Welsh couple’s ‘cheap garden ornament’ turns out to be a rare artefact

Carvng of Llangollen monk

A couple from Wrexham have discovered that what they thought was just a cheap garden ornament is in fact an extremely rare carving of a 13th Century monk.

Meryl and Jerry Butler bought the carving in an auction in the 1990s, with no idea how rare or significant it was. They simply liked the smiling face and thought it would look nice in their garden.

It wasn’t until 20 years later they decided to show the carving to Gillian Smith, the manager of the nearby Llangollen Museum, hoping they could learn more about it. Howard Williams, professor of Archaeology at the University of Chester, believes the carving is the gravestone of Hywel, who was the Abbot of Valle Crucis in Llangollen in around 1295.

The stone is believed to be only effigy of its kind is now on display at the Llangollen Museum.

Valle Crucis Abbey in Llangollen, where the stone is believed to have originated from

Gillian Smith said “He was by the door… when I went in. My initial reaction was “Oh my goodness, that’s really special. I just couldn’t stop looking at him. I sat there for about an hour, photographed him, and then dashed down to Valle Crucis, where I know the curators.”

“I went to the dormitory there and saw another slab with similar Lombardic script.”

“Stylistically, around the edges it was quite similar so I looked that up and looked at the dates… it just looked as if it could possibly even be the same craftsman. I also did a bit more research on grave stones with images and came up with just about nothing so I thought it must be unique.”

Professor Williams added “Inscribed effigies are rare indeed. There is only one other comparable example of an incised effigy, from Rhuddlan, and while there are a large collection of medieval grave-slabs from Valle Crucis Abbey, with many on display in the abbot’s house there, none have an inscribed effigy.”

“All that remains of the Lombardic writing on the fragment of stone that survives is: ‘…ER: HOWEL’ : ABBAS’. It is believed that the ‘er’ might be the end of ‘frater’, and that, possibly, the original inscription, would have read something like: HIC IACET FRATER HOWEL ABBAS. Here lies Brother Howel, Abbot.”

First seen on the Daily Post