Archaeology of the Early Medieval Celtic Churches

Project No. G1826

A conference was held in September 2004 on The Archaeology of Early Medieval Celtic Churches c. 400-1100 under the aegis of the Society for Medieval Archaeology and the Society for Church Archaeology. The themes examined aspects of the archaeology of major monasteries, hermitages, and local churches, including layout, structures, and burial, as well as related topics, such as ecclesiastical place-names, pilgrimage sites and the cult of relics. Contributions were presented by each of the four Welsh Archaeological Trusts on work undertaken during the Cadw-funded pan-Wales project on Early Medieval Ecclesiastical sites.

The Gwynedd Archaeological Trust was invited to present two papers as follows:

1. The early church in Gwynedd.
This paper examined the development of the church in north-west Wales from the introduction of Christianity in Roman times through to the construction of Romanesque churches in the 12th century. A variety of sources of evidence were used to identify the location and nature of ecclesiastical sites, including inscribed and decorated stones, burials, dedications and place name evidence. The topographical location of sites was examined, and the distribution of Roman and Prehistoric evidence was examined against the known ecclesiastical sites. A number of churches became dominant within this period, and these appear to have accepted a level of responsibility for lesser churches by the provision of pastoral support. Monasticism played a key role, perhaps influenced in the middle part of the period by ideas from the more ascetic ceili de movement from Ireland. The development of the parochial system in the 12th century, accompanied by the construction of large numbers of stone churches, and closer integration with Roman practice formed the basis of the system that is still present today. Post-conquest sources were used to try to identify pre-conquest patterns of power and influence.

2. Early Medieval Burial in Wales
This paper discussed the characteristics of early medieval burial, the size and layout of cemeteries, the significance of association with ritual monuments of an earlier past and the frequent lack of direct association with early churches and the relevance of special graves marked by inscribed stone monoliths and mausolea or square-ditched barrows. This paper has now been revised for publication and reviews the evidence for Early Medieval burial throughout Wales with particular reference to context and association.

Andrew Davidson, David Longley