Ebberston Archaeology Tour: Sword Quest

The sword in the stone (wall). Image: Judith Winters

We all know the story of the sword in the stone, but did you know there is a real sword in the north wall at St Mary’s church in Ebberston?

The stone is particularly interesting because the carving was not made for the wall. Rather the stone has been selected and reused from an earlier monument (very possibly one that was close by). However it does seem to have been appreciated by the wall builders who recognised something of its significance and importance and kept it facing outward.

Despite earlier theories, it is almost certainly not an emblem that’s been cut out of a larger slab with a cross or other carvings on it. The stone edges have been chamfered (i.e. shaped with sloping edges) which is highly unlikely to have been done at the point of reuse . It would therefore appear to be an emblem-only monument that found a second life in the wall of a church.

What it marked, or who or what it memorialised, we do not know. However the style of the sword pommel (the handle) and the drooping curved guard does tell us that Viking-style sword pommels persisted in the north long after the Norman conquest. The sword is also similar in style to the ‘real’ one found at Cawood, now in the Yorkshire Museum.

It’s difficult to date (but it is clearly earlier than the 14th century church wall), but from the style of the sword, archaeologists think that it was probably carved in the 12th or 13th century.

Sword quest. Achievement unlocked. 2016. Image: Judith Winters


Ellis Davidson, H.R.  1998 The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England: Its Archaeology and Literature, Boydell Press.

Grove, L. 1938 Five Viking-Period Swords. The Antiquaries Journal, 18(3), 251-257. doi:10.1017/S000358150000723X

Perkins, J. 1941 Persistence of Viking types of sword. The Antiquaries Journal, 21(2), 158-161. doi:10.1017/S0003581500086194

And thank you to my colleague Dr Aleks McClain (Dept. Archaeology, University of York) for the pointers.

Judith Winters

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