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Viewing swaag.org website implies consent to set cookies on your computer. Full details Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group
Registered Charitable Incorporated Organisation Number 1155775
SWAAG Honorary President:
Tim Laurie FSA

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 *****SWAAG_ID***** 768
 Date Entered 07/12/2013
 Updated on 07/12/2013
 Recorded by Tim Laurie
 Category Lithic Find / Scatter
 Record Type Archaeology
 Site Access Public
 Record Date 27/11/2013
 Location St Michael\'s Church, Downholme.
 Civil Parish Downholme
 Brit. National Grid SE 110 983
 Altitude 193m
 Geology Sandstone boulder of local origine.
 Record Name Stone head of the 'Celtic severed head' tradition built into the western gable of St Michael's Church, Downholme.
 Record Description Crudely carved and much weathered stone head made on a rounded boulder of sandstone built into the gable end of St Michael's Church. This stone head is very similar to the many stone heads widely distributed across the NW Pennines which have been recorded as of the 'Celtic Severed Head' tradition (see Sidney Jackson, 1973: 'Celtic and other stone heads' Privately Published by the Author). St Michael's Church is situated directly below the Iron Age defended settlement or univallate hill fort on the summit of How Hill, Downholme and a spring rises close to the western access lane to the Church. The stone head may have been found local to this spring and was almost certainly associated with the belief system of the Iron Age, 'Celtic' Swaledale people who lived on How Hill. Similar stone heads have been built into buildings throughout Yorkshire to ward off evil spirits. This belief in the power of the severed head as a protection against evil is widespread both across North Yorkshire and is a worldwide tradition. A very fine double-headed,'Janus' (facing both ways) carved celtic stone head was once to be seen on a low garden wall outside the Unicorn Inn at Bowes in Co. Durham. This stone is now in private possession, I have been informed. A slide image of this double headed, 'Janus' type stone head used to be in the Bowes Museum Collection.
 Additional Notes See also: Anne Ross 1963. 'Pagan Celtic Britain. Studies in iconography and tradition.' Routledge and Kegan and Paul.London. This much weathered and crudely carved stone head which is built into the roughly coursed ashlar stone face western gable of St Michael's Church contrasts strongly with the crisply carved and detailed 'portrait' stone heads at the quoins of the finely carved 12C arches of the windows of the church, see photographs below. Yorkshire County History records: 'St Michael's Church, Downholme consists of a chancel about 23'* 13', a north chapel (or extension of the aisle) about 22ft*15ft, north aisle 11ft wide and a south porch. The church dates from about 1180AD and consisted of a simple chancel and nave of the same length as now. The north aisle was added soon afterwards, about 1200AD.' Reconstruction works were necessary in 1811,1886 and 1894. Presumably this reconstruction work was extensive. VCH makes no mention of the stone head. If anyone can add information on any further records or information on this stone carving, please let me know. This church is located within walking distance from Downholme Village and can be accessed by a public footpath which leaves the village to follow a short surviving length of a very old lane, see photograph below, and then to cross the fields and reach the main road close to the church (care needed to cross the busy main road).
 Image 1 ID 4856         Click image to enlarge
 Image 1 Description The stone head in the western gable of St Michaels Church, Downholme. This roughly carved and heavily weathered sandstone boulder is of the 'Celtic severed head tradition.
 Image 2 ID 4854         Click image to enlarge
 Image 2 Description St Michael's Church, Downholme dates from 1180AD and is a very peaceful place.
 Image 3 ID 4855         Click image to enlarge
 Image 3 Description The stone head is just visible on this photograph of the west gable.
 Image 4 ID 4857         Click image to enlarge
 Image 4 Description The stone head, detail.
 Image 5 ID 4858         Click image to enlarge
 Image 5 Description The stone head, detail.
 Image 6 ID 4859         Click image to enlarge
 Image 6 Description Finely carved, medieval, stone 'portrait' heads which decorate the window arches on the western and souther elevations contrast strongly with the roughly carved 'celtic' head.
 Image 7 ID 4860         Click image to enlarge
 Image 7 Description Finely carved, medieval, stone 'portrait' heads which decorate the window arches on the western and souther elevations contrast strongly with the roughly carved 'celtic' head.
 Image 8 ID 4861         Click image to enlarge
 Image 8 Description Finely carved, medieval, stone 'portrait' heads which decorate the window arches on the western and souther elevations contrast strongly with the roughly carved 'celtic' head.
 Image 9 ID 4862         Click image to enlarge
 Image 9 Description Finely carved, medieval, stone 'portrait' heads which decorate the window arches on the western and souther elevations contrast strongly with the roughly carved 'celtic' head.
 Image 10 ID 4863         Click image to enlarge
 Image 10 Description 
 Image 11 ID 4864
 Image 11 Description 
 Image 12 ID 4865
 Image 12 Description The remnant hedgerow with old hollies and guelder rose bushes once formed the access lane to the lynchetted fields and St Michael's Church from Downholme Village.
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