[From Manx Note Book vol 3, 1887]
IN No. I. OF "THE MANX NOTE BOOK" an article on the Svastika or Fylfot was illustrated by engravings of a cross shaft found by me at Dearham Church, Cumberland, during the restoration of that Church. The sculptured fragment bore upon it two figures of the sign with curved arms, in relief, surrounded by spiral ornamentation of very early character. It was the first example of this sacred symbol, in work of this kind, which came under my notice. I afterwards saw the Isel fragment, of which three sides are here engraved, and of which I sent a cast to Burlington House, accompanied by my notes upon it. This called forth some interesting remarks from Mr. R. P. Gregg, F.S.A., &c., whose valuable paper on "The Meaning and Origin of the Fylfot and Svastika " will be found in Archaeologia, Vol. XLVIII. Mr. Gregg confirmed my suggestion that this Cumberland Fylfot, originally the sign of the sun, might come from Scandinavia and symbolize Thor, whilst the Triskele represented fire. I have found fragments bearing the same sign at Aspatria and these, with other recently- discovered relics of the early British Church in this old kingdom of Strathclyde, testify strongly to the Eastern origin of the symbolism, adapted to changes of circumstance in which the sun and fire and water symbols are sanctified to Christian uses. These were again adapted to the Northern heathen system, and yet again laid hold of by the Christians in their successful endeavour to convert the Scandinavian pagans.
The Isel stone is in shape a small pyramid of light coloured Permian sandstone of the distrid, without apex, length eleven inches, width six inches at wider, four and a half inches at narrower end. its form suggests the upper most part of the shaft of a cross, though no trace exists of the place from which the arms should spring. In the upper or smaller end a cup-shaped hollow has been formed. The stone was found amongst the building material of the old bridge over the Derwent, near the little Norman Church of Isel, when the present bridge was being built. In the church-yard are fragments of a flat cross shaft with spiral ornamentation incised or picked out, of very early work, but different from the subject of this paper.
Each face of our fragment has an upper and a lower panel, sculptured in relief, bearing marks of pointed tool and not of broad or narrow chisel ; the design in the upper panel varies, that in the lower one being the same on each of the four faces, namely, an CeD shaped design (the "Sun-snake" sign). In one of the upper panels is the " Svastika " or "Fylfot," closely resembling our own sacred monogram or the Greek X, its arms turning from right to left or from the sun, instead of from left to right or with the sun. Scandinavian, Roman, Trojan, Buddhistic and other eastern remains bear this sign engraved in stone, or stamped upon metal, on coins and ornaments; but I know of none other, than those now mentioned, carved in relief in this country.
In two of the upper panels is the "triskele" sign, with raised bosses in the vacant spaces, the curve of the two lower limbs of one of these symbols takes the opposite direction from the curve of the upper limb, in stead of all three limbs turning round in the same diredion-towards the right-with the sun. The engraving shews this figure with a part of the "sun snake" sign in the damaged panel beneath. On the other face the "triskele " whirls round from left to right -with the sun- every limb moving in the same direction. This sign, the origin of the ' Legs of Mann," Is found on Eastern coins, on Danish ornaments in metal, on Scandinavian Bracteates; and on knives, spear-heads and hatchets of the later bronze age, which also bear the "sun-snake " and the "sun-ship "-this is the only example known to me sculptured in stone in relief. The Triquetra or Triskele is, according to some, a lunar emblem.
The symbol in the fourth panel is Odin's sign, somewhat disfigured, and may be seen amongst Scandinavian devices (Waring, Pl. XLIV).
These signs appear to belong in this case to the Norse faith, and may represent Thor, Odin, and Frey placed in an unlucky manner, whilst the perfect Triskele represents the true Trinity of the Christian faith, stedfast amidst all changes, even as the sun himself.
The sculpture is in the best style of this very early work, being wrought in regular panels nstead of being traced irregularly by a free-hand over the face of the stone. I believe we are here on the track of the earliest Christian Sculpture after the retirement of the Roman Legions and before the advent of Roman Christian Western art in any great force, but after the inroads of the Northern pagans had considerably affected the religious beliefs of the inhabitants.
A study of the treatment by the old Christian teachers of the religious ideas which they had to confront as preserved in their works of art, sculptures, MSS., &c., will reveal to us a foreshadowing of the Christ to the heathen themselves in their own faith.
This article will appear in "The Reliquary" The engravings have appeared in "The Transactions of the Cumberland Westmoreland Antiquarian Society, 1887," and in " The Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries.