Medieval remains in modern Leeds

Today just a very short photo post. The backlog is now in some sense advanced to only thirteen months behind, as I approach the International Medieval Congress of the year before the one just gone. But, the IMC 2015 was special for me, because I knew by then that I would be attending the next one as staff of the University of Leeds and indeed a resident of the city. Given that, it seemed like a sensible thing to take advantage of one of the excursions the IMC offers, a tour of the historic buildings of Leeds. Now, I will not hide it: no building that now stands in Leeds is medieval. In fact, when they built the minster of St-Peter-at-Leeds in 1841, it was on the foundations of the medieval cathedral, which they had torn down in 1838 to make room. Leeds has been very good at preserving its early and late modern built heritage, I’ve found, but earlier periods have done less well. This is not to say that it’s not a fantastic building…

Altar, reredos and stained glass windows in St-Peter-at-Leeds

Altar, reredos and stained glass windows in St-Peter-at-Leeds

In fact it’s gorgeous and the custodians are justly and stiffly proud of it. But they are also custodians of some of the remnant monuments from the building before, and that’s what I’m justifying this photo post with. Witness!

Tomb effigy of an unknown knight in St-Peter-at-Leeds, apparently dated c. 1330

Tomb effigy of an unknown knight in St-Peter-at-Leeds, apparently dated c. 1330

But more importantly, witness this, for it is probably tenth-century, or at least, Anglo-Viking, and thus considerably closer to my interests.

Anglo-Viking stone cross displayed in St-Peter-at-Leeds

Anglo-Viking stone cross displayed in St-Peter-at-Leeds

Apparently when they took down the medieval cathedral, this was lurking in its walls in fragments, along with fragments of six others. All this seems to me to speak of accumulation of monuments at some point before the cathedral was built, and I wish we had some way of finding out what the story was there. But the story on the cross itself is quite surprising, as in the lower register, despite its obviously Christian context, we find none other than Weland the Smith, fresh from his appearance on the Franks Casket and other such venues, and here setting up to escape prison in his homebuilt flying machine! He did better than poor Cadman of whom we heard last post, after all…

Weland the Smith, just about visible in the lower register of the St Peters Cross in St-Peter-at-Leeds

Weland the Smith, just about visible in the lower register of the St Peters Cross in St-Peter-at-Leeds

I suppose that there is something syncretic here about ascension to Heaven, but it’s a stretch, I’d say, and it would be nice to be able to interview the person who commissioned this stonework to ask just what he or she thought she or he was playing at. Failing that, though, at least you can look at the results still!

I freely admit to having forgotten pretty much everything we were told about these monuments on the nonetheless-excellent tour, and having relocated the details here either on the Minster’s website or in Susan Wrathmell, John Minnis, Janet Douglas, Elain Harwood, Derek Linstrum, Christopher Webster, Anthony Wells-Cole and Stuart Wrathmell, Leeds (New Haven 2005), pp. 43-47, almost all of which was helpfully available on Google Books. But that’ll do!

4 responses to “Medieval remains in modern Leeds

  1. not quite leeds proper, but have you visited adel church?
    it has possibly the most barking mad carvings ever when you can get inside

    • I must make a trip up there! I always missed the chance when the International Medieval Congress was still located on that side of town, but now it’s within a (fairly exhausting) cycle ride.

  2. Raymond E.O. Ella

    Transitional hybrid stone cross: Magnus Magnusson was unaware of this until our reciprocation and correspondence. To read a brief mention go to a Google uk search box, type Raymond E.O.Ella then click, then go to Amazon uk AuthorProfile/blog.

  3. The Puritan regime followed on the first successes of the Parliamentarians, and Leeds saw two Puritan ministers placed in the parish church and the new church of St. John. But in 1644 Leeds folk had something else to think: an epidemic, so serious as to rank with the medieval visitations of plague, broke out, and resulted in the death of 1300 inhabitants. The weekly markets were discontinued, and deaths occurred with such startling rapidity that it was impossible to keep pace with them in the parish registers.

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