As a society, and as individuals, we are always ready to help people with all sorts of enquiries about tomb carvings. Sometimes these can lead us down some very interesting research paths. The lockdown has created problems in accessing reference books, but it has also meant that people are more able to work together online.
Back at the beginning of April, some archaeologist friends sent me these photos of a medieval tomb slab which had been found in the churchyard at Staunton-on-Wye.
The church is having major funded restoration work done and Church & Site Archaeological Services were doing the watching brief. They wanted a transcript and translation, and an estimate of date. Transcription of the one side was fairly easy – HIC IACET MILO PIC[possibly H]. There the sinister side (the right as you look at it) came to an end. The dexter side, with the eye of faith, could begin with a C so it could be CUIUS ANIME DEUS PROPICIETUR, on whose soul may God have mercy, which would be what you would expect on a stone of that period, but I can’t be certain.
The stone was battered and broken across but the carving on the sinister side was quite sharp and clear. It was found in the ground close to the south wall of the chancel. It seemed likely that the stone was originally inside the church (possibly in a position which would explain the differential wear) and that it was broken and covered with earth soon after being put outside.
And then there was the scallop shell (click on the image to get the full photo). We tend to assume that a scallop shell on a tomb carving indicates someone who had been on a pilgrimage, possibly to Compostela, though the scallop shell could be used as a symbol of pilgrimage more generally. Also, the arms of the Pichard family were three scallop shells, though it would be unusual for them to be shown scattered over a tomb slab rather than carved on a shield.
A vaguely similar stone was drawn by Dineley in Christ College Brecon but can’t now be found.
I can’t unfortunately identify the person commemorated in the Brecon stone – which is a pity because it would be handy for dating purposes. I was also intrigued by what looks like a vesica shape around the head of the Staunton cross. It’s a bit like this one
which commemorates a priest (chalice and book either side of the cross shaft).
Dating cross slabs by style is very difficult – a lot is down to local fashion and the house style of individual workshops. The well-formed Lombardic caps suggested C13. The very plain cross looks earlier rather than later but I have seen a cross in that style in Brecon surmounted by a very C14 floriated cross head. On balance my feeling was for late C13.
Dating turned out to be pretty crucial for identifying the person commemorated. Parishioners of Staunton have done a lot of the work on this. The Pychards or Picards were landowners in Breconshire and Herefordshire and one branch of the family was among other things lords of the manor and patrons of the church in Stanton – in other words, they owned the advowson, the right to nominate the priest of the parish. Of course, the name Miles crops up in generation after generation of the family pedigree. The two most likely candidates seemed to be a Miles who was of age in 1241 and described as ‘of Staunton’ in 1242 and his grandson Sir Miles Pichard who was described as ‘of Staunton’ in 1291. Really, from the style of the cross and the lettering, it could be either. One would expect the second one to be described as ‘Milo Pych’ miles’ but the word ‘miles’ could have been on the damaged base of the stone.
There was more. The archaeologists also found part of another stone that looked as though the decoration had been hacked off with a pick axe.
In the churchyard they spotted a recumbent stone effigy, covered in moss.
Then there was a little heraldic plaque, found in the church and presenting us with some real puzzles – but that probably needs a separate blog post, all to itself.
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