Albion, ancient sites, Archaeology, Art, Books, Don and Wen, Photography, sacred sites, symbolism, TOLL, travel

Discovering Albion – day 7: It Just Kept Coming…

scotland trip jan 15 557The trouble with Brechin is that no sooner had you marvelled at the Aldbar Cross than you were confronted by the hogback… and all the rest of the stones safely stored in the corner. Now, we had, as you may recall, been foiled in our attempt to deliberately see the first hogback at Heysham in Lancashire, only to fall over them at every turn from that point onwards. So we had seen a few by this point… one just that morning. But none, I have to say, quite like this…

scotland trip jan 15 466
I studiously ignored it for a moment. I barely dare look, so went off to examine the collection of stones stored higgledy-piggledy in the corner. There was a consecration cross such as we had seen on many a church wall… fragments of decorative masonry and bits of crosses… even a small chunk of the roof-tile carving from another hogback… one of the type we were, by now, more used to seeing. It was no use, though. I was going to have to look eventually…

scotland trip jan 15 452I had never seen anything like it before, though technically… apparently… the Brechin hogback is a ‘type A endbeast’. Honestly… What it is, in fact, is an incredibly beautiful and sinuous piece of the craftsman’s art. It is almost as long as I am tall… and that doesn’t take into account the missing length from the damaged end. It was, at one point, reused as a grave cover and bears a 17th century inscription on its underside. However, the stone itself is a thousand years old, probably contemporary with the Round Tower in whose shadow it lies.

scotland trip jan 15 453The design is similar, if not symmetrical down both sides of the central spine. On each side, there is a pair of entwined beasts and a pair of figures, identified as being ecclesiastical by their accoutrements. Even here the theme of the twins carries through and I cannot help wondering how significant that is… how deep it goes. It is something we have come across so often now that there must be more meaning to it than we realise.

scotland trip jan 15 450The ‘end beast’ though was the most fascinating thing… Two enormous eyes remain of the damaged head, making the spine of the stone the spine of the creature itself. The whole thing is covered in vines, curling and interlacing with the beasts and figures. It feels ‘alive’ somehow… not as if the decoration was imposed upon the skin of the strange stone creature, but as if the beast encompasses all within it somehow. As if it contains creation… I think of the World Serpent, of Ouroboros… I wonder how different their cyclical symbolism is from the Christian teachings of the Resurrection…

scotland trip jan 15 463Then chuckle to myself as I realise I am at it again… I may have curbed my tongue this time but I would still have been burned at the stake by the Inquisition for some of the comparisons going through my mind. I am reminded, all of a sudden, of a medieval wall painting we had seen long ago in Broughton… a gruesome exhortation against blasphemy that shows in graphic manner what damage those guilty of that sin were inflicting on the ‘body of Christ’. The contrast was stark between the joyous, organic beauty of the early faith that seemed to celebrate the very laughter of the earth and the later, purgatorial dictates of zealots who deem there to be only one way to reach the Divine. Such suffering and grief that division has caused through all nations for so many centuries. Where, I wondered, had we gone wrong?

Broughton (24)
Broughton…the body of Christ dismembered by sin…

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