28 July 2018

800-Year-Old Church in Ireland Survives Viking Presence, an English Invasion and War

Ancient Origins continues to provide interesting articles with this one about the survival of a Christian Church from the Dark Ages. (Ed.)


6 JULY, 2018 - 22:53 DHWTY

800-Year-OldChurch in Ireland Survives Viking Presence, an English Invasion and War

St. Mary's Collegiate Church is a stunning medieval church located in the 13 th century town of Youghal, in the eastern part of County Cork, the southernmost county of Ireland. When you enter the Church, you walk in the footsteps of 800 years of inhabitants of the town, as well as mariners who visited to give thanks for a safe arrival. It is the largest surviving medieval Parish Church in Ireland and one of only five in continuous use for religious worship.

1,600 Years of HistoryThe 800-year-old building that stands as it is now is the third church on the site. It started off as a monastic settlement of St. Declan of Ardmore, an early Irish saint, in the 5 th century AD, but that church – built of timber – burned down in a fire. The second was a stone church, but that was destroyed in a storm in the 12 th century. The current church was constructed in 1220 AD and has remained strong ever since.
The Chancel, inside St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
The Beginning of St Mary’s ChurchThe earliest entry in the vestry book of Youghal is a statement of parish accounts for 1201. Additionally, on the current church’s West Door is the list of clergy serving the church, which can be traced all the way back to 1221.

It was during this time, 1220, to be more exact, that the church’s Great Nave was erected. The roof of the Nave is styled in a form typical of 13 th century Gothic architecture and has been radiocarbon dated to 1250AD, making it the oldest church roof in Ireland
The roof of the Nave in St Mary’s Church, the oldest church roof in Ireland. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
Upside-down Cross?One of the more unusual features that appears inside the church, is what first appears as an upside-down cross, which in recent times is viewed as an anti-Christian or Satanic symbol. However, it is not as it seems. The upside-down cross is actually a sword rest. Dating back to 1684, the rest was used to hold the sword of the sword bearer, who proceeded the Mayor into the Church for ceremonial occasions.

The sword rest in St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Famous and Infamous VisitorsSome historical personages associated with St. Mary’s Collegiate Church include Sir Walter Raleigh, Oliver Cromwell, John Wesley, the Earls of Desmond and Ormonde, the Duke of Wellington, and many famous travellers and writers.

Sir Walter Raleigh arrived in Ireland in 1579 to fight against the Irish for Queen Elizabeth I, and was rewarded handsomely for his efforts – he was granted the beautiful town of Youghal and the farms around it and was elected Mayor of Youghal in 1588. Things didn’t end too well for Raleigh. After the Queen died, King James I didn’t take too kindly to Raleigh and had him imprisoned, believing he was plotting to kill him. Later, in 1618, the King ordered Raleigh’s execution by beheading. His wife was so heartbroken that she carried his head around in a velvet bag for the remainder of her life.
Life was good for Sir Walter Raleigh, until the Queen died ( public domain )

English military leader Oliver Cromwell was one of the church’s least welcome visitors. He made Youghal the base for his Irish campaign, which lasted from 1649 to 1650. Cromwell didn’t think much of the church and used the graveyard outside to stable his horses. On Sundays, he would march his soldiers and horses up through the town and into the church, where, as a puritan he would give fiery sermons about heaven and hell. According to local folklore, Cromwell delivered a funeral oration from the top of a chest, which is still kept today in the church.
An engraving of a Viking longboat, dating to between 850 and 1050AD can be seen faintly etched into the surface of this stone slab. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
Vikings in Youghal
The Vikings also paid a visit to Youghal, and their mark has been left on a stone slab dating to between 850 AD and 1050 AD – a Viking longboat can be faintly seen etched into the slab, which is now on display in St Mary’s church. The Annals of Youghal record that a site was first inhabited in 853 AD. The Vikings later built a fortress there and laid the foundations of a commercial sea-port.

Historic Graveyard
St. Mary’s Collegiate Church is also notable for its irregularly-shaped historic graveyard, which is situated in the north-western corner of the town walls. The names of those buried in this graveyard have been meticulously recorded in the parish records, which is a useful resource for those who would like to find more information about burials there. The earliest grave dates to 1632 and reads “Here lyeth the body of John the son of Richard Nicholas who died Febry the 25 th 1632”.
The oldest gravestone at St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
One of the most unusual features of this graveyard is the so-called ‘pauper’s grave’. This is a coffin-shaped recess in the town wall, which, according to tradition, was a resuable grave built to hold a coffin for burials of the poor. Those who could not afford a coffin would be placed temporarily in this one for the funerary rites. After the deceased was placed in a grave, the coffin would be brought back to the recess.
The Elaborate Tomb of Sir Richard Boyle
A stark contrast can be seen between the ‘pauper’s grave’ and the tomb of Sir Richard Boyle, which is located within the church. Boyle was an Englishman who lived between the 16 th and 17 thcenturies. He served as the Lord Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland, and was created Earl of Cork in 1620. Apart from being a politician, Boyle was also an entrepreneur, and he is said to have been the richest man in the known world at the time of his death in 1643. Boyle was interred in a monument that he made for himself and his family in the church. Apart from Boyle’s effigy, those of his two wives, his mother, and 9 of his 15 children may also be found on this lavish monument.

New Discoveries
St Mary’s church in Youghal continues to yield new discoveries. In 2014, a burial vault was discovered beneath the church when the floor’s subsidence was investigated during a restoration project funded by the Heritage Council of Ireland. The vault was used to inter a high-status individual / family. Apart from that, the archaeologists also uncovered evidence of subterranean flues from the 18 th century that carried heat from fires lit inside the church, as well as a system that transported water from a furnace via earthen channels.
A stone grave now on display in St Mary’s Collegiate Church. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos 
The Collegiate Church of Youghal is a building of historical importance for Ireland. It is now classified as a National Monument of Ireland and is under the care of the government, by way of a lease between the Church of Ireland Representative Church Body, and the Youghal Urban District Council.

Top image: St Mary’s Collegiate Church, Youghal. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos

By Wu Mingren

25 July 2018

New Yorkers in Viking Age Iceland

Another good article posted through Medievalists.net. The author details the early migration patterns of the Norse over the course of their history during the Viking Age, and points out the reasons why all the sagas and tales of that period are so similar, and in some cases identical - they were from the same source. (Ed.) 


New Yorkers in Viking Age Iceland

By Matthias Egeler

What is the founding date of New York? A seemingly obvious answer is: AD 1664, when the former Dutch colony of Nieuw Amsterdam gave in to the threatening guns of the English Royal Navy and was re-named after their new owner James, the Duke of York, and after the city which was his seat of power. This is, however, not the only possible answer. A less obvious but equally correct answer is: which one of them?

In Iceland, there are four settlement sites that answer to the name of Jórvík – and all of them probably are Viking Age foundations named after the Old Norse name of York: Jórvík. So basically, there are four ‘New Yorks’ in Iceland. They may be a bit smaller than the city on the American East Coast: the Jórvík in Skaftárhreppur in Southern Iceland today consists of barely a dozen buildings, even if one includes agricultural outbuildings in the count. Yet nevertheless, new Yorks these settlement sites are: places named after the ‘old’ York in northern England by Scandinavian settlers who had moved westwards across the Atlantic.

The New Yorks of Iceland: the four settlement-places called ‘Jórvík’ in Fljótsdalshérað, Fjarðabyggð, Skaftárhreppur, and Sveitarfélagið Árborg. All four places are named after the Old Norse name of York: Jórvík. Map based on data from the National Land Survey of Iceland, used by permission (accessed 30 March 2017)
The broader context of the foundation of the four Icelandic ‘New Yorks’ is found in the history of the Norse westward expansion during the early Middle Ages. Iceland was discovered in the middle of the ninth century and was subsequently settled between c. AD 870 and AD 930. Yet neither the discovery nor the settlement of Iceland were isolated occurrences.

With the beginning of the Viking Age in the late eighth century, the Norse began to push the borders of their settlement territory to the west: northern England; the Scottish mainland; Shetland; Orkney; the Western Isles of Scotland; Ireland; the Faeroes; and finally Iceland, Greenland, and even a bit of Newfoundland were all settled by Norse incomers. Of the Norse that came to these lands west of Scandinavia, some came to raid, some to trade, and some to stay; and of those who had come to stay, some after a while ended up moving even further west. Or in other words: while the first generation of settlers in newly-discovered Iceland was dominated by men (and very, very few women) who were ethnically Norse, not all of these early settlers had come to Iceland directly from Scandinavia.

If our medieval textual sources are to be believed, about a quarter of the earliest Icelandic settlers came to Iceland only indirectly: from Scandinavia, these settlers originally had moved to Britain or Ireland and decided only later on that maybe there were greener pastures to be found even further west. So, some of them then continued their move westwards by setting sail for Iceland. At least part of these ‘indirect’ settlers, who went to Iceland via Britain or Ireland rather than directly from Scandinavia, spent several generations in their first host countries before finally moving on to Iceland. Such extended stays meant that some of them, at least to a certain extent, went native in northern England or the Gaelic-speaking world, even to the point where some were on the brink of losing their linguistic identity.

A certain Auðun, for instance, who had come to Iceland from the Hebrides (where his father had emigrated to) and who was married to an Irish wife, was nicknamed ‘the Stutterer’: since Auðun seems to have grown up on the (Gaelic-speaking) Hebrides and there had been integrated enough into Gaelic society to have an Irish spouse, this ‘stuttering’ may not so much be a speech defect but rather the reflex of an inadequate grasp of Norse by somebody who ethnically was Scandinavian, but who had culturally and linguistically grown up in and into a Gaelic environment.

When such settlers came to Iceland, their reference-point for what was ‘home’ might not have been Scandinavia, but rather the place where their family had last lived: northern England and the Gaelic-speaking world of Ireland and Scotland. Just as in the case of the Dutch settlers of Nieuw Amsterdam and the Duke of York, a first step for such settlers to make themselves at home in the new land could have been to name their new settlement after their old. Thus, Norse settlers from Viking York – Jórvík – might have given their new farms in Iceland just that very name: Jórvík. (New) York.

At a close reading of Old Norse-Icelandic and medieval Irish literature, it turns out that this focusing on an old ‘home’ in Britain or Ireland is relevant not only for the history of the settlement and place-names of Iceland, but also for important parts of medieval Irish storytelling. A well-known instance is the story of how Auðr the Deep-Minded had crosses erected at her settlement site on the Hvammsfjörður fjord, thus creating both a place for her prayers and the place-name Krosshólar, ‘Cross Hills’. Today, this is memorialised by a stone cross on the rock outcrop of Krosshólaborg on the north-eastern tip of the fjord. In scholarship to date, Auðr’s ‘Cross Hills’ have mostly been seen as a calvary hill. Yet it may not be chance that, according to her story as told by medieval Icelandic literature, Auðr’s home before her emigration to Iceland had been the Gaelic-world of Ireland, Scotland, and the Scottish Isles – a world where High Crosses were among the most prominent monuments visible in the religious landscape. Maybe Auðr did not simply create a calvary hill, but rather – and much more poignantly – turned her new settlement place into a facsimile of the landscape in which she had grown up and which for most of her life for her had meant ‘home’.

The rock outcrop of Krosshólaborg on the north-eastern tip of the Hvammsfjörður fjord, crowned by a stone cross erected in 1965 to commemorate Auðr as the first, Christian settler at Hvammur, who reputedly erected High Crosses in this area already in the Settlement Period. © M. Egeler, 2011.
Similarly, ever since Ari the Wise in the twelfth century wrote his ‘Book of Icelanders’, the paparhave loomed large in the cultural imagination of early Iceland: fabled Gaelic anchorites who were thought to have reached Iceland even before the Norse did, only to abandon it when the island was taken over by pagan settlers from Scandinavia. The ‘Book of Icelanders’ or Íslendingabókmakes much of them, and so does the ‘Book of Settlements’ or Landnámabók.

Yet if one has a close look both at the Icelandic and at the Gaelic material – stories about saints, place-names, and the Latin writings of the Irish historian Dicuil – it turns out that another scenario is much more likely than an early settlement of Iceland by Irish monks. 

Norse settlers coming from the Gaelic-speaking world (especially Scotland and the Scottish islands) seem to have brought the idea of papar-places to Iceland because in their old home on the Hebrides, such monastic places were what had made up the sacred landscape. 

The papar came to Iceland not physically, but as part of the cultural imaginary of partly-Gaelicised settlers who tried to feel at home in Iceland by turning Iceland conceptually into a mirror-image of their old home in the Gaelic world – almost a ‘Nova Scotia’ or a ‘Nova Hibernia’.

Papós (‘papar-Estuary’) at the mouth of the lagoon of Papafjörður (‘papar-Fjord’) in southern Iceland: a place whose names evoke imaginary Gaelic anchorites and thus the sacred landscape of northern Scotland and the Scottish islands. © M. Egeler, 2014.
Even heroic landscapes were affected in this way. One of the most famous of the Sagas of Icelanders is Eyrbyggja saga, the ‘Saga of the Inhabitants of Eyr’. Much of the main narrative of this saga is framed by the story of Þórólfr Twist-Foot, who may well be one of the most interestingly evil characters of Icelandic saga literature. Having been a ‘great Viking’ (i.e., a robber and raider) before his arrival in Iceland, he behaves as a violent, unfair bully even after he has settled down there. The older he gets, the worse his bullying becomes, and this trajectory is even continued after his death: soon after his burial, he returns from the grave as a viciously destructive revenant whose hauntings threaten to turn the whole area into a wasteland. When his son intervenes and moves the body to an outlying headland, there is peace for a while.

The terror returns after the death of Þórólfr’s son. Þórólfr resumes his hauntings with such ferocity that one farm after another has to be abandoned. To stop him, the new local landowner disinters the body and burns it. Yet then a cow licks the stones where the ashes from Þórólfr’s pyre had been blown, and Þórólfr returns through its womb: the cow gives birth to a calf and Þórólfr is reborn as a magnificent, violent, terrible bull who ultimately kills his owner and ends his life by disappearing in a swamp. The swamp is then named Glæsiskelda. This name is a linguistic game that both plays with the imagery of water and light, as the name can be translated as ‘Shining Spring’, and takes up the name of the bull, which had been called Glæsir.

The same pattern that is found in the saga narrative also is well-known from medieval Irish storytelling. Among the main protagonists of the Ulster Cycle of Tales, the main heroic cycle of early medieval Irish storytelling, are two magnificent bulls. Originally, these bulls had been men from the otherworld who underwent a series of transformations. Towards the end of this series of transformations, they turned into two water-worms. As water-worms, they were swallowed by two cows. From this, the cows had calves. They gave birth to two magnificent, violent, terrible bulls, which in the end tore each other to pieces. In their final fight, these bulls created the place-name Áth Lúain. This place-name, just like the place-name Glæsiskelda, represents a linguistic game that plays both with the imagery of water and light and with a body part of one of the bulls from which the place reputedly is named: it can mean both ‘Ford of Brightness’ and ‘Ford of the [Bull’s] Loin’.

Thus, the stories from the Icelandic saga and from Irish heroic storytelling present the same patterns, and even the same details. In both narrative traditions, a being, at the end of a series of transformations, is turned into something tiny that is swallowed by cows. The cows then give birth to monstrous bulls. The lives of these bulls end in a hugely destructive fight, which leads to the creation of a place-name that plays both with the imagery of water and light and with [body parts of] the bulls themselves.

In the ‘Saga of the Inhabitants of Eyr’, the story of Þórólfr Twist-Foot and his bull-transformation is closely connected with the topography of the Álftafjörður fjord. Step by narrative step, the saga connects the plot with local place-names, culminating in the creation of the ‘Spring of Brightness’ Glæsiskelda – which one can still locate on the official maps of the area. It is almost as if an Icelandic fjord had been turned into a Gaelic heroic landscape. 

One wonders whether what we see here is something quite similar to what we see in the four Icelandic New Yorks: a settler looking at his new land and trying to turn it into a facsimile of his (or her) old home. This can be done by transferring names from the old home to the new, but, in a much more elaborate way, it can also be done by transferring whole stories. In this way, the connection of the settlement of Iceland with Britain and Ireland seems to have instilled an element of Gaelicness into the Icelandic sense of place. When looking at their new land, part of the settlers of Iceland apparently still yearned for a home located in Britain and Ireland, and tried to bring it with them, be it in the form of High Crosses, imaginary hermitages, men-turned-into-bulls, or the name of York.

Matthias Egeler holds a Heisenberg fellowship at the Institut für Nordische Philologie of the Ludwig-Maximilians-University in Munich and is Fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg zu Berlin. He is the author of Atlantic Outlooks on Being at Home: Gaelic Place-Lore and the Construction of a Sense of Place in Medieval Iceland, published by the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters. Click here to learn more about the book.

14 July 2018

Draken Harald Hardrada

For those who have not seen this magnificent Viking ship built in Norway, here is your chance. 

Named for Norwegian King Harald Hardrada, or Harald Fairhair as he was also known, the 115' oaken ship was completed in 2012.

To fully appreciate the consummate skill of the men who built her, I encourage the reader to click on the title link, and watch the three accompanying videos showing the construction process, the naming and launching of Dragon, and her shakedown voyages. (Ed.)

Draken Harald Hardrada 

Draken, or Dragon where she belongs, at sea


07 July 2018

Long-lost North American Viking settlement was in Canada, say archaeologists

As a follow-on to last weeks post, here's another good article from the UK's Independent on the possibility of a second Viking settlement in Canada.

To get the full impact of this article I encourage the reader to also click on the title link to read it on the Independents own website.(Ed.)

Friday 9 March 2018 13:03

Site described in Norse sagas would be only second early European camp identified in the Americas
A father and daughter dressed as Vikings in L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland, already known as an early European settlement ( Shaun Best/Reuters )
A long lost Viking settlement that featured in sagas passed down over hundreds of years, may have been located on the east coast of Canada

Birgitta Wallace, an award-winning specialist in Norse archaeology and Viking evidence in the West, said she had uncovered evidence that the new site known as Hop – meaning tidal lagoon – is in the province of New Brunswick, on the country's east coast. 
If she is proved correct, it would be the second Viking settlement to be discovered in North America.

Experts have known from Norse sagas that there was a settlement in North America of 11th-century Europeans, who grew wild grapes, ate salmon and made canoes out of animal hides. 

The first site uncovered is at L'Anse aux Meadows, a United Nations (UN) World Heritage site, on the northern tip of Newfoundland.

Over the decades, academics have suggested possible locations where the remains of Hop might be found, including Newfoundland, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia, Maine, New England and New York.

After studying Norse texts and using the description of the settlement from sagas of Viking voyages, together with archaeological findings at L'Anse aux Meadows and at Native American sites on America’s east coast, Ms Wallace now believes it was located in New Brunswick. 
“I am placing Hop in the Miramichi-Chaleur Bay area,“ she said.

New Brunswick, Canada, where the site is thought to be located (Google Maps)

However, she said Hop may not be a single settlement. Instead she said the Vikings may have created multiple short-term settlements in the area, the locations varying from year to year.

Tales of the Viking voyages were passed down orally through generations, and “Hop” may have referred to several seasonal settlements, Ms Wallace said.
North-eastern New Brunswick is the only place that meets all the criteria in the sagas for Hop, she said, adding that it has wild grapes and salmon, coastal sandbanks and a population that used animal-hide canoes. 
“New Brunswick is the northern limit of grapes, which are not native either to Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia,” said Ms Wallace.

Sandbanks – or “barrier sandbars” - are particularly dominant along the New Brunswick east coast and wild salmon was abundant there at the time, she said. 

Research shows they were not found at pre-Columbian Native American sites in Maine or New England, she added.

Evidence of trees found at L'Anse aux Meadows also suggested the Vikings had set up camp, at least for a short time, in the New Brunswick area, she said. 

Animal skins were used in shipbuilding by the Mi'kmaq people, who lived in the Miramichi-Chaleur bay area.

As the camp was probably used only for the summer, tools and bodies for burial are likely to have been returned to the Vikings’ home base, Greenland, so evidence may no longer exist, and the key areas may now be paved over, she said.