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Circles under churches
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Littlestone
Littlestone
5381 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 05, 2005, 00:13
Pete, the stones under the floor at Alton Priors were obviously made to be accessible (by way of the trap doors) to people once they were inside the church. The stones must have formed part of a ceremony, a ceremony still deemed necessary by the local congregation - what do you think that ceremony might have been?

Alternatively, when the floor was re-laid, the Church authorities might have thought the stones were of some interest and should be made accessible but that doesn't seem to make much sense.
Pete G
Pete G
3506 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 05, 2005, 00:45
Alton Priors church seems to be the exception.
I have Never come across this sort of access to stones inside a church before.
I have seen churches with no visible signs of stones from the outside but visible once in the church (cunning eh?)
and several in the porch (Sussex) so they can be touched on the way in.
I think the Alton Priors mystery lies in Who paid for the the trap doors.
PeteG
FourWinds
FourWinds
10943 posts

In the porch
May 05, 2005, 07:41
There's a beautiful Xtianised standing stone in the porch of St Audoen's (St. Odin's !!!????*) in Dublin, known as <i>The Lucky Stone</i>. The church is Norman and the stone has been kept there since around 1300, but is much older. The stone is not local and was probably an eratic, but I've not heard anyone say where it came from. It's a dark, almost black, stone full of bits of mica and quartz. Obviously volcanic but not from the Wicklows.

The stone used to mark the start of the ancient road that crossed Ireland from coast to coast between the two Hurdle Bridges (the Irish name for Dublin, <i>Baile Atha Cliath</i>, means 'Town of the Hurdle Bridge').




* The reason why I think it could be St. Odin's is that it is just 100m from where they uncovered the main Viking settlement in Dublin. I've not heard anyone else propose this, but it does seem pretty obvious to me.
Wiggy
1718 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 05, 2005, 10:44
Cheers Pete. Let me know what you think when you have seen it.
Littlestone
Littlestone
5381 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 05, 2005, 13:02
> I think the Alton Priors mystery lies in Who paid for the trap doors.

Ah... an interesting point (is that a rhetorical question Pete or do you know :-)

I can't remember, and will need to go back and check, but are the stones lying on the original church floor? If they're on the original floor it probably means they were in view (and in use) up to when they were covered over (when was that?). The trap doors only seem to make sense in the context of allowing people continued access to the stones to do whatever they may have been doing for centuries.

There must still be a bit of inherited knowledge/wisdom about the stones amongst the locals - has anyone asked them do you know? I wouldn't mind doing it myself but don't want to bother local people by asking questions they may already have been asked.
Pete G
Pete G
3506 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 05, 2005, 13:11
I don't know when the floor was relaid.
I haven't asked locals about it yet.
My guess is that the stones were rediscovered when the floor was done and a friendly vicar decided to put the doors in as a way of attracting more people into the church.
Last time I looked the pulput had been screwed down over one of the stones.
I'll check the Wam index in the library and see if they throw up anything interesting.
PeteG
follow that cow
follow that cow
277 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 07, 2005, 21:43
I wonder how many other stones used to surround this little fella' ?

http://www.themodernantiquarian.com/post/37007

(2nd row, 2nd from the left)

FTC
PeterH
PeterH
1180 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 08, 2005, 18:51
Pete G said "My guess is that the stones were rediscovered when the floor was done and a friendly vicar decided to put the doors in as a way of attracting more people into the church."

That is my view too. The wooden floor is not very old and neither is the trapdoor. I would guess that both are less than 100 years old and do we know if the stones were visible any earlier?

If I can make two comparisons, then you can tear them to pieces:

Alton Priors church is built in an area thick with sarsen stones. It is impossible not to fall over them. So when they wanted to build a church, they had to make choices - 1 Build it somewhere else, 2 Clear all the sarsens away and then build on the cleared patch, 3 Give up clearing when they kept uncovering more sarsens and build the church on top of them 4 deliberately build over a pagan shrine to Christianise it (but why were these stones any more sacred to pagans than the hundreds lying around in the same field?)

Alphamstone church in Essex
Here you have a stone free landscape. Stones of any size bigger than gravel are extremely rare and consist of sarsen or puddingstone boulders and some flint nodules. It is reasonable to consider that such rare objects might have been considered magical or sacred. Perhaps they were fallen stars or thunderbolts from the gods! These boulders are erratics left behind when glaciers melted. It is unreasonable to suppose that a large group fell from the glacier in a circle. It is therefore reasonable to assume that they were brought from nearby stream beds by the hand of man and arranged in a circle. In contrast to stoney Alton Priors, the site for the church was chosen to be within the circle of the only stones present and not on the vast expanse of stoneless land all around. The church is also on a mound which is likely to be artificial. Is the mound and the stones the butchered and re-modelled remains of a long barrow perhaps? Long barrows are not common in this part of the world, but there is one with a Saxon intrusion burial not so far away on Therfield Heath on the Herts/Cambs border.

I would suggest that the sarsens were once regarded as special because of their rarity in Essex and that the church was placed within them as a conscious decision. It therefore seems to me highly probable that the Alphamstone church was built to Christianise a pagan religious site or tomb. The same thing may have occurred at Alton Priors, but is there any evidence to show that the stones there have been deliberately placed where they now lie? I submit that they are just some of the many erratics left where they fell and the church builders could find no stone free place to build upon.

Nothing of the foregoing is intended to diminish the status of special stones chosen to act as portals (magical or otherwise) in other churches. I just don't think that the case for Alton Priors has been made.
Littlestone
Littlestone
5381 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 08, 2005, 19:16
> ...but why were these stones any more sacred to pagans than the hundreds lying around in the same (Alton Priors) field? <

You forget, Peter, that this same field has a spring, and a yew tree estimated to be some 1,700 years old - I think that is actually quite significant :-)

Further comments on your very interesting post to follow...
PeterH
PeterH
1180 posts

Re: Circles under churches
May 08, 2005, 22:25
Yes, I concede that the yew tree is of great age and may even pre-date Christianity. Its proximity to the stones is another plus and of course the tree and the stones are only now separated by the church wall. Not sure why you feel that the spring is of particular significance - is it supposed to be sacred? The biggest plus for me is the Papal instruction to the missionaries to the pagan Saxons. They were told to re-use the heathen temples as churches, but to destroy the stocks and stones that they worshipped. That alone indicates that stones and wooden objects (stocks) if not living trees were venerated just before the first churches were built, sometimes on former pagan sites.

The other mystery of this place is why there are two churches in adjacent fields.
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