St Hilda (614–680 AD) was the daughter of Hereric and Breguswith and the great niece of Edwin, King of Northumbria (616–633 AD). In 657 AD, Hilda came to Whitby, North Yorkshire to administer the abbey. As the abbess of Whitby, she managed one of the most important religious centres in the Anglo-Saxon world. Today her known feast days are commemorated on the 17th, 18th or 19th of November.
My illustration above was inspired by Hilda’s associations with the ammonite fossils found in the cliffs of Whitby. The legend goes she cast out the serpents in Whitby in order to clear the ground for a new convent. In response to her devout praying the snakes coiled up, turned to stone and fell off the edge of the cliffs after she cut off their heads with a whip. A 15th-century Latin manuscript found in the Durham University library indicates this ammonite legend goes back to at least late medieval times.
Ammonites collected from the cliffs of Whitby were reshaped with snake heads and examples of these snakestones are found in the Whitby Museum (see above). Moreover, Victorian geologists named one of the local species after her – Ammonite hildroceras.
The Whitby town coat of arms features three coiled serpents and they are also depicted underfoot in the stela sculpture of St Hilda found on the cross erected in the graveyard of St Mary’s Church high on the cliffs near the remains of the abbey. You can click to view a 3D model of the stela below.
Be silent in that solitude,
Which is not loneliness—for then
The spirits of the dead, who stood
In life before thee, are again
In death around thee, and their will
Shall overshadow thee; be still.
— excerpt from “Spirits of the Dead”
by Edgar Allan Poe, 1827
The above illustration is a working version of my 2018 Halloween card.
A woolly mammoth (by me) and a poem for winter solstice.
O Winter! bar thine adamantine doors:
The north is thine; there hast thou built thy dark
Deep-founded habitation. Shake not thy roofs,
Nor bend thy pillars with thine iron car.
He hears me not, but o’er the yawning deep
Rides heavy; his storms are unchain’d, sheathed
In ribbed steel; I dare not lift mine eyes;
For he hath rear’d his sceptre o’er the world.
Lo! now the direful monster, whose skin clings
To his strong bones, strides o’er the groaning rocks:
He withers all in silence, and in his hand
Unclothes the earth, and freezes up frail life.
He takes his seat upon the cliffs, the mariner
Cries in vain. Poor little wretch, that deal’st
With storms; till heaven smiles, and the monster
Is driven yelling to his caves beneath Mount Hecla.
William Blake (1757–1827)
Spirits of Samhain (illustration by Squeaking Cat)
‘Twas the dusky Hallowe’en —
Hour of fairy and of wraith,
When in many a dim-lit green,
‘Neath the stars’ prophetic sheen,
As the olden legend saith,
All the future may be seen,
And when — an older story hath —
Whate’er in life hath ever been
Loveful, hopeful, or of wrath,
Cometh back upon our path.
Extract from Song of the Deathless Voice
by Abram Joseph Ryan, 1880
Today my sketch commemorates St Wite’s feast day which falls on the 1st of June. In the Dorset village of Whitchurch Canonicorum during the 16th-century there was a local custom of offering her cakes and ale on this day.
She is also known as St White, Whyte or Witta. Not much is known about her and she could have been an Anglo-Saxon, Welsh or Breton saint (she is known as Candida or Blanche in Brittany).
She is one of two saints (the other being Edward the Confessor) whose shrines survive the English Reformation intact. Her 13th-century shrine is located in the north transept of St Candida Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset (England). It was opened in 1900 and fragments of bones and teeth were found as well as a leaden casket with the inscription Hie Reqeset Reliqe See Witey containing even more bones. The shrine has three oval openings which handkerchiefs and other small articles were traditionally placed to gain healing properties and then given to the sick.
More details are found on the Dorset County Museum website.
A contemporary statue of St Wite has been set high upon the exterior of St Candida Church, Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset. And this is 3D photogrammetric model of it is for those who can’t make the pilgramage to west England today.
In order to keep warm these cold winter nights, I have slaved over a hot computer screen and worked upon rendering my Ice Age horse illustration into a 3D model. He has lost a little weight in the transition, but he is still grassfed and now roams free range in the void of cyberspace. To receive the full 3D experience click the Sketchfab portal below and spin around it.
Happy Winter Solistice!
My painting is a reconstruction of what a horse looked like during the time of the Ice Age based on cave paintings. Representations of horses and other animals were carved, painted and drawn by Upper Palaeolithic artists and grace the walls of several European caves. The most famous examples are found in Lascaux and Chauvet in France and Altimera in Spain.
Cave painting of a horse from Lascaux
This equine image from Lascaux (dating approximately 17,000 years ago) reveals features similar to the Jungarian horse or Przewalski’s horse, which is known as the takhi in Mongolia. It is dun coloured with a big white belly and has a dark brown mane. Other cave paintings also feature horses in their winter coats with long hair around the jaw and hoofs. The frozen body of a Pleistocene stallion known as the Selerikan horse was found in Siberian permafrost in 1968 and its preserved hide confirms the accuracy of the Upper Palaeolithic paintings.
Horse bones have been found in Britain at sites such as the Pin Hole Cave, Creswell Crags, Derbyshire (dating around 50,000 to 45,000 BCE) and Kent’s Cavern, Devon. So far there is not much evidence with regards to art from the Upper Palaeolithic in the UK, let alone equine depictions. A bone with an engraving of a horse’s head, however, was found in Robin Hood Cave in the Creswell Crags. It was originally known as the ‘Ochre Horse’ (dating approx. 13,000 to 11,000 years old) and now resides in the British Museum collections. At the moment, the Ochre Horse is the only piece of Upper Palaeolithic portable art with an animal depiction found in Britain.