Following a trail

Beheading of St Catherine, Pickering

I was roused from sleep at four a.m., dragged wide awake with a phrase ringing in my ears that sent me in search of coffee, computer and a small dog who thinks either that I have lost the plot or daylight saving time has gone haywire.

Those who have read our books will have realised by now that Stuart and I follow some pretty convoluted trails in our research and for the past three hours I have been hunting threads.

“If you ever loved anybody, learn about the babies of Waltham Cross”….Not the most pleasant thing to be wakened with … and I admit to a modicum of panic as I scanned the news and history….

Nothing obvious presented itself, thank goodness, and though a request for info on Facebook produced some interesting .. and heartbreaking.. stories, none of them seemed to click. Which, I admit, was a hell of a relief!

So, I started digging deeper and came upon the Waltham Cross… There are two, really. One is the Eleanor Cross, erected to mark the place where Queen Eleanor’s body had rested. The second was the Holy Rood, a black flint cross once kept in Waltham Abbey, credited with miracles and making the church a place of pilgrimage. The building is rich in history, particularly associated with many early monarchs of the realm.

Early carved head, Newton Longville

A cursory glance at the old Abbey Church threw up the fact that it is decorated with many carved stone heads…. There are also wall paintings and the church site is old… very old… Readers will know that this immediately made me prick up my ears.

The ceiling of the nave seems to be painted with images of the zodiac… not something we come across in modern churches, but perhaps a little less unusual once upon a time…. And Time was the theme William Burgess had used to design the ceiling in the 1860s, basing it on the medieval symbolism of a similar ceiling in Peterborough cathedral. I have a particular interest in Burgess, given the amount of magical symbolism he used at Cardiff castle for Lord Bute.

I began to wonder about the symbolic interpretation rather than the words of the dream-phrase, and thought that perhaps the zodiac could be considered the ‘babies’… the ‘children’… thinking about the historic representations of God seated at the centre of the zodiac, and the creation of the world. With the stories of the stars being woven through the myths and legends we are currently working on, this seemed to make a relevant kind of sense.

The Creation of the World.
Giusto de’ Menabuoi, c1376.
Baptistery of the Duomo, Padua, Italy.

Now the Abbey Church is dedicated to St Lawrence and the Holy Cross. As any reader of our books will have noted, we have a particular interest in beheading. There is a wholly symbolic reason for that, honestly…but still…we seem to follow a trail of severed heads. It was something we stumbled across with the depictions of the saints in the medieval wall paintings of ORC… our first and most beloved little church. These included some surprise beheadings… Saints Lawrence, George and Catherine, for example. There were others on the walls of that little chapel.

St Lawrence is popularly assumed to have died on a gridiron. However, it has been postulated otherwise and the legend may be due to a missing ‘p’: “The Liber Pontificalis, which is held to draw from sources independent of the existing traditions and Acta regarding Lawrence, uses passus est concerning him, the same term it uses for Pope Sixtus II (martyred by beheading during the same persecution).” Wikipedia

St George, Great Kimble

Being of a generation that remembers Catherine wheel fireworks I knew the legend of how she had died on a wheel. Not so… the wheel broke and went into the crowd… she was beheaded. So was St George… and what we have learned about the connection between St George and St Michael would take way too long to share here…

So, with all this lurking in the back of my mind I look up the Holy Rood… found on the manor of Montacute: “a black flint cross (the “Holy Rood”) was said to have been discovered atop the hill earlier in the eleventh century by the village blacksmith. This was supposedly placed in a wagon by Tofig, and he named a series of possible destinations owned by him. The oxen pulling the wagon (six red and six white in one version of the tale) refused to move until he said “Waltham”. They then started, and continued non-stop until they reached Waltham. When they stopped, Tofig decided to build an abbey at the site – this became Waltham Abbey.” Wikipedia

Let alone the legend and the symbolism of the oxen, with which I know Stuart will have a field day, it was obvious I needed to know more about Montacute…. And it has a hillfort. Always a red flag for attention… you wouldn’t believe what we have learned about the ancient uses of hillforts… It also has a long history, from the Durotriges through the Romans, Normans, a priory…. a motte and bailey castle…and a St Michael’s Tower on the hill… reminiscent of the one on Glastonbury Tor.

So what about the church? A 12th century St Catherine’s… sort of had to be…

Glastonbury Tor

And, more to the point, where on earth is Montacute? About fifteen miles from Glastonbury… where we just happen to be have spent a lot of time on Silent Eye business…

… and a quick glance confirms that the village is close to Ham Hill (a place of earthworks and history in itself)… and very much part of the sacred landscape of Avalon… and the controversial Glastonbury Zodiac…

So… three guesses where we will be going when we are next in Glastonbury ? And that is without the now inevitable trip to Essex…

It may seem a convoluted trail from the dream to a Somerset hillfort, but that’s the kind of trail we follow, and so far it hasn’t led us wrong.

St Michael’s Tower, Glastonbury

About Sue Vincent

Sue Vincent is a Yorkshire-born writer and one of the Directors of The Silent Eye, a modern Mystery School. She writes alone and with Stuart France, exploring ancient myths, the mysterious landscape of Albion and the inner journey of the soul. Find out more at France and Vincent. She is owned by a small dog who also blogs. Follow her at and on Twitter @SCVincent. Find her books on Goodreads and follow her on Amazon worldwide to find out about new releases and offers. Email:
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19 Responses to Following a trail

  1. And that is my favorite place in my England tour. It was quite a night, last night. A big one for revelations … I can hardly wait for the next episode!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. jenanita01 says:

    You have done it now… I have to find out more about St. George and St.Michael…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jennie says:

    I love your train of thinking and research. You are a sleuth with heart. And you often find the prize. I looked at the stunning photo of the tower for a long time. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Widdershins says:

    A’sleuthing she will go,
    A’sleuthing she will go,
    Hi-ho, a derry-O
    A’sleuthing she will go. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  5. noelleg44 says:

    You’re like me, Sue – you get on the trail of something and just have a blast tracing details down and finding new clues and information. Ain’t research grand?

    Liked by 1 person

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