Site: Beacon Hill, Lundy

Name:Beacon Hill, Lundy CISP No:LUNDY
Place:Lundy Island Grid Ref:SS 1320 4420 (GB)   Map
Parish:inc Stones:4
County:Devon , England Saint(s):Helen
Site Type:ecclesiastical

Site Notes

The following notes are taken from Thomas/1994, chapter 10.

Island of Lundy is in the Bristol Channel 16 miles from Ilfracombe. It is 3 miles long (N-S) and 0.5 miles wide (E-W). It is isolated but highly visible rising to 463 m.

There was, by the 13th century, a church dedicated to St Helen or Helena which by the 16th c. was under the aegis of Cleeve Abbey. A `much battered granite cell', 14 by 25 feet is still visible.

The present walled graveyard was used until recently, with graves being dug within and without the church. The modern dry-stone wall was built by Trinity House, but overlies an earlier enclosure thought by Thomas to be an early medieval lann, or enclosed ecclesiastical site. This is still visible to the SW of the enclosure.

Traces of two celtic field systems survive on the Island, one partly underlying the cemetery.

Cemetery partly excavated in 1961 by K. S. Gardner and A. Langham.

Island bought by National Trust in 1968.

Site further excavated by A. C. Thomas in 1969. The following account is taken from Thomas/1994, chapter 10.

Excavation showed that the early cemetery had at least 100 long cist graves of early Christian character. Some were small as if for children. Re-examination of archive by Thomas in 1990 revealed five phases:

1. Roman-British circular hut -- now largely destroyed but traces remain; pattern re-inforced by finds.

2. Hut walls destroyed to create a rectangular enclosure 11' N--S by 7--8' E--W within which a cist grave was constructed aligned E--W. The whole was then filled with granite pebbles to a depth of 3'. The whole forms a special grave, perhaps a cella memoriae ('tomb within an enclosure'). Two other burials to the west, also in cists made from the original Romano-British hut may be contemporary.

3. 50--100 years later, the cella was broken open. The largest slab on the southern edge was swung through 90 degrees and the granite pebbles removed. The lid of the cist was then removed and the bones taken away. Thomas believes this to be a translatio (removal of a saints bones).

4. Further graves dug near the cella.

5. Still more graves dug near the cella.

Thomas interprets the main feature in phase 2 as being a burial of an important christian figure in an existing burial ground. The bones were then removed as relics. Thomas believes the island was the home of small ecclesiastical community which came into being by AD 480--500. Lundy's absence in the later record is perhaps because it ceased to function as a religious house in the 7th century.