Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Shape of an L - a reply from Junior F [Watchman]

I love the idea that people read the posts I write. Some you like, some … less so. Whatever people think about the individual piece, I’m always grateful to know that I provoked some degree of thought and discussion. It is genuinely humbling and I thank all those who get in touch to discuss a piece or give me additional information, or help me build a fuller understanding. Then there’s “Junior F [Watchman]” … He decided that, after reading my most recent post about the possible meaning of the L-shape in Early Medieval Irish art that he had to go track down my personal email account and send me a 1,200 word reply under the title of “A mission to find your contact email..”.

An edge-on view of the wonderful Stowe Missal Shrine (Warner 1906)

Although I never claimed that the idea of the Trinity was ‘Biblical Doctrine’, he really wants to put me straight on this issue and how it ‘is one of the most profound lies spread by Catholicism which is diametrically opposed to the Shema’. He reckons (without providing anything as tawdry as evidence) that the ‘L-shape’ could refer to ‘"EL-ohim" in Biblical Hebrew is the word for "God", a Supreme title.’ I’m also accused of using the word ‘write’ when I should have said (or ‘typed’) that I had typed it. As only Junior F [Watchman]’s god can create anything and you can’t use the word in any other way, I’m blaspheming against him. Junior F [Watchman] needs to tell me that: ‘you are basically assisting the 'stupidizing' of language by using certain terms in definitions that have been "SOCIALIZED"/"PAGANZIED" and you have no clue it seems that when you use the word "Create" in a definition that is has nothing to do with God being subject of the word "Create", you are actually blaspheming Him’. He goes on to say that Jesus commands him to warn me against this. He’s not particularly clear whether this is a general command or if Jesus mentioned me specifically, but from what I can gather of Junior F [Watchman]’s personality, it really could go either way. Junior F [Watchman]’s tone then takes a turn for the dark and violent as he notes ‘what you do with this after is your situation, not mine, sinch (sic.) by then your blood is off my hands.’ He ends with the charming statement that 'I can provide more evidence if requested.' ... Frankly, I'm at a loss to see what evidence he's presented at all ... but, different strokes and all that ...

I suppose that my greatest disappointment here is that I would have hoped that, should I ever be contacted by a member of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, it’d be Silk Spectre, Rorschach, or even Dr Manhattan (heck, even Night Owl, at a push!) … not some lightly deranged ‘former paganos-catholicos of 30+ years’ who takes his spelling lessons from the Tyndale Bible he quotes as his email sig file. For the record, I’ve decided to post his entire comment here and not reply directly to him ... just in case I’m suddenly hit by a bolt of lightening …

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Greetings in the one who inhabits all of eternity,

Mr. Robert Chapple.. i came across your article today title "The Shape of an L".

I'm a former paganos-catholicos of 30+ years emaiing you from Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  Within the last 12 years of my life i became a true born again beliver according to proper first century Jude 1:1-3 Gospel understanding as it was actually taught in the first century mindset by Jesus and the Apostles. Thus, the "Trinity" is NOT "Bible Doctrine", rather it's Platonic Philosophy that was injected forcefully into the early church by the very wolves that Jesus, Peter, James, John and Paul warned about w/ tears (See Acts 20:29 + Colossians 2:8-9 as one prime example.)  Further, i am trained in biblical greek and biblical hebrew of varying strengths and frankly to claim the "Trinity" is "Biblical Doctrine" is one of the most profound lies spread by Catholicism which is diametrically opposed to the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4 and many other examples in the Old and New Covenant.) The Trinity philosophy, that's what it is, is part of what is known as "Mystery Religions" especially of Egypt and Babylon and it is an utmost severe corruption of the Biblical New Covenant Israelite comprehension of the Godhead.  God has a name, His name is Jesus, He is the Spirit of all spirits, He is not a 'person' (See Numbers 23:19, Job 9:32, 1Samuel 15:29). There were many various trinity religious philosophies which of course belonged to pagans and heathens before God incarnated and named Himself Jesus which before God did this, the Hebrews who later became Israelites, knew with no doubts, that ANYONE who worshipped a 'trinity', were pagans or heathens, it was a severe corruption of the ONE God.  Therefore your claims that are founded on the false belief that the Trinity is "Biblical Doctrine", well when a foundation is bulit on a great false rock, and really it's sand, it is self-destruction when the time comes for they are direct opposition to correct exegesis of the Biblical Greek and Biblical Hebrew of the first century.

As for the "L" .. "EL-ohim" in Biblical Hebrew is the word for "God", a Supreme title.  It could be the "L's" that you see everywhere are a reference to "El" (El-ohim). Though the word is a plural word in Hebrew grammar, only when it is used for the God of the Holy Bible, it is used in the singular form as part of factual comprehension of proper grammatical Hebrew as substantiated by Deuteronomy 6:4, thus, to claim God is a trinity, when there are so many Biblical verses when properly exegeted that refute God is a trinity, well frankly.. you are spreading a Catholic position, and any non-denonominational (denonominational is a Catholic term, not biblical) true born again beliver in Jesus the Christ (Matthew 6:24-34, Mark 8:34-38 / Luke 9:23-24, 14:27, 17:33 / John 3:3-5, 3:16, 12:24-25 / Galatians 5:19-26 / 1Corinthians 1:30-31, 1Peter4:17-18 etc) knows that such a position is the utmost doctrine of devils that was injected into the early church that was infiltrated by the mystery religion wolves who pretended to be 'true believers in the One God" but bit by bit were fully successful after 150 A.D. of their infiltration thereby causing so many to believe that the "Trinity" was a biblical doctrine when even according to John the Apostle's disciple "Polycarp", in his own writings he has no problem revealing candidly that right before his death circa 150s A.D., the early church was already fully infiltrated by all these wolves and were spreading and had cemented most severe corruptions and perversions of the Godhead understanding according to the Israelite mindset, and thus were also successful in injecting many other false views of the Scriptures which of course again, Jesus, Peter, James, John and Paul warned about with tears on their couch when they wrote their letters to born again bible believing ekklesia.  All the books of the New Testament were written from late 30s A.D. to around 98 A.D.  All the 27 books of the Holy Bible were already accepted among all bible born again communities in the Land of Israel in this time frame as "Biblical Canon".  Rome was still very much pagan at this time as it still is, and it was Rome who murdered Peter and Paul.  Rome didn't decide to adopt what Jesus and the Apostles taught until around 330s A.D. and the version they adopted was a very corrupted version mixed with Mithraism and the Egyptian cult of Serapis, which existed circa around 200 B.C. as an Egyptian/Greco Theosis cult which is where the classic Greek word "Christian" comes from which is NOT a word that Jesus or Paul used (who wrote most of the New Covenant) and the word "Christian" and "Christianity" are actually terms that were used by the Cult of Serapis, even Hadrian confirms this and the word "Christian" is a severe pejorative insult to the Apostles and their disciples for the word "Christian" actually implies deity (hence why such cults were theosis cults) and thus nowhere did Jesus or the Apostles teach that when you become born again, you became a little god/little (the) christ/little divinity/little king of israel etc, it's utterly blasphemous. The word "Christian" is only used 3 times in the New Testament and each time it's used, it's used as the pejorative diminutive it was understood as.  When the Emperor of Rome, Emperor Hadrian _(76 A.D. - 138 A.D.)_ wrote from the area that Alexander conquered he said;

"Those who worship Serapis are *Christianos (Christians) and those who call themselves Bishops of "Christ" are vowed to Serapis (S..ap..) a GRACEO-EGYPTIAN God."

Lastly, only God/Jesus creates, for it means "Out of nothing - Exnihlo" which the Holy Bible makes clear only God is subject of the word "Create", it's something only HE does, NOT man.  Also in your article you use the word "WRITE".  IF you typed out your article, this is not "WRITING" this is TYPING. It is of utmost importance in today's english age which shows itself to be increasingly and quickly degenerating into idiot english from intelligent english, it's becoming so more apparent that the internet is causing many people to not become wiser, more intelligent, but actually more dictionary illiterate.  You're not writing unless you actually wrote your article with your hands and a pen or pencil etc.  I hope the following quotes help you comprehend what you are doing, that you are basically assisting the 'stupidizing' of language by using certain terms in definitions that have been "SOCIALIZED"/"PAGANZIED" and you have no clue it seems that when you use the word "Create" in a definition that is has nothing to do with God being subject of the word "Create", you are actually blaspheming Him, you may not care, but I do as a born again remnant believer and Jesus commands me to warn you against it, what you do with this after is your situation, not mine, sinch by then your blood is off my hands.

I can provide more evidence if requested.

Thus .. if one builds their foundations an very seriously false understanding of the first century Israelite mindset and facts of the New Testament, their whole journey is cursed and fraught with error that all emanates from beginning on the left foot, instead of the right.




Philippians 1:21   For the Christ is to me lyfe and deeth is to me a vauntage.  – Tyndale Bible 1534

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As a little  PS, I’d just like to reiterate that, even when I use a keyboard, I’m still writing and I can (and do) create both art and literature – it’s not a term reserved just for the actions of a god. If Junior F [Watchman] doesn’t like this, I suggest that he prays for me to stop!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

‘The Shape of an L’: Thoughts on the occurrence and meaning of the L-shape in Early Medieval art and religion.

[If you like this post, please feel free to share. If you can spare a little cash, I’d be grateful if you could hit the secure ‘donate’ button on the right. Either way, thanks for reading!]

St Patrick’s Bell shrine (Source)

One evening last September I posted a picture to Facebook of the back of the rather wonderful St Patrick’s Bell Shrine. This rear panel is decorated with a combination of equal-armed Greek Crosses, swastikas, and T-shaped or ‘Tau’ crosses. The blog post I wrote as a direct result of that online conversation ("Always remember to draw the swastika turning to the right": Some thoughts on swastika directionality in Early Medieval Irish Art) was (as the name implies) intended to examine the evidence for directionality of Early Medieval swastikas in Ireland or of Irish manufacture. There was a secondary aim to create a basic catalogue of the currently known examples and appeal for anyone with further information to come forward.

In the lively discussion that sprung up around the original Facebook post, a friend raised a dissenting voice and suggested that the swastika symbols were only part of the design because that’s how the Greek crosses were stacked together – purely accidental and unintentional. In his assessment of the back of the shrine he argued that a repeating pattern of Greek crosses would not fit neatly into a rectangular form and would necessitate some cutting and clipping to make it fit. His view was that these ‘offcuts’ may superficially resemble Taus, but it is no more than that. My contention at that time was (and remains) that the various craftspeople responsible for the design and manufacture of these items were extremely skilled and did not incorporate elements lightly or unintentionally. As another friend and respected archaeologist remarked “To suggest any less is to completely underestimate the sophistication of these works.” However, something he (the first friend) said at the time hit a nerve. He said “Some may resemble a tau, coincidentally, but the … L pieces of every orientation do not appear to offer any secret message.” As he is clearly and demonstrably wrong when it comes to the deliberate use of the Tau, I am unconcerned (I’m not sure he agrees with me, but what can you do?) … but it’s those pesky L-shapes. As soon as he mentioned them as being an irrelevance on the Bell Shrine I started seeing them everywhere … if one takes the view that Early Medieval craftspeople were as skilled and as thoughtful as we often claim, their inclusion of an apparently random design element must carry meaning … or perhaps they weren’t as smart as we give them credit for?

Folio 210v, Lindisfarne Gospels (Source)

After reading my friend’s comments, the first place I noticed an apparently aberrant L-shape was on Folio 210v of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Here, there are four small swastikas that form what may be best described as a rectilinear pattern overlying a writhing inhabited vine scroll motif. I hadn’t noticed it initially, but the centre portion of the page is dominated by a Greek cross. There are then four Tau crosses, one aligned to each terminal of the Greek cross. Each of the four swastikas are presented in squares that form part of this outer edge of rectilinear ornamentation. So far, so good! Greek crosses, Taus, swastikas – they’re all forms of cross and they’re all explicable in that context. Then the L’s started to bother me. There’s one in each of the four corners. If I am going to argue that all the other major motifs are explicable and carry a theological message, how can I ignore this?

Folio 27v, Book of Kells (Source)

While these are the only examples I am aware of where L-shapes and swastikas are combined, they are not the only examples of the former in Irish art. For something closely paralleled with the Lindisfarne Gospels, we can turn to The Book of Kells on Folio 27v where the symbols of the four evangelists are surrounded by sumptuous, decorated borders. The centre of the page is decorated with what may be described as a stepped Greek cross, and Taus are present at the four edges. Each of the four corners of the page bears an L-shape, with a further L-shape stacked on its outer edge.

Myklebostad escutcheon (Source)

Leaving aside the manuscript evidence, I want to turn to the evidence from metalwork, specifically the famous hanging-bowl mount from Myklebostad in Norway. Although recovered from a Viking grave of the early 9th century, the figure is thought to be of Irish manufacture, dating to the 8th to 9th centuries. The piece is distinctive owing to the oversized head with oval eyes and prominent brow, contrasting with the short, squat legs. The rectangular body is decorated with five squares of millefiori, arranged in a quincunx or saltire formation. The spaces in between are each decorated with two interlocking L-shapes.

Oseberg Mount (Source)

Also of 8th to 9th century date is the enamelled mount from the famous Oseberg burial, again of Irish manufacture. Here the central square is decorated with four L-shapes in yellow enamel. Each of the outer quadrants contains two L-shapes in yellow enamel. In each case, the two L-shapes are separated by a rectangle of millefiori glass which ‘emphasise the cruciform elements of the design’ (Youngs 1989, 61). Thus, we have an object that combines an equal-armed cross with 12 L-shapes. It may, however, be pushing the elasticity of the argument to suggest that the diagonal lines in bronze may be read as a saltire cross.

Left-hand portion of the buckle, Moylough Belt Shrine (O’Kelly 1965)

Right-hand portion of the buckle, Moylough Belt Shrine (O’Kelly 1965) 
One of the medallions, Moylough Belt Shrine (O’Kelly 1965)

One of the medallions, Moylough Belt Shrine (O’Kelly 1965)

As an undergraduate in my final year, the Moylough Belt Shrine used to haunt my dreams. The late Prof Rynne lectured extensively on the piece and it made frequent appearances as an exam question. It dates to the 8th century and is largely made of bronze in a variety of forms with some silver and enamel adornments. While Rynne’s lectures concentrated on the complexities of the manufacturing process, he seems to have passed over some of the decorative elements. Or, at the very least, I appear to only recently have noticed the large numbers of Taus and L-shapes it bears. The two main areas of decoration are the two sides of the buckle arrangement. On the right-hand side a silver panel is framed with an enamelled bronze arrangement. Two corners are decorated with millefiori squares and the opposite corners hold raised glass domes. The intervening sides are decorated with a combination of Taus and L-shapes. The top and bottom edges both bear one set of interlocking L-shapes, and a panel of two Taus and two L-shapes. The left-hand edge (nearest the buckle) has two groups of two interlocking L-shapes, while the opposite side has a single panel composed of two Taus and two L-shapes. The L-shapes even continue beyond this, with two interlocking examples forming the necks of the toothed animal heads to the right of the main square. It is slightly difficult to make out in the images from O’Kelly’s publication (1965), but the two corners nearest the buckle edge are slightly raised in comparison to the surrounding decoration. In this way each of the two millefiori squares combine with two sets of interlocking L-shapes to form larger L-shapes. This feature of a raised L-shaped corner is visible on Ranvaik’s Casket (discussed below) and on the well-known Ballinderry gaming board. The opposite (left-hand) side of the buckle arrangement is very similar in composition. Here the rectangular silver panel is surrounded by the same form of cast bronze frame, decorated with millefiori and enamel. In this case, all four corners are decorated with millefiori squares, combined with two sets of two interlocking L-shapes to form four larger L-shapes. The top and bottom edges are both decorated with a series of two L-shapes and two Taus, all interlocking. The left and right edges each bear an S-shape, the exact meaning of which is difficult to ascertain. They may be interpreted as a debased form of the meandros or an S-scroll, executed in a rectilinear manner, in keeping with the rest of the ornament on the frame. Again, the necks of the two toothy animals are each composed of a pair of interlocking L-shapes. The other major decorative elements of the belt shrine are four ringed cross medallions, one attached to each of the four hinged portions. Though similar, each is unique and two of the medallions bear enamelled L-shapes. The ring of one medallion, with D-shaped terminals, is decorated with alternating squares of millefiori and interlocking L-shapes. On the second example the ring is decorated with 12 millefiori squares, singly and in pairs, interspersed with interlocking L-shapes. In both cases, 16 L-shapes are used to form eight squares.

Edge panel, Stowe Missal Shrine (Warner 1906)

Edge panel, Stowe Missal Shrine (Warner 1906)

I couldn't allow this opportunity to write about the Stowe Missal Shrine to go by without adding this magnificent 3D image (anaglyph). I'm particularly grateful to Simon Chadwick for his permission to reproduce it here (Source). 

The Stowe Missal Shrine was crafted from oak and decorated with a variety of metal plaques as a protective housing for an illuminated manuscript. While the manuscript dates to the late 8th or early 9th centuries, the shrine is of a variety of periods ranging from 1027-1033 and 1375. For many viewers, myself included, the eye is instinctively drawn to the human figures – an assortment of angels, clerics and warriors – and can easily ignore the plainer panels. On one side, set between two plaques depicting warriors, is an openwork grille, in many respects comparable to the one on the back of the St Patrick’s Bell Shrine. This example is composed of an arrangement of 12 equal-armed, Greek crosses in three rows, and 20 squares, in four rows. The border is formed of 14 Taus and each of the four corners bears an L-shape. The other grille is similar, but not quite identical, being slightly truncated. As it sits beside the panel with two ecclesiastics (one with a bell and the other holding a crozier), an angel, and a harper, it is always going to be paid somewhat less attention. Here the composition is of 16 squares in four lines, and nine crosses in three lines. The border is formed of 12 Taus, and once again the four corners are L-shapes.

Ranvaik’s Casket. © Danish National Museum

The house shaped shrine known as Ranvaik’s Casket is, to my mind, one of the most striking pieces of Irish craftsmanship from the Early Medieval period. The core of the piece is a box carved from solid Yew and decorated with applied copper alloy and tin plates. It is made in the Irish style and thought to date to the 8th century. A runic inscription saying ‘Ranvaik owns this casket’ was added in the 10th century. The front of the casket is decorated with two rectangular plates, surrounded by copper alloy openwork on a tinned background. This grille is composed of six Taus and four L-shapes. The front portion of the lid of the casket is similar, with a single rectangular plate set against an openwork grille of 12 L-shapes. Interestingly, the L-shapes at either end of the lid are paired in a way that resembles a Tau. Youngs (1989) notes that ‘the frame is thickened at each corner to give the impression of L-shaped reinforcing plates’. I would instead argue that while this may have some functional significance, this is also a decorational device, intended to strengthen and reinforce the visual symbolism of the repeated L-shapes of the grilles.

Mounts 229 (Left) & 247 (Right), Shanmullagh, Co. Armagh (Bourke 2010)

Bourke’s (2010) publication of metalwork dredged from the River Blackwater, between Blackwatertown and Lough Neagh contains several pieces germane to this discussion, though I will confine myself to only two the artefacts, where the evidence is clearest. A short, decorated mount (229) from Shanmullagh, Co. Armagh bears two sets of interlocking L-shapes as well as a rectilinear S-shape, similar to the example from the Moylough Belt Shrine. A circular mount (247), possibly from a Book Shrine, and also from Shanmullagh, has 12 L-shapes arranged around the perimeter in interlocking sets of two.

8th century mount. Unprovenanced (Wallace & Ó Floinn 2002)

I would also note an unlocalised heart-shaped shrine mount in the collections of the National Museum of Ireland (Wallace & Ó Floinn 2002, 192). It is thought to be part of the end of the lid of a tomb-shaped shrine, and dates to the 8th century. Alternating between the panels of millefiori are enamelled pairs of L-shapes. Some 16 appear to survive, but it is clear that there were further examples that haven’t fared so well.

Straid or Gleebe pillarstone at Glencolubkille, Co Donegal

Although the examples given above are mostly of metalworking, the L-shaped motif also appears, if less frequently, in other media too. The south-east face of the Straid or Gleebe pillarstone at Glencolubkille, Co Donegal, is essentially a set of three linked squares. The internal corners of these squares contain L-shapes – in false relief in the central and upper square and incised in the case of the lower example. Drumroe, Co Donegal, is part of the same general Glencolubkille complex and here too there is a pillar stone that displays three vertically linked squares. While the bottom square is left blank, the upper two have L-shapes in false relief. While the case may be made that the carving of the L-shapes are secondary to the square-centred Greek cross, I would counter that if they were not necessary they could have been removed. However, they are there and, I would argue, they are there intentionally.

Drumroe pillarstone (Lacey 1983)

While it is clear that much more needs to be done to compile a definitive corpus of the usages of the L-shape, there is ample evidence in what has been presented above to confirm that this is a relatively common motif of Irish Early Medieval art. Although the picture may change with the addition of more examples, it seems clear that the instances where the L-shape is used are usually religious in nature. Within this context, the symbol frequently occurs in conjunction with a variety of christian cross forms, particularly the equal-armed Greek cross, the Tau, and the swastika. Even where the context is not explicitly ecclesiastical, the artefacts (such as the Myklebostad hanging bowl escutcheon) are quite high status and would not be out of place on a wealthy monastic foundation.

Unfortunately, none of this brings us closer to an understanding of what the L-shape may have symbolised to the Early Medieval creators, commissioners, and users of these items. Thus, it is with no small degree of trepidation I now advance my own theory. My first inkling of how to address this issue came when I thought about the Greek term for swastika: Gammadion. It is literally a ‘cross composed of four capital Gammas, or L’s. It is attractive (for me, at least) to think of Early Medieval art being even more full of swastikas than it already is. In this scenario, every L-shape is just a quarter swastika waiting to be put back together. Theologically, the notion is rather sound if we accept that swastikas in the Irish corpus are a form of regular christian cross. However, this argument fails to stack up if we consider that many of these artefacts could easily have borne fully drawn swastikas and that there was no obvious need to break the symbol into its constituent parts. Thus, I would argue that if the L-shape is to be seen as conveying meaning of any kind, it must be a meaning that it possesses within itself and not merely as a subset of the swastika motif. I would argue that the L-shape is indeed to be taken as a Greek Gamma, but specifically in its form as the numeral ‘3’. The surviving corpus of early Irish literature demonstrates a particular fondness for the number three, including the Trecheng Breth Féne (‘A Triad of Judgments of the Irish’)(Kelly 2004). While there may not have been ‘a special Celtic cult of threeness’ it would seem likely that, where used in a christian context, it would refer to the most common and ubiquitous idea of a triumvirate – the Trinity. In this manner it may be seen as a strong religious statement of orthodoxy, affirming the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – the belief that posits the deity as three consubstantial persons – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – three distinct persons, yet of a single essence or nature.

The two questions to be addressed at this point are the degree to which Greek may have been known in Early Medieval Ireland and the importance of Trinitarianism in the Early Church. The doctrine of the Trinity emerged, first, from the Council of Nicaea in 325AD which cemented the full divinity of Jesus. The resulting Nicene creed used the term homoousios, meaning ‘of one substance’ to articulate the association between Father and Son. These foundations were further built upon by the First Council of Constantinople in 381AD, which ruled in favour of the divinity of the Spirit. This represented the solid establishment of Trinitarianism as Christian orthodoxy, a position it still maintains. Opposing, Nontrinitarian, views were held by Arianism, but faded from its last toeholds with the conversion of the Teutonic tribes to Catholicism by the end of the 5th century. The doctrine was later revived by the Cathars from the 11th century onwards, but never received mainstream support. Commenting on the artistic depiction of the Trinity, Roe (1979, 102) notes that ‘From at least the 7th century the dogma of the Trinity and its veneration finds copious expression in Latin and Irish hymns, prayers and litanies.’ For example, she notes the Lesser Doxology carved on the cross-slab at Fahan Mura, Co. Donegal, that follows the form promulgated after the Council of Toledo in 633: ‘Glory and honour to Father and Son and Holy Spirit’. Roe continues (1979, 103): ‘Notwithstanding so much literary evidence I have failed to recognise any corresponding graphical representation other than the symbolic, be it in manuscript, metalwork or among the subjects carved on the Irish crosses of pre-12th century date [i.e. occasional Dextera Dei and images of doves] ... it is only from the early 13th century that pictorial illustrations of the Trinity come into use in Ireland’.

This presents us with an interesting juxtaposition. On one hand, there is ample evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity being a central tenet of religious faith within mainstream Christianity, including Ireland, from at least the seventh century onward. While on the other hand, there is no corresponding evidence within the artistic output of that time. Compare this to, for example, the large number of surviving representations of the crucifixion – a similarly important christian belief – and the lacuna becomes all the more stark. Seen in these terms, it appears almost inconceivable that the doctrine of the trinity wasn’t depicted in some manner. Central to the argument of whether the L-shape could have fulfilled this role as a symbol of the Trinity is the issue of how much Greek was known in Ireland during the period under review. Recent work by Moran (2011; 2012) seeks to critically evaluate the evidence for a knowledge of the language. He argues that the distinction between the study of Greek in Ireland and the knowledge of Greek among the Irish in Europe may be a false dichotomy, based on the disparity of evidence between the two positions. Instead, he turns to texts of the 16th century, such as O’Mulconry’s glossary, that preserves a significantly older text, dated to the late 7th or 8th centuries. Based on these etymological manuscripts he concludes that ‘The overall picture, therefore, points to some passive knowledge and at best very basic reading ability’. While he does not specifically identify basic numeracy, it seems only logical to conclude that an Early Medieval Irish monk who knew the Greek alphabet would also be acquainted with the basic numbers from 1-10. Interestingly, Moran (2011, 175) notes that only two examples of continuous Greek, written in Greek script, survive from Ireland sources. One of these is the well-known Schaffhausen manuscript, written on Iona and dated to, at the latest, the 8th century. While written chiefly in Insular script, it concludes with the Paternoster in Greek. The other is the Fahan Mura inscription, referenced above. It is of particular significance in this instance as it physically combines a liturgical formula referencing the Trinity together with the Greek language. It takes no great leap of academic faith to imagine that the individual responsible for commissioning this text would have had sufficient grasp of the language to count to 10.

Does any of this mean that the L-shape seen on several high status and religious artefacts of Early Medieval date was definitely a short-hand for the doctrine of the Trinity? The simple, straightforward answer is, of course, no, it does not. However, the evidence presented is particularly tantalising. We have a recurrent symbol, frequently found on high status and ecclesiastical artefacts, often in combination with clear christian symbols. I would contend that if one of these symbols has meaning then all must have some degree of meaning. Based on the similarity of the L-shape to the Greek letter Gamma and number 3, I posit that the symbolism could relate to the Trinitarian doctrine. While the evidence suggests that, like Shakespeare, Early Medieval Ireland possessed ‘less Greek’, it seems that the knowledge level would have been more than sufficient for the connection to be made. Further, it is clear that although Trinitarian belief is well attested in the literature of this period, comparable evidence within thee artistic repertoire is wholly lacking. We may never know if the Gamma, like a fortuitous Tetris block, really does fit this void, but the speculation is half the enjoyment.

Bourke, C. 2010 'Antiquities from the River Blackwater IV. Early Medieval Non-Ferrous Metalwork' Ulster Journal of Archaeology 69, 24-133.

Kelly, F. 2004 'Sir John Rhys Memorial Lecture. Thinking in Threes: The Triad in Early Irish Literature.' Proceedings of the British Academy 125, 1-18.

Lacy, B. 1983 Archaeological survey of County Donegal: a description of the field antiquities from the Mesolithic period to the 17th century A.D. Lifford.

O'Kelly, M. J. 1965 'The Belt-Shrine from Moylough, Sligo' Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 95, 149-188.

Roe, H. M. 1979 ‘Illustrations of the Holy Trinity in Ireland: 13th to 17th centuries’ Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries 109, 101-150.

Moran, P. 2011 ''A Living Speech'? The Pronunciation of Greek Words in Early Medieval Ireland' Ériu 61, 29-57.

Moran, P. 2012 'Greek in early medieval Ireland' in A. Mullen & P. James (eds.) Multilingualism in the Graeco-Roman Worlds. Cambridge, 172-192.

Wallace, P. F. & Ó Floinn, R. (eds.) 2002 Treasures of the National Museum of Ireland: Irish Antiquities. Dublin

Warner, G. F. 1906 The Stowe Missal: MS. D. II. 3 in the Library of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. London.

Youngs, S. (ed.) 1989 The Work of Angels: Masterpieces of Celtic Metalwork, 6th-9th centuries AD. London.

I want to pay a heartfelt tribute to all those on social media who have repeatedly helped me with references, images, and given immense support of all kinds. I thank each & every one of you – this post is dedicated to you all! A piece of work of this kind would have been impossible without this crowdsourcing effort & I hope I've not left anyone out (any omission would be unintentional!), but here are some who deserve my thanks: Lorcán J. O'Flannery, Cormac McSparron, Colm Moriarty, Seán Ó Taidhg, Alexandra Guglielmi, Sarah Lang, Gary Sleith, Mary Fitzsimons, Michael Ardill, Helen FitzGerald, Dilean MacSearraigh, Maarten Blaauw, Stephen A Cameron, Angie Fogarty Wickenden, Carl Thorpe, Aidan O'Sullivan, Terry O'Hagan, C J NíChléirigh, David Sandford Ward, Don O'Meara, Haydyn Williams, & Annie Fernback.

In searching for the perfect title for this post, I have repeatedly come back to the lyrics from Smash Mouth’s 1999 hit ‘All Star’:

“She was looking kind of dumb with her finger and her thumb
In the shape of an "L" on her forehead”

Over the course of writing this post it began to occur to me that there may be more to this line than meets the eye. Ostensibly, Smash Mouth are mocking the woman making the ‘Loser’ sign. However, based on the current research, it seems clear that she is affirming her orthodox christian doctrine of the Trinity that holds the deity as three consubstantial persons. In describing her as “looking kind of dumb”, Smash Mouth are deliberately parodying her belief and conspicuously aligning themselves with the doctrine of Nontrinitarianism. As the largest modern christian sects that support this belief include The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Jehovah's Witnesses, it would appear that Smash Mouth are declaring that these – or a similar Nontrinitarian denomination – are correct in their teachings and offer an authentic pathway to salvation. Not only are Smash Mouth occasional purveyors of catchy chart success, they are clearly deep-thinking theologians of the heterodox school.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | Two Capitals

I have long adored this pair of Romanesque capitals and they form a personal highlight of every visit to this museum. They are carved from a local sandstone known as molasse, and date to the 11th century. They come from a church, now destroyed, in Bocsozel, a small town about 40km to the north-west of Grenoble. As capitals, they would have sat on top of pilasters or columns of some description within the church. The museum's information card doesn't comment as to whether or not there were further carved capitals in the Bocsozel church. If these were the only two, it's likely they were part of a chancel arch and, thus, in full view of the congregation.

One capital is interpreted by the museum as Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Daniel was a Hebrew during the period of the Babylonian Captivity and was sentenced to Death by Lion (Pantheracide? … though that would be the other way around …). Surprisingly, he didn’t get mauled and eaten and the miracle was taken as a teachable moment about the tangible rewards of faith. As a child, I was more taken by the detail of how those who conspired against Daniel were themselves thrown to the lions, along with their wives and children. Obviously, the way it was taught was to highlight the severe price of colluding against a man of faith, but it struck me (even then) as rather sinister that a supposedly merciful god would also require the murder of numerous small children to appease his anger. Be that as it may, I’m unsure about these lions. I know that there’s a long history in western art of depicting non-native animals poorly, especially lions. But still … Daniel looks like he’s holding hands/paws with the lions, not fervently praying that they don’t suddenly feel like a snack. Instead I wonder if this isn’t actually an image of the coming of Christ as prophesised by Habakkuk and given variously as: ‘In the midst of two animals thou shalt be known’ or ‘between two beasts are you known’, itself a probable inspiration for many’s a nativity scene.

The second capital shows the Archangel Michael in the act of weighting souls at the Last Judgment. This act, formally known as the psychostasia, is a fundamental tenet of Christian mythology where the good are sent to Heaven and the damned go to Hell. The idea appears in Classical mythology, for example in the Iliad, but is best known from various Egyptian sources where the heart of the deceased is weighed by Anubis and overseen by Toth. In Egyptian lore the heart (representing the life-spirit ‘Ka’) is weighed against the feather of Ma’at. On the Bocsozel capital Michael holds the scales to judge the two naked characters. Eagerly awaiting the outcome of this process, a grimacing demon with a trident and an accompanying serpent stands to St Michael’s left.

Readers familiar with Irish archaeology will recall the similar scene on the east side of Muiredach's Cross, from Monasterboice, County Louth. This example is about a century older than Bocsozel and is conventionally dated to the period from 900 to 923 AD. Other well-known examples of the psychostasia include one on the west tympanum of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris that is dated to the period from 1163 to 1250 AD. Together, these examples show the enduring power of this image of divine retribution.

In considering the capitals as a pair, my initial though was that 'Daniel in the Lion’s Den' was the correct reading of the first example. In this way they would, perhaps on either side of a chancel arch, convey a unified message about the fate that awaits the ungodly and the unbeliever. That said, the idea of both capitals conveying a unified message still holds good, even with the Habakkuk interpretation. Such a scenario would see the two carvings speaking to the viewer about the End of Days and the imminent return of the Messiah and the inevitable Judgment. No matter how one chooses to interpret these pieces, I think that most can agree that they’re not high art. Even for the 11th century, they’re not examples of the very best of the stone carver’s art. So what’s the fascination? For me, at least, it’s that although they lack something in ability, they still have an arresting quality that draws the eye and excites the mind. The other part is that, despite the shortcomings of the sculptor,* they are still part of a larger set of illustrative and liturgical themes within western art – and beyond – that spans over several centuries. It’s a simple notion, but one that I find endlessly fascinating – whether you were in Paris, Monasterboice, rural France, or wherever, you could gaze up to contemplate the coming of the Messiah and the Judgment.

Admittedly, it would have been at a smaller subset of these sites where you could have looked up and thought: ‘What are those animals? Are they supposed to be lions? Really?’


* I would just like to acknowledge that, whatever the skills and limitations of the sculptor who produced these capitals, their abilities surpasses my own in this regard.

Capital as photographed in 2003
Capital as photographed in 2003

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | Panels from an altarpiece

These two panels come from an altarpiece associated with the chapel of the castle of Bon Repos, Jarrie, just to the south of Grenoble. The castle was built around 1470 by Guillaume Armuet. The panels are oil on wood and are dated to the late 15th or early 16th centuries, making them broadly contemporary with the earliest phase of construction. My understanding is that the surviving panels were positioned at the back of the altar, on either side of a depiction of the Nativity, though this central portion is now lost. The surviving pieces depict Jacob, Patriarch of the Old Testament, and his seven sons. Jacob is shown with a long beard and wearing an elaborate hat. The streaming scrolls, almost reminiscent of a James Gillray cartoon, are intended to show Jacob sharing prophesies with his ‘good’ sons about the coming of Christ and the advent of Christianity. However, shoved over on the right-hand edge is his ‘accursed’ son, Dan – founder of the Israelite tribe of the same name. Poor old Dan was shunned (and apparently here depicted as a grotesque) because of the belief that the Antichrist would come from within his tribe. Leaving aside Dan, I’m particularly drawn to how the artist has depicted the others in these panels. I can’t be sure, but my gut feeling is that they were drawn from real individuals from around 15th century Jarrie – possibly even members of the Armuet family themselves. Here they are, bedecked in an amazing array of hats, looking like they’re throwing gang signs for all eternity.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | The Helmet of Chlodomer?

The helmet as photographed in 2003
This wonderful helmet was found in the 1870s in a peat bog at Saint-Didier, near Vézeronce-Curtin, about 55km to the north-west of Grenoble. It is composed of a gilded copper helm with brass cheek-pieces, and a ring mail neck protection in iron (the leather portions are modern). The helmet appears to be of Byzantine manufacture and was, most likely, owned by a Frankish chieftain. The museum information card dates it to ‘Around 524’ as the find spot was close to the reputed site of the Battle of Vézeronce, fought between the Franks and the Burgundians on June 25, 524 AD. While the battle initially went in the favour of the Burgundians, the Franks turned the tide, albeit with the loss of their king, Chlodomer. The museum’s information card for this piece notes that such a richly decorated item would have belonged to an important individual and dangles the possibility that it may have been Chlodomer’s before saying that is impossible to know for sure.

The helmet as photographed in 2003

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Musee de l'Ancien Eveche | The parakeet mosaic

I do love a good mosaic, and I have a particular soft spot for this one from Saint-Romain-en-Gal (Ancient Vienne), approximately 75km to the north-west of Grenoble. In its heyday, it would have adorned a wealthy house and dates to the second century AD. The panel is just over 1m square, and the alternating grey and white borders lead the viewer’s eye to a composition of two birds perched on either side of a two-handled vase (krater) with a jet of water erupting between them. Everything about this composition screams symmetry – two handles, two birds in mirror image, the same number of water streams falling one either side of the central pillar. However, it doesn’t quite work as the main jet of water – that should act as a line of symmetry – is offset ever so slightly (but noticeably) to the right. It simultaneously causes an itch somewhere deep inside my brain while still making me love it all the more.

I see different things in this mosaic every time I photograph it. I think that in this particular image it looks like the parakeet on the right has just said something to shock and offend the one on the left … but maybe that’s just me!

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Slow Recovery or Extended Death Rattle? Northern Ireland's Commercial Archaeology Sector in 2016

Screenshot of the current state of the Tableau visualisation. Data shown ranges from 1998-2016

The evenings are drawing in and the chill winds whistle around the door. It can only mean one thing! Yes, gentle reader, it’s time to take a look at how Northern Ireland’s archaeological consultancies fared in 2016. As I’ve done before, the data from their end-of-year accounts, submitted to Companies House, has been extracted and used to create an interactive dashboard that the reader can investigate and interrogate at will. As Archaeological Development Services (ADS) have been dissolved, and play no part in the current archaeological scene in Northern Ireland, we’ll not deal with them further, other than to note that their data remains available within the dashboard.

Gahan and Long. All Financial KPIs, 2003-2016

Gahan and Long (G&L)

Gahan and Long was formed in 2002 and is run by Chris Long and Audrey Mary Louise Gahan. In 2016 their Cash at Bank increased marginally to £7.2k from £6.2k the previous year. This appears to be part of a continuing, gentle rise from £2.3k in 2013, but far below historic values of over £82k in 2006 and £68k in 2007. Current Liabilities coming due within one year has increased from -£92.8k in 2015 to -£129.2k. This is the most it has been since 2008’s figure of -£144.9k. The value of Debtors has risen to £123.1k from £81.4k the previous year and appears to be part of an ongoing trend since 2013’s figure of £24.8k. However, this is well below the figure of £374.4k for 2008. The value of Fixed Assets (such as land, buildings, or equipment) had been on a continuous downward slope from the £37k recorded in 2007 to 2015's £6k. However, the 2016 accounts indicate an increase to £10.8k, suggesting that there has been an investment back into the company, the first in nine years. The value of Current Assets has been increasing year-on-year from £27.2k in 2013 to £130.3k in 2016. While this ostensibly has the look of increasing prosperity, it should be remembered that 94.44% of this figure is composed of the value of Debtors (Debtors as a Percentage of Assets). Basically, the value of the Current Assets includes a vast proportion of assets you don’t yet have and until you’ve got that cash in your pocket you can never be sure it’s yours. Of course, some value of Debtors is necessary for the running of a business, but when it makes up an excessively large percentage of your Current Assets, it’s wise to exercise some caution. This brings us to New Worth, the only Key Performance Indicator (KPI) that really matters. Although the company is only worth a modest £10.5k in 2016, this is up from £590 the previous year and an historic loss of -£70.1 in 2013. While the Net Worth is heading in the right direction, it is still massively down on the best performing years, such as 2007 (£280.4k) and 2008 (£258.9k).
FarrimondMacManus. All Financial KPIs, 2006-2016
FarrimondMacManus (FMacM)
This company was set up in 2005 and is operated by Christopher John Farrimond and Ciara Mary MacManus. The value of the Cash at Bank has plunged to £12.4k, from £18.7k the year before and an historic high of £85.8k in 2013. Current Liabilities are given as -£57.7k, an increase from 2015's -£34.9k, but still well below the 2013 value of -£90.5k. The value of Creditors falling due more than one year from now is given as -£18.1k, possibly indicating that a business loan has been taken out. This is an historically large amount for this company as previous values hover in the region from -£1.2k to -£3.4k (2008-2011) and this is the first such entry since 2013. This is paralleled by an increase in the value of Fixed Assets to £15k, suggesting that this was a loan to invest in, say, equipment. This is encouraging as the Fixed Assets were valued at nill in both 2014 and 2015, and hadn’t exceeded £500 since 2011. The value of Debtors has fallen from £55.7k in 2015 to £26.1k in 2016. These results have been quite choppy since 2012 and it is difficult to discern a pattern. The value of Stock/Other is given as £27.7k, but I am unable to discern its precise nature. Current Assets have fallen somewhat from £74k in 2015 to £65k now, and are significantly below the figure of £151.7k recorded in 2013. Perhaps more importantly, the percentage of those assets made up by the value of Debtors has dropped to 40.02% from 2015’s 74.83%. For all that, the company’s net worth has plummeted to £4.5k, its lowest on record. This is down from £39.4k in 2015 and £90.5k in 2008.
Northern Archaeological Consultancy. All Financial KPIs, 1998-2016
Northern Archaeological Consultancy (NAC)
Alan Reilly, Stephen William Gilmore, and Colin David Dunlop are the directors of Northern Archaeological Consultancy, founded in 1997 - the only archaeological company in this discussion without female representation at Director level. At the end of 2016 they posted a Cash at Bank value of just £1.8k, down from £2.6k the previous year, and falling so far short of the £49.5k recorded in 2007. Current Liabilities have increased from -£68.4k in 2015 to -£101k. This is comparable to the 2013 value of £108k, and well below the 2006 maximum of -£137.7k. In this year Debtors rose to £85.3k from £47.8k in 2015. This is the first time that the value of Debtors has exceeded £80k since 2011. The value of Fixed Assets increased marginally to £3.8k from £3.4k in 2015. Despite slight increases in value, such as in 2014, the story of the Fixed Assets appears to be one of continued non-investment from 2012 onwards, following a slump from 2007’s historical high of £20.9k. Company value under the heading of Stock/Other rose to £57k in 2016, up from £17.9k the previous year, the highest it has been since 2008. Current Assets are also up sharply from £68.4k in 2015 to £144.3k. However, it remains to be seen if this is evidence of a genuine recovery, or just another slight bump in the general pattern of slump and stagnation that has been ongoing since 2007’s value of £308k. Again, it is worth noting that the 2016 figure sets Debtors as a percentage of Current Assets to 59.16%, down from 69.91% the previous year. It’s still a high percentage, but one that appears to be heading in the right direction. Net Worth for 2016 was recorded at £47.1k. While the progress from 2011’s historic low of -£23.7k has been very much a story of up-and-down-again, the general trend is towards increased New Worth. However, just to put that £47.1k into context – it is but a tiny fraction (less than 1/4) of the company’s 2007 value of £200.6k.
Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy. All Financial KPIs, 2015-2016
Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy (AHC)
Since I last wrote on this topic, another company has entered the market in Northern Ireland. Archaeology and Heritage Consultancy Ltd is run by Lisbeth Sara Crone and was incorporated in 2014. Accounts are available for both 2015 and 2016. In terms of Cash at Bank, the company recorded a value of £5.9k in 2015, rising to £9.9k. In the same time period Current Liabilities coming due within one year have grown from -£4.9k to -£15.7k. Debtors have risen to £12.3k in 2016, from £725. The Fixed Assets are modest, only being valued at £566 in 2016, and at nill the year previous. Current Assets have done well, rising from £6.7k to £22.2k in 2016. Not surprisingly, the Debtors as % of Current Assets has risen from a mere 10.79% in 2015 to 55.45% this year, well within what would be considered normal for this group. Finally, the Net Worth for this company had grown from 2015’s £1.7k to £7k today. 
All Archaeological Consultancies. All Financial KPIs, 1998-2016

The Overall Picture

If we sum all of this data up we get a picture of the sector as a whole. In the first instance, the Cash at Bank figure of £31.5k has remained pretty constant since 2014, but far below historic highs of 2007 (£140k) and 2009 (£135k). Current Liabilities of -£303.7k are on a steep increase since 2014’s return of -£154.7k. Indeed, the 2016 figure is just a couple of hundred pounds short of 2103’s maximum historic debt of -£303.9k. The 2016 returned figures for Debtors is given as £247k, representing a year-on-year increase since 2014’s figure of £98.6k. Fixed Assets show a substantial increase to £30.2k from a mere £9.5k the previous year. Indeed, this is the first evidence of inward investment in the sector since 2007 – almost a decade previouly! The figure of £362k for 2016’s Current Assets also shows sustained growth from 2014’s return of £154.3k. Value attributed to Stock/Other is given as £83.7k for 2016, the highest it has been since the 2008 peak of £140k. Thus, we come to the combined Net Worth of the commercial archaeological sector in Northern Ireland and it is worth stating the full, unabbreviated amount: £69,307. These latest results show steady growth from 2013’s historic low of -£14.9k, but is paltry compared to historic highs recorded in 2007 (£515k) and 2008 (£537k).

Optimists may argue that ‘things are getting better’ in the commercial sector, and there is a grain of truth in that. However, realists can only be appalled at how far the value of the sector has fallen and how little and how slow the recovery from the 2008 collapse has been. For much of the world economy the massive fallout from the ‘Credit Crunch’ is a distant memory and the story since is one of regrowth and recovery. For commercial archaeological companies in Northern Ireland there has been no significant recovery and the endless night of the recession is only slowly lightening, nearly a decade later. To put this into as clear a context as I can manage – the 2016 value of the sector is not even worth 13% of what it was in 2008. Let that sink in. Take all the time you need. The entire sector is only worth £69.3k. The entire sector is only worth £69.3k. No, that’s not a typo – I deliberately repeated the previous sentence so it would resonate with the reader. If the combined Net Worth of the archaeological consultancies in Northern Ireland was available as cash, it couldn’t buy a 3-bedroom house on Tates Avenue or in Poleglass, Belfast, or even a 2-bedroom house off the Donegall Road - none of which are among the more salubrious areas of the city. In 2006, a decade previously – not even at the top of the ‘boom years’ – the sector was worth over £287k. To have fallen to this seems so ... well, paltry ... by comparison. It must be noted that the current value of the sector is not spread equally between the extant companies. My former employers, Northern Archaeological Consultancy, take up the lion’s share of the value at £47.1k. That’s nearly four-and-a-half times the Net Worth of Gahan & Long, their nearest rival. To put it another way, they account for 68% of the worth of this sector. It sounds good, but I’m reminded of a line by Frankie Boyle: “It’s like being voted the Most Valuable Player … in the Scottish League”. Overall, I see little to celebrate here. True, the sector is doing better than it has been, but the fact remains that almost a decade after the financial crash it is but a shadow of its former self. Of course, this series of posts has never just been about the actual financial health of these companies. The deeper question is: What can the financial status, either individually or as a group, tell us about the long-term security of the archaeological archives they hold? To be honest, despite the very modest growth, I cannot see that either the sector or the archives they hold are in any way secure. Looking to the future we may ask 'What can we expect from 2017?' I would not be in the least surprised if the sector continues its slow, tortuous climb back from the distant recession. However, it is clear that this is a sector hanging on by its fingernails and it seems that it would require very little for one or more companies to topple over into insolvency and the havoc that would mean for our shared heritage resources.

Icon made by Freepik from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

The interactive Tableau dashboard is available below, but may be better viewed directly on my TableauPublic page [here]. It is also best viewed in FullScreen mode - toggled by the icon at the bottom right of the page.