Volume III: York and East Yorkshire

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Current Display: York Minster 09, York Forward button Back button

National Grid Reference of Place of Discovery
Present Location
Yorkshire Museum, York
Evidence for Discovery
Found during excavations of 1966 - 71
Church Dedication
St Peter
Present Condition
Much broken, but carving crisp

A (broad): There is no edge moulding. A naturalistic, frontally disposed human figure stands with arms outstretched. From them hang crude wings depicted by parallel incisions: each wing has four feathers. The stone is broken away along the left-hand edge. The top of this face is cut back into the stump of a tenon joint.

B (narrow): There is no edge moulding. The rear half of a profile beast survives. It adopts an S-stance and its hind leg and tail are still tucked beneath the descending torso. The leg-joint is marked by a bold spiral with an attendant median-incised transverse bar. The body is contoured, the outer strips tapering towards the rump, and decorated with hatching. The body is fettered by a median-incised band which also binds the tail. A second strand binds the back. An arc of a fetter loop and another of a cable-edged sub-circular feature lie above the back.

C (broad): Broken away, to reveal a cross section of the tenon joint at the top and a considerable mortice recess penetrating into the stone from below.

D (narrow): Broken away. The tenon is pronounced.


The structure of this piece is of great interest: evidently the shaft was constructed as a series of jointed blocks, each with its own self-contained decorative motif. There are parallels for mortice and tenon joints for fixing cross-heads to shafts, for example, Nunburnholme 1, but the analogies for shaft construction using this method are Anglian and earlier. The great cross at Masham, North Riding, had such a joint linking very large elements (Collingwood 1907, 360) but a shaft of proportions nearer to the present piece is at West Tanfield, North Riding (Collingwood 1911a, 300–1, figs. c–e on 300), where the mortice is on top and the tenon below. The present piece demonstrates the continuity of this structural method into the Viking period.

The profile animal is typical of the crouching profile beasts of Anglo-Scandinavian sculpture in Yorkshire, though its contouring and scrolled joint are more embellished than usual. The scroll, with its bar, is moving towards Mammen style treatment, which is thinly represented in this area: compare the animals of the Cammin casket (Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1966, pl. LV1b). A bar-scroll is also found on a spear socket from Acomb, on the edge of York (Lang 1981). The feature need not be a late Viking style. The tight fettering, however, matches the customs of many other designers of Yorkshire Viking-age animals in both stone and metal.

The winged human figure is probably Weland (Old Norse Volundr, the flying smith. There are near-by parallels at Leeds, West Riding, Bedale, North Riding, and Sherburn 3 (Ill. 768) (Lang 1976; McGuire and Clark 1987, 11, 25, 36–9). These analogues are united not only thematically but in the conventions of the design: the flying contraptions are bound to the figure who holds a woman above his head (see Sherburn 3). The representation here, however, is much more simple and less formalized. It is just possible that the figure is an angel but this would be rare in this place at this time. If the figure is Weland, this carving is a response to the story rather than to carved conventions. There are no depictions of Weland in stone sculpture of the Anglo-Scandinavian period outside Yorkshire.

Tenth century

1. All the pieces from the Minster were discovered as a result of the excavations of 1966-71 by H. Ramm and D. Phillips. They are to be published as a handlist, together with a critical essay, in the forthcoming Royal Commission volume on the excavations. That publication will provide the finer detail of their archaeological contexts, both in a table, and in a description of the excavation of the south transept cemetery.
The following are general references to the stones: Wilson 1978, 142; Hall 1980b, 7, 21; Lang 1988b, 8, 12; Lang 1989, 5.

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