Saturday, April 27, 2019

The Bishop's Sea: Saint Colman, Saint Boniface and St. Tridwell, Pray for Us

I'm not going to go pointing fingers, but someone underperformed on the writing front this holiday long weekend. (In completely unrelated news, Captain Marvel was okay, but I --excuse me, someone-- was a bit disappointed by his first visit to Pineapple Hut on Burrard above Fifth Avenue Cinemas since Wonder Woman.) February technology postblogging comes next week. This week, I've practically been commissioned to put on the tinfoil hat and look at the Atlantic on the front porch of history --the phase in which Europeans might have crossed it early. 

I know, I know, it's inconsequential in the long run. The most plausible explanation for the historic trajectory of Eastern Woodlands civilisation remains endogenous change. The appearance of the cross motif in the earliest phases of the Southeastern Ceremonial Complex, about 900, has provoked wild speculation since the Nineteenth Century, which itself has tended to discredit the idea that known European activities on the western shore of the Atlantic in this period had any larger impact. The subsequent sequencing (1250--1450 for the mature "Southern Death Cult;" 1350--1450 for the attenuated Cult period; 1450--1550 for the post-Cult) is almost aggressively dissociated from the closing of the Atlantic gap. 

And yet there are the gaps, the mysteries, the attenuations that the crackpot loves. And, surprisingly enough, when we turn to northern Britain, it seems that crackpottery is all but triumphant.

Shell gorget recovered at Spiro Mounds. By Herb Roe, CC BY-SA 3.0, The cross motif has a number of interpretations, none of which involve missionary Scandinavian bishops wandering the wilderness preaching the word of Christ to the Lost Tribes of Israel.

Norham, source of the sculpture above, is a border town, on the River Tweed, which forms the boundary between Berwickshire and Lothian. An eleventh century manuscript  claims that Bishop Ecgred of Lindisfarne transferred the remains of St. Ceolwulf there, and it is one of the resting spots of Cuthbert's body during the Cuthbertine church's eight years in the wilderness between its removal from Lindisfarne in 875 and its arrival in Chester-le-Street in 883.

This has always been one of the stubbornly inconvenient facts of Anglo-Saxon history. Through the 1840s, it was a minor one, as Norham is a fairly important place, and arguably ought to have had a significant ecclesiastical establishment of some kind in the distant, old days of Bede's Northumbria. If none were mentioned in contemporary texts, it was hardly alone in that, and there are bigger mysteries involving important churches to settle by dogged antiquarianism. As it is, Simeon of Durham notes that Tilred, Abbot of Heversham, gave half of an estate to St. Cuthbert's church (which is why Simeon mentions it!) and half to Norham Abbey. So there's something there, as of the reign of Edward the Elder. That might be part of the reason that early Victorian antiquaries went poking around Norham's old church to see what they could find. The problem, more-or-less, was that they found too much. 

Not to drag this out any further than the medium will support, but, as is perhaps not that surprising with Alex Woolf as a ringleader, the current consensus (it must be a consensus, it's in Wikipedia!) is that the "sustained campaign of investment" at Norham indicates that the Cuthbertine church did not move south to the Tyne in 875, but, rather, at some point in the 800s, and probably significantly earlier, to Norham. And there it remained until, Wikipedia says, some time between 1013 and 1031. Neil McGuigan even seems to imply that he will be presenting an argument that Norham was not brought under Durham's control before 1080, although the claim is presented in a footnote and gives me little sense of what he thinks might have led to the Cuthbertine church coming south during Canute's reign. 

The salient point here is that the "Bishop of Lindisfarne," albeit domiciled at Norham, would have identified in sources of the Viking Age as "the Bishop of the English." That seems to be how Norham shows up in Irish sources. this raises the figure of Henry of Lund, the first bishop of the Orkneys to be known by name to Adam of Bremen. Henry was appointed from Canute's court, and later became the first attested Bishop of Lund, hence the name. The interesting point is that Adam is aware of previous bishops appointed by the "bishop of the English." For lack of better candidates, this worthy prelate is usually identified with York, but there's a strong case to be made that the Kings of Wessex neutered York in 951. It didn't stay neutered, but the revival of the archdiocese's independence occurred during Canute's takeover, and probably had something to do with it. This is complicated by the fact that he later Wessex kings, Canute, and the Norman kings all preferred to advance their partners at Canterbury, when claims in the north and in Ireland were of any relevance to the real world.

I'm not going to make any arguments about the extent or success of Norham, York, or Canterbury's respective pretensions to be patriarch of the Atlantic under the late Wessex kings and the Danes. We've another candidate to make the story more complicated, and that will have to do for now. I have a lacuna, authorised by a crackpots who isn't me. 

Moving north, things don't get any less mysterious. We are looking, in the first instance, for Tuathal, son of Artgus, chief bishop of Fortriu and Abbot of Dunkeld, whose death notice appears in the Annals of Ulster in 856. Sorting out the story of the Irish annals to the satisfaction of anyone who is not a multilingual master of fifteen hundred years of paleography is either exhausting beyond measure or a fun way of killing an afternoon link hopping on Wikipedia. Either way, I won't harsh your mellow, just jump ahead and say that for this period, the annals are probably based on an annalist continuing a lost Iona chronicle at Brega or Clonard monasteries in the Irish midlands. Fortriu is therefore English Waerteras, and has a presumed original location around Easter Ross, which is one of those Scottish regional labels that Scots like to use to add absolutely the most romanticism and the least geographical familiarity to a discussion. 

It's just outside Inverness. (In fairness, the historic names of Scotland were assigned back when people walked or rowed where they were going, and by those standards, forty kilometers is a long way and requires numerous regional names. I'm just trying to suggest that historians should do a better job of orienting each other instead of just dwelling on cool names.)

(Not helping.)

Fortriu is a very important place by early medieval Scottish standards, which means that it must have had a population in the hundreds or thousands even, and it gets several mentions in southern annals. Fortrians probably wrote about Fortriu, but evidence for the putative kingdom survives entirely in the form of extensive memorial statuary, because stone doesn't burn. Or, to put it another way, there weren't enough people interested in recopying what they had to say. Even Dunkeld, which is most definitely important, and most definitely has a history, is a blank for this period
. . . and no wonder once you orient yourself and realise just how low the Sun is in the sky in the early afternoon in this picture and realise how far north you are. (56 N.) 

If Dunkeld is northerly and obscure, Easter Ross, further north is even more remote and marginal. Portmahomack, a fishing village at the tip of Easter Ross, has been extensively excavated, establishing that, in the phrase already deployed to cinch Norham's claim to the Cuthbertine church's lost centuries, "that it was the site of a major campaign of investment." The excavators identify two hundred pieces of sculpture and, sadly enough, a manuscript workshop producing vellum manuscripts. Many of the sculptures were standing crosses, presumably used to demarcate zones within a massive church settlement. Martin Carver believes the site was destroyed and abandoned at about 800, and suggests that by this time the Bishop of Fortriu had moved elsewhere, probably to Rosemarkie,which has even more Pictish sculpture, and was the seat of the medieval Bishop of Ross. After the turn of the millennium, although we cannot speak of the coming of the Normans or of Anglicisation, we have the same tendency for things to get a bit less obscure, and a church is erected over the old ruins with a crypt for the remains of a St. Colmac who might have been Colman of Lindisfarne. (Or any one of some 200 other doves of God.) 

If you think the other guys are obscure, check out the "Bishop of Selje."

. . . Actually, while I do not detect the handiwork of a recent scholar at the Wikipedia article, I strongly suspect that there are those out there who have little time for Carver's recent advocacy for Portmahomack, and would argue that Curetan Bishop, who appears in Adomnan's Life of Columba, was bishop of Rosemarkie on the basis of more recent hagiography --which would also conflate or identify this mysterious figure with St. Boniface, the apostle of the Frisians.

Picture by David Hourston. Source.

Or, you know, some other Boniface. A mission to the Picts by a St. Boniface is mentioned in the Aberdeen Breviary, but that very late (Sixteenth Century work is notorious for stealing foreign saints.) The important point is that this gets us to our next and still more northerly stop, Papa Westray in the Orkneys. Either a tiny island of 918 hectares or the ninth largest island in the Orkneys.

Either way, it looks awfully marginal and exposed, albeit by all accounts a fertile island. It has a rich built-history, with the Knap of Howar standing in as the best-excavated of Orkney's Neolithic farmsites. Not quite as famous as oft-excavated Skara Brae, the Knap is even older, perhaps originating around 3200BC. Much later, two Christian sites are identified, St. Tredwell's chapel and St. Boniface's, noted. Both lie on unexcavated ruins presumed on stylistic grounds to predate the Norse era, since they do not use any of the characteristic red sandstone.

Uncredited photograph. Probably a fasion of the 1100s. Source
This is apparently old news, since an archaeological working party has since been formed to investigate St. Boniface's in depth, inspired in part by the belated realisation that Papa Westray is studded with farm mounds, a rare feature in the rest of the archipelago, where modern farms occupy old sites. Immediately to the north and east of St. Boniface's is a substantial Iron Age settlement, known locally as Munkerhoose --I think I can figure that one out!--. The tiny church retains some elements of its presumptive twelfth century construction, while the churchyard has a famous "hogsback" gravestone

National Museum of Scotland via
Similar claims have been made for the more sheltered and even smaller Papa Stronsay, where, once again, an eleventh century chapel is built on earlier ruins, claimed as a Pictish monastery, amidst a landscape of Bronze Age burnt mounds. Papa Westray is also a significant source of early Christian sculpture. A "cross slab," opposite, consisting in the surviving fragment of a slab inscribed by a compass-composed cross, was found while digging a grave on the north side of the church in 1920. It is similar to pieces found in Argyll and the Inner Hebrides, and is dated typologically to the Eighth Century. Another piece, also similar to ones found on the west coast, was found in a later grave digging effort, and seems to fit a c. 800--1000 timeframe, hard up against the proposed "early" Viking genocide of All the Picts that, I think, we don't believe in any more.

In spite of its name, Munkerhoose dates from the beginning of the Iron Age. The working party has an impressively detailed chronology of the construction phases, which may have ended with the beginning of "ecclesiastical activities," either underneath the chapel or in the "farm mound" just north of it, still studded with loose masonry after generations of robbing. At the height of the craze for "anthropogenic soils," a rich layer of soil at the edge of the Iron Age settlement was identified as part of the "Church economic package," by analogy with a similar feature at Iona, but on mature reflection it is very  hard to explain its undisturbed nature given its close proximity to a "high status site." It is capped with ash, indicating a brief period of intensive fish processing, studded with more masonry, perhaps from the demolition of a substantial construction in preparation for erecting the modern chapel.

Continuing the argument that has slowly climbed up the coast, Papa Westray is "said to be" the likeliest site for an Orkney bishopric which might have formed the ecclesiastical partner of a state actor capable of enough friction with the Pictish kings of Fortriu as to be compelled to give up hostages, as recorded by Bede. The Project thinks that it was chosen as a jumping off point for the Shetlands, which is a nice theory that I'd like to buy into, but see below. Having dropped seventeen bucks on Carolyn Wickham-Jones' Orkney: A Historical Guide, I want to say nice things about the book while discouraging anyone else from the same venture. The "Pictish" Orkneys are an obscure period. The best source for information is the Papar Project, and, at this point, I think that's all there is to know. Between the rise of Birsay and St. Magnus', and the rapid buildup of anthropogenic soils during the Norse period, we are left  hoping for chance finds of sculpture, skepticism over "typological" dating notwithstanding, or for further progress in archaeochemistry.

Having made a case for something going on at Papa Westray, it remains to confront the place's marginality. I was curious as to what modern archaeologists can tell us about resource exploitation in the area. Pictish evidence is not going to be forthcoming, but I've got this for the Neolithic:

Now this species is the one you'd expect
in a ritual feast deposit context.
By Mike Pennington, CC BY-SA 2.0,
(From Mary Harman, 40--5; 48 in Ritchie, eds., On the Fringe of Neolithic Europe. The faunal remains at the Southcairn on the Holm of Westray are understood to be a ritual deposit, and as slippery a word as "ritual" can be, it at least implies selection according to some kind of criteria oc choice. Otter are still common on the Orkneys, and people do eat otter, which is said to be "similar to pork" when properly prepared, but I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that, as far as human use of any of the Mustelidae are concerned, it's the pelts that people value.

Yes, it is Neolithic, and, yes, I would not, myself, consider this definitive proof of extraction of sea mammal products for long-distance exchange, but from the Ness of Brodgar down to St. Magnus' Cathedral, the Orkneys show evidence for an extraordinary level of social organisation, and a hierarchy-building long distance luxury trade is the most likely explanation. The identity of that resource is unclear and probably changed with the era, but Niall Sharples has a striking observation: the Iron Age timbered hall on the Lofotens was built with a prodigious amount of North American spruce, driftwood brought down by the primordial floods of the old Eastern Woodlands (topical!). Papa Westray's prominent and exposed position probably made it a magnet for driftwood. Rich in this resource, and likely others associated with its northerly and exposed location.

Now, as a final move, west across the flood to Newfoundland, presumably dancing on the logs jamming the pre-Columbian St. Lawrence. David Pike, "mathematics professor and genealogist," has found the mitochondrial DNA marker, H5a5, in association with "another genetic mutation" in about a tenth of the 264 Newfoundlanders. Otherwise known from only ten European samples, all people with links to Newfoundland and Labrador. This inspired me to venture into the depths of the Law Library to find Jerry Bannister's The Rule of the Admirals: Law, Custom and Naval Government in Newofundland, 1699--1832.  It isn't exactly the best source for the early history of Newfoundland, but it's not like we have much in the way of data going beyond the court records that Jerry explored and interrogated. (Also, he's an old school buddy.) As far as we know, the permanent population of the outports descends from assorted colonists brought over in numerous attempts to establish permanent settlements on the Newfoundland during the first half of the 1600s. Given that there were only 3000 permanent inhabitants of the island in 1727, we have plenty of room for a "founders effect" to spread a rare gene through a larger population.

The question is where H5a5 comes from, and when it arrived. The National Post article linked above seems to be doing its best to imply that it is a Beothuk gene; which I suppose makes sense given the paper. Anything rather than admit that early Canadians were immigrants, probably sneaking across the Atlantic-Newfoundland border in search of generous Archaeo-Canadian welfare benefits and free medicare.

Unfortunately, and notwithstanding the decision to illustrate the article with a picture of a Beothuk women, it would appear that the ancestors of the earliest Newfoundlanders were Romany. Or, more likely, from Pembrokeshire, which is where you'd expect them to be from, which isn't romantic at all. The H5a5ers probably came from port towns on the western shores of the British Isles, specifically Pembrokeshire, although maybe they were floating druids from Anglesey. In the last analysis, I don't think that the floating proletariat of the Atlantic are going to turn out to be enormously romantic in terms of genes. It's the way that their history was appropriated by their betters in the service of one bishop or another that injects all of this mystery and conjecture. 

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