria in themselves.
However, it must be stressed at the outset that only 30 sites have demonstrable pre-Conquest origins. Of these, only five have been absolutely dated by C14. The remaining 25 sites are known from documentary references and the precise locations of only some can be currently proven with any finality. Nevertheless, the assessment demonstrated that many traditional indicators do seem to apply, ie. circular churchyards, in situ ECMs and native dedications are often accompanied by other evidence for early medieval origins. Re-use of Iron Age enclosures, and large, outer churchyard enclosures were suggested at a large number of new sites. Some of these outer enclosures appear to variously incorporate Neolithic chambered tombs and Bronze Age standing stones, but this is apparent at only a small number of sites.
April 2002 – March 2003 Pembrokeshire
Year 2 of the Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites project comprised map research, aerial photograph analysis and selective field visits to the 154 sites, in Pembrokeshire, for which early medieval ecclesiastical potential emerged from the Year 1 desk-top study. A large number of these sites produced evidence for associated cropmark or earthwork features. However, the context and date of many of these features is at present unknown.
Some early medieval ecclesiastical sites in Pembrokeshire can be identified
from the study of later medieval source documentation. The survival of
clas churches as ‘portionary’ benefices, divided between the
church and powerful laymen or ‘portionaries’, recognised in
north Wales, appears to be paralleled in Pembrokeshire where many more
churches were held in a variety of forms of multiple patronage into the
modern period. A number of ecclesiastical holdings are described as ‘clas
tir’ in 15th-16th century sources, when recollections of sanctuary
or noddfa were also recorded. In most cases, the sources supplement existing
evidence for early origins, or can be used in conjunction with other,
more circumstantial evidence. In other instances, they have led to the
identification of new sites. The terms of a number of early 12th century
grants of churches, both Welsh and Anglo-Norman, make it clear that they
refer to pre-existing ecclesiastical sites and, in some cases, allow the
pattern of pre-Conquest ecclesiastical dependence to be determined; the
terms of one source may be a reference to an otherwise unknown mother-house,
possibly monastic, at Little Treffgarn in St Dogwells parish, which was
later the temporary site of the Whitland Abbey community. A number of
late 11th century churches were later recorded by Gerald of Wales, among
others, and variously refer to surviving, abandoned or relocated sites,
including a chapel at Upton - which may be represented by a circular enclosure
at ‘Churchfield’. Other early 12th century sources suggest
the displacement of ecclesiastical establishments, from sites which can
occasionally be identified.
Eglwyswen churchyard, Pembrokeshire: aerial photograph of cropmark/outer enclosure
Ludlow N 2003 Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites Project: Pembrokeshire
2002-2003, Dyfed Archaeological Trust
April 2003 – March 2004 - Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion
Year 3 of the Early Medieval Ecclesiastical Sites project comprised map research, aerial photograph analysis and selective field visits to the 169 sites (115 in Carmarthenshire and 54 in Ceredigion) for which early medieval ecclesiastical potential emerged from the Year 1 desk-top study.
Archaeological evidence for early medieval ecclesiastical activity is,
in general, more sparse in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion than in Pembrokeshire.
For instance, burial in stone-lined graves or ‘cists’, so
widespread in Pembrokeshire, is almost absent in these two counties. Nevertheless
cist burial, although primarily associated with the early medieval period,
continued to be practiced throughout the Middle Ages.
The analysis of both contemporary, and later medieval source documentation
was perhaps more effective in Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion and allowed
a significant number of early medieval sites to be identified. Some of
these, eg. Llandeilo Rwnws, Llanegwad, Carmarthenshire, may be associated
with cropmark evidence. The pattern of pre-Conquest ecclesiastical dependence,
and its development over time, could also be suggested in the parishes
of Llandeilo Fawr and Cynwyl Gaeo, while the displacement of ecclesiastical
establishments was noted in Newchurch parish, and perhaps within Kidwelly
Aerial photograph of Llangan churchyard, Carmarthenshire, showing cropmark enclosures and possible structures
April 2004 – March 2005 – publication
This represented the culmination of the Early Medieval
Ecclesiastical Sites Assessment Project. A paper, summarising the results
of the project, was read by the project officers from each of the four
trusts at the ‘Archaeology of the early medieval Celtic churches’
conference at Bangor on 9-12 September 2004.
The well-evidenced early medieval ecclesiastical sites of southwest Wales
Project contact: Ken Murphy
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