A University of Chester professor believes a gravestone discovered in a Wrexham garden is rare effigy of a 13th century monk.
Howard Williams and historians from Llangollen believe the stone, which Meryl and Jerry Butler bought as a garden ornament, is a gravestone for Hyywel, who was recorded as Abbot of Valle Crucis in Llangollen at around 1295.
The couple bought the stone carving of a smiling abbot awaiting salvation at auction at Wynnstay Hall estate in Ruabon in the mid-1990s.
The monument later spent 20 years alongside their fireplace before the couple, who ran antique bed store Seventh Heaven in Chirk, decided to share their find with the public and contacted Llangollen Museum manager Gillian Smith to learn more about it.
Jerry said: “We just loved the smile on his face, so we bought it for the garden. It was on its side and we think it had been face down before that – had it been left face up you wouldn’t have the detail now!”
They believe it may have initially been uncovered during the 19th century clearance of the Llangollen abbey ruins.
The unique piece, believed to be the first-ever known, and previously unrecorded, effigal slab of a Cistercian abbot from Wales, is now on display by Llangollen Museum on a two year loan.
Gillian said: “He was by the door in Seventh Heaven 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 gravestones 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.”
He added: “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.”
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