Sunday, June 7, 2009

Has St Cadoc's lost Church been found in Monmouth?

The Church in Ongar, Essex has several claims to fame. For many years it has been regarded as one of the oldest timber buildings in Europe and is certainly the only wooden Saxon church to survive in England. Wikipedia claims it is the oldest wooden church in the world.St Cadoc's in Monmouth may have looked like this church.

Al sent me the link to the Western Mail cataloguing this exciting archeological find.

The Saxons were coming! A tiny sword stud found under a shop rewrites Welsh history
Jun 6 2009 by Steffan Rhys, Western Mail

AT BARELY a centimetre across and almost unrecognisable after centuries underground, it may not look much, but could shed light on an almost unknown era of Welsh history.

The discovery of a sword stud beneath shops in Monmouth, made public for the first time in today’s Western Mail, could be evidence of an Anglo-Saxon period settlement.

But now there are concerns the site where it was found may be destroyed by development.

And radio carbon dating on bones from postholes beneath the buildings suggest that some timber posts were removed in the middle of the 10th century and others in the early 11th, suggesting they may have put in place earlier.

According to Stephen Clarke, chairman of the Monmouth Archaeological Society, the discovery is of “one of the most important early medieval sites in Wales”.

“The structure may be centuries older than these [carbon] dates as they follow the removal of posts which must have been erected years before,” said Mr Clarke.

“It survived until dismantled in the late 1000s or early 1100s when the Normans dug a huge defensive ditch across the site, from the Castle to the River Wye. The buildings are ancient and date from before the Normans arrived. It could be evidence of occupation unbroken since the Dark Ages.

“The purpose of the timber building is unproven but considering the structure’s age, size, aceramic nature and the lack of domestic refuse it might be the remains of the lost church of St Cadoc, amongst the earliest of the Celtic saints active around the middle of the sixth century.

“What we know but can’t prove is that the wooden church of St Cadoc was still standing when the Normans arrived and built Monmouth castle. Whatever it is, it’s a substantial size, it’s post-Roman and pre-Norman and that makes it very important.”

The tiny sword stud is a silver pyramid 12mm high with a 12mm square base and a setting for a stone at its top, similar to two found in the burial of the King of East Anglia at Sutton Hoo.

It was used on leather straps which held a scabbarded sword to the sword-belt and none have previously been found in Wales, where any Anglo-Saxon material at all is extremely rare.

A preliminary report, based on pre-conservation assessments, by Dr Mark Redknap of the National Museum Wales suggests it is similar to those found elsewhere in the UK and dated to the sixth and seventh centuries.

But Neil Maylan, of the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust , a specialist adviser to Monmouthshire council, was less certain about the find’s significance.

“We know very little in reality about what was happening in Wales between the Romans and the Normans,” he said. “We have lots of legends and stories but very little in the way of absolute fact and archaeological record.

“It’s possible that what we’ve got with this find is evidence of the Normans arriving. It’s also possible it’s earlier but the Anglo-Saxon stud doesn’t prove that. All we can say for certain is that there was activity there at the Normans’ time, which is still hugely significant.”

However, there are concerns that the proposed redevelopment of existing shops on Monmouth’s Monnow Street could cause irreparable damage to the archaeology underneath, where there are also the remains of the earliest Roman fort in Wales.

Any demolition of the stores’ frontage could necessitate new foundations which would in turn damage the archaeology.

However, planning laws now require developers to protect existing archaeological sites and local authorities should not grant permission to plans which would damage the site.

Philip Thomas, Monmouthshire council’s planning applications manager, said: “The developer and architect are well aware of the archaeological sensitivity of the site and the need to satisfy the advice of the council’s expert advisors on archaeology, the Glamorgan Gwent Archaeological Trust. The [trust] would be involved in the planning application process and their advice will be a key factor to advise the application decision.

“We do not know whether permission will be granted at this stage, let alone which planning conditions would be appropriate – these would become clearer once the application details have been submitted.”

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