Friday, 12 September 2014

The Church and the Standing Stone - Rudston's amazing monolith

Rudston All Saints Church and standing stone

The tallest single standing stone (megalith) in Britain, Rudston Monolith towers over the gravestones close to All Saints Church in Rudston near Bridlington. Estimated at close to 40 tonnes, and with a height of almost 8 metres, nearly two metres wide and a metre thick, it is possible that it extends as far below ground (according to an experiment conducted by Sir William Strickland in the late 18th century.) 

The stone has been capped with lead, to protect it, and it is possible that it originally stood higher, with a pointed top, as it appears to have broken at some time.

Rudston Standing Stone
Looking up: Rudston Monolith

The age of the stone is put at 1600 - 1000 BC. It is comprised of a type of gritstone, the nearest source of which is Cayton Bay, about 10 miles to the North of the site.

The stone survives in its original setting, and stands at the centre of a number of important archaeological sites around Rudston. These include henges, prehistoric settlement complexes, rectilinear enclosures, and round and square barrow cemeteries. It also appears to mark the convergence of three cursus monuments - major Neolithic features which may have had some form of ritual or ceremonial function, although much is not yet known.

The monolith is also sited close to the enigmatic Gypsey Race, a winterbourne stream (a stream or river which is dry during the summer months,) which does have other ancient sites possibly associated with it. Rising in the Great Wold Valley it flows intermittently between Duggleby and West Lutton where it disappears and runs underground in the chalk aquifer before resurfacing in Rudston. According to folklore, when the Gypsey Race is in flood (the woe waters,) then bad fortune is at hand. As there are several examples of this: it was in flood in the year before the great plague of 1664, before both world wars and the bad winters of 1947 and 1962, the folklore persists....

All Saints Church is Norman, and, although there may have been a previous Saxon church on the site (there is none recorded,) the monolith obviously predates the church substantially. The monolith was, presumably, far too cumbersome to remove, when the church was built here, on a site that had obviously been sacred for very many years.

Rudston All Saints Church and standing stone
Rudston Monolith in the graveyard of All Saint's Church

Legend says the stone was thrown at the church by the devil, but, due to divine intervention, or a poor aim, he missed.

It is believed that Rudston also owes its name to the monolith, possibly deriving from the Old English Rood-stane, meaning 'cross-stone.'

This was one of the first ancient sites I ever visited, and it still fills me with awe. The juxtaposition of the monolith to the church somehow seems to emphasise its mystery, and strangeness, as well as emphasising its colossal size!

Rudston All Saints Church and Standing Stone
Rudston All Saints Church and Standing Stone

I have always wondered about the various church congregations over the years, what their reactions might have been, and what discussions they might have had relating to the enormous and obvious presence within their churchyard!
Thanks for reading!


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  1. Amazing thing to see in a churchyard, must admit I have never seen the like at ones I visit

    1. The size of the stone is quite impressive! I assume it was just too big to remove when the built the church on the existing sacred site. I would imagine that many more churches will have been built on sites that already had monliths/stone circles, but the stones will have been removed.