Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Wednesday, 8 July 2020

Dating the Cerne Abbas Giant

Environmental archaeology has, it appears, begun to give a definitive answer to a long-running question, that of the age of the Cerne Abbas Giant in Dorset. Despite its apparent antiquity there has been a sneaking suspicion amongst some that the chalk figure is nothing like as old as is traditionally thought, and that he is seventeenth century in origin rather than a survival from Roman times or earlier. The results of the latest research on the soil of the hillside are given in an article on the Mailonline website and can be seen at Cerne Abbas Giant is NOT prehistoric, snail shells reveal

More research should reveal in coming months a closer date for what is perhaps the greatest piece of political graffiti in the country rather than a cultic figure from a remote pagan past. We may lose one set of ideas about previous inhabitants of Dorset but gain a new set that can still engage us.

The tradition that it was at Cerne that St Augustine of Canterbury met so unproductively with the British bishops at the beginning of his ministry may not be very certain or likely, but I have always felt such a high powered meeting under the watching gaze of the Giant unlikely, or unlikely to be successful.

I have only once seen the Cerne Abbas figure, and that was from a coach window on a dull wet day as we were driven through the village. A year or two later in 1992 I was going on a holiday-research trip to Dorset and a friend in my home town was most insistent that I should send him a postcard of the Cerne giant as it is the only seemingly obscene photograph one can send en clair through the Royal Mail. I duly complied.

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