logo_greenParish Church of St Bridget, West Kirby

                           with

The Church of the Resurrection and

                     All Saints, Caldy

 

 

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An Inheritance of Faith

 

The HOGBACK  STONE

 

 

 

 

hogback stone

hogback stone 2

 

SIGNIFICANCE

 

The "Hogback" stone is of Anglo-Norse origin, and dates from the early eleventh century, and the Norse (or "Viking") settlement of Wirral. It represents evidence of Christian burial and the use of this site for Christian worship at the last Millennium. It is a powerful reminder of the long Christian inheritance of the worshipping community at St Bridget's. It is appropriate that one of the oldest artifacts in this area is one which can witness to the vitality and continuity of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who is "the same, yesterday, and forever." (Hebrews 13:8)

 

BACKGROUND

 

Documentary evidence is limited, but it seems likely that the Norsemen arrived in Wirral (and elsewhere on the north-western seaboard) from Ireland in the tenth century. Their arrival was primarily by settlement rather than military occupation, and there seems to have been a gradual conversion to Christian faith. Indeed, many of those arriving seem already to have been Christian, hence the dedication of this church to St Bridget, Abbess of Kildare. The Norse settlers have left their mark on this area not only in the "-by" ending of many place-names, but in the sculptural tradition of crosses and stones, including our own "Hogback" Stone. You can discover more about the Norse settlement of Wirral in two books: "Ingimund's Saga" by Stephen Harding (Countryvise Publications, 2000) and "Wirral and its Viking Heritage" by Paul Cavill, Stephen Harding and Judith Jesch (English Place-Name Society, 2000). Both books are usually available at Lingham's Bookshop on Banks Road, West Kirby.

 

RECENT HISTORY

 

The stone was discovered during the restoration of the Church in 1869-1870, traditionally having been unearthed on the site now covered by the aisle in which it stands. It was originally preserved in the Dawson-Brown Museum adjacent to the former Schoolroom. Its recent transfer into the church is paralleled by the display of similar stones in other churches (eg.Gosforth and Aspatria in Cumbria)   There remain in the Museum a number of examples of Cross fragments from the same period as the stone, as well as artifacts of a later date. A visit to the Museum can be arranged by contacting the Custodian, Mr Rod Tann (0151-625-1234) or the Rector (0151-625-5229).

 

DESCRIPTION

 

The stone is carved from a hard, grey, sandstone, not of the local variety. A similar stone is found in the district of Ruabon, near Wrexham, although some have argued for a Yorkshire origin.

 

It is similar to other stones found in the north west of England, north Yorkshire, and southern Scotland. The popular generic description "Hogback" relates to the curving top of the stone, although the West Kirby example has been damaged in this area. However, the likely origin of this style is in imitation of Saxon stone shrines (eg."Hedda's Tomb" in Peterborough Cathedral), which are themselves inspired by the gabled tombs of the christian Mediterranean world. The "Hogback" sculptors also imitated contemporary buildings, hence the curved roof, and often also curved sides, giving to some stones a "boat" shape.

 

Many Hogback stones imitate a tiled roof, but on this example the tiles have become so stylised as to resemble large tear drops. The decoration on the side of the stone is a late example of an interlace or "plait" which can be found on much sculpture, Anglo-Norse and Celtic. The "cart-wheel" pattern found above the tiles is unusual, but is similar to designs on a cross on the Isle of Man.

 

The quality of carving is not of the highest order - notice how the sculptor has failed to join up the interlace work. He has also carved against the "grain" of the stone, so that exposure to rain, frost and ice has caused the damage to the top portion.

 

As well as the damage to the top of the stone, it seems that at some later stage in its history the ends of the stone have been lost – perhaps deliberately cut off, perhaps so that the stone could be used as a lintel or in a wall.

 

All the surviving "Hogback" stones have been found within parish churchyards and scholarly opinion is that they served as markers for the burial place of important members of the Norse community, some stones perhaps being combined with head and foot stones, and even with standing Crosses. These stones can witness to our trust in Christ, who is the resurrection and the life of all the faithful. (John 11:25)

 

Almighty God

you have kindled the flame of love

in the hearts of all  who have kept faith in this place

for a thousand years:

grant to us the same faith and power of love,

and as we rejoice in the triumphs of your grace in their lives,

may we be sustained by their example and fellowship;

through Jesus Christ our Risen Lord.

Amen

 

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