Defacing Junipero Serra: Contemporary Image-Breaking and the Iconoclastic Tradition

In September 2015, a statue of St Junipero Serra in the courtyard of Carmel Mission was toppled to the ground and coated with green and white paint. The words “Saint of Genocide” were found written on a nearby stone.

A little more than two weeks later, in the adjoining town of Monterey, a statue of Serra was neatly beheaded. The head was recovered from a tidepool by a child in April 2016, but has yet to be reunited with the body. Over the last year, a third image of the saint, on Carmel’s Serra Avenue, has been repeatedly splashed with paint. Fifty miles up the coast, red paint was sprayed on the doors of Santa Cruz mission, accompanied by the text “Serra – St of Genocide.”

This is a familiar chain of events, though in an unexpected location. Over the last few years, I’ve thought and written quite a bit about the impact of iconoclasm in the early modern period. In particular, I’ve wondered how people in the years after the English Reformation responded to the headless statues and battered effigies in their houses of worship. Gazing at defaced images of saints in English churches and cathedrals, I’ve tried to imagine how they struck early modern eyes. But I never expected to find iconoclasm of this kind going on in my own childhood backyard.

Growing up in Carmel, California, I heard plenty both good and bad about the Franciscan missionary Junipero Serra (d. 1784). The “apostle of California” lies buried in Carmel’s Mission San Carlos Borromeo. Serra is an icon of California history and the state’s Hispanic heritage. Yet he is also a controversial figure, in light of the harsh regime imposed on the native population by the mission system. Though statues and paintings of Serra depict him as a gentle and benevolent friar, many regard him rather as the flag-bearer of a genocidal conquest. His canonisation by Pope Francis in September of last year has sparked off a campaign of image-breaking.

I’ll write in a follow-up post about my personal response to these incidents. Here I want to reflect on how they echo the iconoclasm of the English Reformation. Whether or not the perpetrators had the precedent of early modern image-breaking in mind, their actions participate in a distinct iconoclastic tradition with its own motifs, customs, and conventions.

Some key differences should be acknowledged at the outset. The ideological origins of the attacks are entirely different. The defacement of statues in Carmel and Monterey was not motivated by a Protestant distaste for holy images nor (as far as we can tell) by anti-Catholicism per se, but by anger over the historical oppression of a people. Iconoclasm in the Reformation generally did not involve a specific animus against the person depicted (which might be Jesus or God the Father), but rather against the act of depiction; in the case of Serra, the anger of the iconoclasts is very much directed at the specific individual, and at the institution that has seen fit to canonise him.

In spite of these clear differences, and in spite of the centuries that separate them, these two manifestations of the iconoclastic impulse reveal a set of common tactics and strategies.

Reformation assaults on sculpted images often targeted the head, either by disfiguring the face or, very commonly, by outright decapitation. A range of explanations for this preference have been suggested. As Pamela Graves has argued, iconoclasts often targeted the same parts of the body – the head and the hands – which were subject to punishment in the case of human offenders. In some cases, where images embedded in niches were difficult to remove in their entirety, cutting off their heads may have been a practical solution. Yet perhaps the greatest attraction of this mode of iconoclasm is the shocking afterimage it produces. Headless bodies demand our attention; arguably, the effect is all the more disturbing where the rest of the statue remains undamaged.

The iconoclasts who beheaded Serra’s statue in Monterey were probably in no position to topple the heavy sculpture or carry it away. Yet it was certainly in their power to break off the hands, to gouge the stonework, and to deface the long inscription at the base. Instead, the pristine condition of the remainder seems to amplify the message of the assault. (Among other things, it makes it much more difficult for passers-by to attribute the damage to weathering or neglect.) As Joseph Koerner has argued with reference to Reformation iconoclasm, the image-breakers are also image-makers.

Pulling Down
Reformation injunctions for the removal of images repeatedly speak in terms of “pulling down.” The act of toppling an image has a resonance far beyond its practical function as a step toward removal. In the pulling down of statues, Reformation reformers saw a re-enactment of the fall of the idol of Dagon in the presence of the Ark of the Covenant. (“Down went Dagon,” wrote John Aubrey wryly, reflecting on the iconoclasm of the Civil War. “Now no religion to be found.”) The pulling down of statues continues to serve as an emblem or promise of radical political change – think of the iconic fall of Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad in 2003, or that of Stalin in Budapest in 1956.

The toppling of the statue of Serra in Carmel Mission undoubtedly created a more powerful visual impact than the theft of the object would have done. Although it has now been cleaned and restored to its plinth, the image of its disgrace remains seared on the web. (In a Google image search for “Carmel Serra statue,” seven of the first ten images depict the vandalism of September 2015.)

At Carmel Mission, empty paint cans were left on either side of the fallen statue, and paint has played a central role in all but one of the incidents to date. At first glance, this seems like a distinctly modern mode of defacement. Paint has been a favoured tool of other modern iconoclasts, including in a recent assault on a statue of Winston Churchill in London, and spray-paint attacks in museums and galleries. Iconoclasts in the English Reformation, who often objected to the gaudy colouration of church walls, windows, and images, do not seem to have made comparable use of paint. (Instead, they often made offending images disappear beneath a layer of whitewash.) Yet if we read this act more widely as a means of disgracing the image by coating it with inappropriate material, we can note parallels in the Reformation era, when statues might be daubed with spit, urine, or feces. Such assaults constitute a double humiliation of the image, identifying it with worthless or noxious substances, and revealing its powerlessness to resist such attacks.

The green and white paint covering the statue of Serra at Carmel Mission gives him the appearance of a fool or jester. In this respect it echoes another of the favoured tactics of Reformation iconoclasm, which was to associate reverenced images with foolery or “playing.” In 1538, the renowned Rood of Grace from Boxley Abbey was paraded through the towns of Kent, where the populace was invited to laugh at the mechanisms which caused it to smile and bow. The painting of Serra’s statues can be read as a comparable act of unveiling, revealing that there has never been anything here but a cheap show.

On at least two occasions, physical damage was supplemented by a textual gloss, identifying Serra as a “Saint of Genocide.”

The concise phrase has its own dark wit. Rather than insisting “Serra was not a saint” (though that, of course, is the real message), the graffito pretends to take the Catholic Church at its word: if Serra is a saint, this must be because the Church venerates genocide as a virtuous activity, and has appointed Serra as its patron. In its context at the missions of Carmel and Santa Cruz, the phrase both justifies the act of iconoclasm and serves as a caption to the new image that has been created. (In Renaissance terms, it creates a complete emblem, a picture with explanatory text.) Once again, there are parallels with early modern iconoclasm. When the statue of Charles I was pulled down from the porch of St Paul’s after his execution, the words Exit Tyrannum regum ultimus (Out goes the tyrant, the last of kings) appeared in the niche.

Media coverage of the attacks on Serra’s images over the last year has almost invariably referred to acts of “vandalism” rather than “iconoclasm.” This may be because the latter word would sound out of place in a news story about contemporary California, or because it might be held to dignify the violence in some way. Nevertheless, as I’ve outlined here, these actions mirror the iconoclasm of the Reformation and Civil War eras in ways that are both specific and profound. In a following post, I’ll endeavour to analyse my own reaction to these events, and ask what light this might shed on how worshippers after the Reformation responded to the afterimages of iconoclasm.

Why St Thomas Becket’s elbow still matters in the 21st century

Naomi Howell, University of Exeter

A small piece of bone thought to belong to St Thomas Becket is, after centuries of exile in Hungary, returning to Canterbury Cathedral where the archbishop was murdered in 1170. Encased in a dazzling modern reliquary, the bone will be displayed in several Catholic and Protestant churches on its way to Canterbury. Venerating medieval saintly relics such as this may seem quite unusual in these days of the modern Anglican Church, and one might wonder why anyone today should care about an 850-year-old bone.

Almost from the day he was cut down in the cathedral by four knights acting on behalf of Henry II, the martyred Becket was the most famous saint in England. Canterbury became the most popular site of pilgrimage in the land, with untold numbers of pilgrims travelling to pray before the shrine of what Chaucer later called this “holy blissful martyr”. What might have been a source of national humiliation – the murder of a leading clergyman at the apparent behest of the monarch – became instead a source of national pride.

Saints then

Though the medieval English Church was then part of Catholic Christendom, there was always a special pride (and profit) in homegrown saints. Among the most venerated were St Alban, the first saint martyred on British soil, by the Romans in the 2nd or 3rd century AD; St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, buried in Durham Abbey; St Edward the Confessor, the Anglo-Saxon king whose shrine still dominates Westminster Abbey, and St Wulfstan, the last Anglo-Saxon bishop of Worcester before the Norman invasion. But in his standing as a saint and focus of pilgrimage, Becket was greater than any of these.

But this status provided no protection for his remains during the Reformation of the 16th and 17th centuries, during which monasteries, abbeys, saintly shrines and holy relics were abolished, torn down or destroyed. The only survivors were the shrines of Edward the Confessor and the obscure St Wita in Whitchurch Canonicorum, Dorset. While some saints’ bodies were removed from their shrines and given anonymous burials within the church, as Thomas had rebelled against his king he was the target of particular wrath by Henry VIII’s commissioners. The fate of his bones and relics remains mysterious, although contemporary reports claimed they were burned and scattered to the winds.

The martyrdom of St Thomas Becket turned him into a cause célèbre, much to the annoyance of the king.
Book of Hours/British Library

Saints today

Since the Reformation, the Anglican Church has maintained an ambiguous, ambivalent attitude toward traditional saints – celebrating their feast days, but declining to pray to them or grant them any special status. No saints have been added to the calendar. The veneration of saints’ relics has always been viewed with considerable suspicion as something medieval, distinctly Catholic, superstitious, and not least, in poor taste.

Yet it seems the Church of England today is willing to accommodate saintly relics and the range of beliefs about them from Christians of various denominations. In 2002, a shoulder-blade purported to be St Alban’s was returned to the saint’s home cathedral having been housed for centuries in a German monastery. Durham Cathedral has invested millions in a new exhibition centre in which to display the relics of St Cuthbert, opening in July. In Wales, the shrine of St David was restored and rededicated in 2012.

The modern reliquary containing St Thomas Becket’s bone fragment.
Archdiocese of Budapest-Esztergom

For some, respectful re-interment of British bodies – especially saintly ones – goes hand-in-hand with burying the hatchet with what went on during the Reformation. And it is perhaps this more secular age that has made this more possible than ever.

In a sermon delivered in 2010, the Dean of St Albans gave eloquent expression to the Church’s evolving attitude toward relics:

Well, ultimately of course it doesn’t matter; but I am still very glad and grateful [Alban’s relic] is there. For Christians and for human beings in general bodies matter, and location matters. In the Incarnation God became flesh and blood to save us at a particular time and at a particular place… [M]ost of us will still cling on to some material link with the person that’s gone – a photograph, a ring, a lock of hair, a memento that may be meaningless to someone who doesn’t know, but which may open floodgates of loving memory to the person left behind.

There are no doubt some who fear that the return of Becket’s bone to Canterbury will open the floodgates of medieval superstition. But the real significance of this event is not bound up with the theological niceties of relic-worship, or even with Thomas Becket. The re-homing of relics (the technical term is “translation”) is a way of making peace with the past, reintegrating estranged parts of our own history.

It also serves an important diplomatic function, just as it did in the Middle Ages. For the president of Hungary, whose government is often accused of looking east rather than west, the return of Becket’s bone provides a means of affirming the value of European links. For the British establishment, on the verge of the EU referendum, this demonstration of European harmony and cooperation is equally significant.

Naomi Howell, Associate Research Fellow in Medieval Studies, University of Exeter

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Golowan, Cornish identity and the heritage of mid-Summer festivals

Since we are getting close to the northern hemisphere Midsummer, I thought I would have a look at some aspects of Midsummer Heritage:

The Cornish language word for ‘Midsummer’ is Golowan. This was a time of celebrations and festivals in Cornwall, particularly connected to St John’s Eve (23rd June) and St Peter’s Eve (28th June); corresponding to a period marked by rejoicing, street fairs and festivals, particularly of bonfires, fireworks and processions.


If you follow some internet links, you soon discover that Golowan is a distinctly ‘Cornish’ activity. It is certainly used today to celebrate and re-inforce a sense of Cornish cultural identity. Golowan is a Cornish word; the festival and outdoor performance activities that are associated with it (such as Mazey Day in Penzance), are portrayed as distinctly ‘Cornish’; a day to wave the black and white flags of St Piran; a day to do the Trelawny Shout; steeped in a distinctly Cornish and Celtic heritage.

But just how useful is it to describe this event as ‘Cornish’? Afterall, the calendar dates are those of Christian saints (John and Peter), who have an international standing: While fishing has long been a prominent industry in Cornwall (and one very important to the self-image of many people who describe themselves as ‘Cornish’), St Peter is celebrated by many fishermen across Europe and beyond; while St John’s Eve is also prominently celebrated with bonfires in many countries, with a particular public face in Scandinavia. These are international Christian festivals, not ‘Cornish’ in essential detail.

While these events were not essentially ‘Cornish’, however, it can be argued that, first: the continued to be celebrated for longer in Cornwall than elsewhere, with an (at times, perhaps) intermittent cultural memory of celebratory practice that stretches back many centuries. Secondly, of course, although these festivals are ostensibly ‘Christian’, they could also be marking the vestiges of a pre-Christian midsummer festival, which might not be ‘Cornish’ as such, but would seem to have the sort of ‘Celtic’ roots that is customarily assigned to ‘Cornishness’.


Golowan, therefore, has been revived and celebrated as an item of (Celtic and Cornish) ‘folk tradition’. It is an item of non-elite identity performance, group cohesion and communal heritage. This sounds very positive, and perhaps also points towards a wider tradition of carnivals and fairs – vernacular events that blur the boundaries of official and non-official; participant and audience, and which are celebrated as ‘authentic’, local and inclusive. Within Cornwall, such activities were noted in the 18th century by the local antiquarian, Dr William Borlase, as being of ‘Druid’ origin, hinting at a William Stukeley-style ‘British’ aboriginal Druid being conjoured up. But while for William Stukeley, the ‘British Druid’ represented a fairly elite aboriginal bulwark against continental Catholicism, more recent Druidic narratives have tended to suggest an anti-Establishment Pagan-Celtic folksiness that is very much locally embedded. Basically, there is a strong argument that such activities might genuinely possess quite ancient roots, and the very being of these sorts of activity often seems to (proverbially) stick two fingers up at the Establishment, akin to practices such as ‘rough music’, of masquerade, and a history of folk resistance. This line of thinking, to my mind at least, certainly broadens out the ‘Cornish essentialism’ that is often trotted out in the commentary of these events. Rather than being essentially ‘Cornish’, it rather suggests Cornwall as a place where these once-widely celebrated traditions lived on and survived. But how does this sit with other ‘Cornish’ traditions?

As a spiritual movement that seems to be strongly rooted in Cornwall, the Methodist Church is sometimes referred to as the ‘national church of Cornwall’. The strength of Methodism on Cornwall was certainly recognised in the earlier 20th century Cornish revival movement – as being anti-established Church (of England). But Methodism and non-conformity also has a slightly ‘severe’ image when it comes to interpreting the ancient remains of aboriginal ‘Druids’. This is often recounted in the naming of stone circles and megaliths: as ‘maidens’ (either numbered or ‘merry’) who were turned to stone for dancing (to the tune of ‘piper’ stones) on a Sabbath. More recently, the Cornish agenda seems to have shifted, from identifying with Methodism and Nonconformity, to a stronger association with Earth Mysteries and Pagan spirituality, and some scholars have invoked the term ‘Cardiac Celts’ for whom they characterise as middle class metropolitan ‘blow-ins’. Resonant with Stukeley’s Druids, this line of thinking sits very comfortably with the activities of Golowan and Mazey Day – but is an alignment of a fairly exclusive ‘ethnic’ sense of Celtic-Cornishness with a supposedly middle class set of earth mysteries enthusiasts really ‘anti-Establishment? Perhaps it can be said to ‘blur the boundaries’ between a vernacular and spontaneous sense of subversive revelry and a more sober expression of a desire to find a ‘sense of place’.

In some ways, this blurring also has resonance with another distinct practice of ‘Methodist’ tradition in Cornwall – that of parading and street procession. Every Chapel in Cornwall would have been involved in street processions, on auspicious days such as May Day or Chapel anniversaries. In towns such as Penzance or Redruth, the streetscape would be dominated by Methodist parades on certain days – as Chapel groups processed through the streets to converge on a park or field for a ‘tea treat’. Rather than hedonistic revelry, these events were concerned with showing a sober and upright sense of civic pride – but they would have attracted many of the accoutrements of fairs and fetes. In the 19th century, the Methodist Chapel at Morvah, in west Penwith, had an annual parade that ended with a march to the top of the local beacon ‘Watch Croft’. Prayers would be recited and hymns sung, during an event that actually has a striking resemblance to the bonfires and beacon gatherings of Golowan!

Methodist parade Methodist Parade (late 1950s)

Maybe what we can pick out amongst this array of marches, carnivals, gatherings and parades, therefore, is that they all reflect the activities of a largely non-elite population in ‘claiming the street’ in a variety of guises. More recently, through Heritage Lottery and Arts Council funding, there has been a good deal of State support for what can be termed ‘outdoor public arts performance’. Perhaps this state-sanctioned support of such spectacle corresponds to an ‘Establishment’ co-option of an essentially non-elite practice, where the ‘vernacular’ is ‘tamed’? I hope not – but we must therefore ensure that the ‘vernacular’ is never cast as a stable and time honoured practice. Rather than being an ‘essential’ and unchanging practice that never existed, we must invoke a sense of the vernacular as a critical, spontaneous event that is always sensitive to power relations and never exclusive.

Workshop at Buckfast Abbey

On April 17-18, the project held a highly successful workshop at Buckfast Abbey Devon. We are tremendously grateful to all who attended, gave papers, and joined in a series of lively discussions. The full programme is available here.

The workshop concluded with a roundtable discussion led by Anne-Lise Francois (UC Berkeley), Nick Groom (Exeter), and Stephen Mileson (Oxford). We’re grateful to Anne-Lise for permission to reproduce her closing remarks here, with other contributions to follow soon.


In his “Introduction” to Pig Earth, John Berger describes cultures of progress as orienting themselves toward the future as toward an ever-widening, ever-expanding horizon, presumably because they are relieved by technologies of storage and reproduction from the never-ending task of reproducing past knowledge for the next generation. A “culture of survival,” by contrast, “envisages the future as a sequence of repeated acts of survival. Each act pushes a thread through the eye of a needle and the thread is tradition. No overall increase is envisaged” (xix). For Berger a culture of survival wants nothing for the future but the by no means automatic or guaranteed transmission of past practice. Lacking permanent or mechanically reproducible works of art and depending instead on the near but not always accessible past—borrowing from it only so much as to keep going, and getting only so far as to borrow again—such cultures are never relieved of the “obligation to remember,” as we are “once we’ve assigned monumental form to memory,” according to Lewis Mumford’s formulation that Ceri Price cited in her paper earlier this afternoon.

The past in its place. I have been thinking about Berger’s distinction in the course of these two days, all the while turning over the workshop’s title and its different senses— remembering through it Thoreau’s rather beautiful if ghastly image of the unburied dead being tucked into bed by the turning tide:

It is a wild, rank place, and there is no flattery in it. Strewn with crabs, horse-shoes, and razor-clams, and whatever the sea casts up, —a vast morgue, where famished dogs may range in packs, and crows come daily to glean the pittance which the tide leaves them.  The carcasses of men and beasts together lie stately up upon its shelf, rotting and bleaching in the sun and waves, and each tide turns them in their beds, and tucks fresh sand under them.

Thoreau, Cape Cod

Of these different senses then, there is first the use of place to contain the past, to store and sequester it, keep it in reserve and maintain access to it, but also to limit and control its impact on the present. Perhaps such exercises in containment have always been illusory but never more so now with the problem of nuclear waste, plastic garbage patches in the ocean, and the long afterlife of other toxic materials that will be with us for what is in some sense the rest of imaginable time, continuing to permeate the atmosphere for generations, if not millennia, after their fleeing use. In her talk yesterday Lucy Donkin touched on the illusory solidity of land into which we think of the dead as being deposited and laid to rest. Listening to her on the miracle of a substance conceived simultaneously as permeable enough to be impressionable—and solid enough to hold the image, I was reminded of Rachel Carson’s comments on groundwater as what is ceaselessly circulating under our feet:

Seldom if ever does Nature operate in closed and separate compartments. . Rain, falling on the land, settles down through pores and cracks in soil and rock, penetrating deeper and deeper until eventually it reaches a zone where all the pores of the rock are filled with water, a dark, subsurface sea, rising under hills, sinking beneath valleys. This groundwater is always on the move, sometimes at a place so slow that it travels no more than 50 feet a year, sometimes rapidly, by comparison, so that it moves nearly a tenth of a mile in a day. It travels by unseen waterways until here and there it comes to the surface as a spring, or perhaps it is tapped to feed a well. But mostly it contributes to streams and so to rivers. Except for what enters streams directly as rain or surface runoff, all the running water of the earth’s surface was at one time groundwater. And so, in a very real and frightening sense, pollution of the groundwater is pollution of water everywhere.

Silent Spring


Many of the papers have rightly focused on the difficult and precarious task of remembering—of carrying the past forward into the present. But what if what is also at risk is the ability to forget and leave behind, or put down in one place? To erase our tracks, to let them fade and be washed away by the tides? One instance of deliberate and protective erasure occurs in George Ewart Evans’ oral history of Suffolk farming Ask the Fellows who Cut the Hay, where he describes how shepherds would sometimes double as smugglers at night, using their sheep to cover up the tracks of the wagon carrying contraband:

Old Liney’s chief task on the night when a cargo was being run was to keep his eyes open and to turn his flock of sheep from the fold and quickly cover up the tracks of the wagon when it returned full—particularly did he do this near the spot, either barn or cottage—where the contraband was being hidden.


In another chapter Ewart Evans describes the onerous task of stone picking that was once set to children, despite the fact that “the yield from the land that had been left untouched was greater than that of the patch that had been cleared of its stones.”

With these two contradictory figures of path-clearing in mind, I’d like to whisk you at galloping pace through several memory-spots or what the Japanese call “poetic pillows.”  Listening to Lucy’s talk yesterday on Christ’s footprints, I couldn’t help but think of the “Stone for Rubbing Shinobu Figures” (Shinobu-moji-zuri-no-ishi) that Japan’s most celebrated poet Bashō goes looking for in the course of his travels recorded in Narrow Road to the Deep North. According to the editor Hiroaki Sato,

Shinobu, is a place name that also means ‘hare’s-foot fern’ and ‘think of (someone, the past).’ The stone was associated with the belief that you could make letters appears on it by rubbing a cloth placed over the stone with the sap of green leaves, as well as the belief that you could see the face of your lover by rubbing the stone with the sap of wheat.


Bashō tells us that:


In a foothills village far away, the stone lay half buried in the ground. A boy from the village came by and told us: “Long ago, this stone was on top of the mountain, but passersby would trample upon the wheat going to test the stone. People here hate it and pushed the stone down into this valley. So it lies here, face down.” A likely story, or was it?


While this easily reads as an allegory for the conflict between a touristic or contemplative relationship to the land, as the bearer of buried images, and a working relation to it, as the bearer of future harvests, the haiku with which Bashō completes the journal entry, begins to undo this binary:

Sanae toru temoto ya mukashi Shinobu-zuri

The hands taking seedlings recall the ancient rubbing

But a few pages later comes a reference to a tanka on ‘Love Compared to a Stone’ by Nijōin Sanuki:

My sleeves are like the stone in the offing, invisible with the tides out; unknown to anyone but no time to dry.


It helps to remember here that to wet one’s sleeves is a familiar euphemism for crying in classical Japanese poetry. I can’t help but think these two rocks—the one now lying face down so that it can never again render the faces of imaginary lovers, and the one offshore, not even visible when the tides are out—are connected. I also can’t help but think in this context of the story Sarah Orne Jewett tells in The Country of the Pointed Firs of an old sailor-fisherman turned farmer who rather than remove the stones from his field marked them with flags as if they were buoys. Jewett’s narrator tells us:

In the narrow field I noticed some stout stakes, apparently planted at random in the grass and among the hills of potatoes, but carefully pained yellow and white to match the house. . .

[Tilley explains]:

“Folks laughed at me when I first bought this place an’ come here to live,” he explained. “They said ’t wa’n’t no kind of a field privilege at all; no place to raise anything, all full o’ stones. I was aware ’t was good land, an’ I worked some on it—odd times when I didn’t have nothin’ else on hand—till I cleared them loose stones all out. You never see a prettier piece than ’ is now; now did ye? Well, as for them painted marks, them’s my buoys. I struck on to some heavy rocks that didn’t show none, but a plow’d be liable to ground on ’em, an’ so I ketched holt an’ buoyed ‘em same’s you see. They don’t trouble me no more ’n if they wa’n’ there.”

“You haven’t been to sea for nothing,” I said laughing.

“One trade helps another,” said Elijah with an amiable smile.


Jewett’s Elijah shows us one way to split the difference between clearing the ground and removing traces of previous deposits, and sequestering these traces, which may also be boundary markers and means of orientation, as relics to worship at a safe distance. I offer this thinly woven together tapestry of quotations by way of netting the theme interspersed through many of the papers this weekend—that of having to intuit what is missing and to infer the half- if not fully submerged or buried placeholders of the past, markers that promise to serve as guides into the future as much as stumbling blocks to its passage.




‘Memories are made of this’: Castle-an-Dinas

[In March 2015, the PASTPLACE team paid a visit to Castle-an-Dinas, Cornwall. Paul Bryant-Quinn reflects on a chilly but illuminating excursion.]

“Another PastPlace field trip, another cold” I grumbled to myself as, channelling my inner Victor Meldrew, I plodded on reluctantly after the now-distant (and much fitter) members of the project. To say that the wind was fresh would be something of an understatement, and rueful lines from an equally disgruntled early medieval Welsh poet came to mind:

Llym awel llum brin

Anhaut caffael clid


[Piercing wind, bare hill

It is hard to find shelter …]

It was worth it, though. Castle-an-Dinas, ancient hill fort and now scheduled monument of national significance, is one of the most impressive oppida in Cornwall. Its strategic importance is immediately evident, occupying as it does a position of exceptional strength on the high ground of Castle Downs between Goss Moor and St Columb Major. Standing some 700ft above sea level, to the north you look towards St Breock Downs; the south and east offer views across the Hensbarrow Downs, and away to the west are Newquay and the Gannel estuary.

Three (perhaps four) stone and earth banks would originally have enclosed a central area of about 20 acres, and finds at Castle-an-Dinas have dated its occupation from the 4th to the 1st centuries BCE. The archaeology does not offer any evidence of long-term settlement, however, and the fort may have served various functions: military and defensive, almost certainly, but trade and shelter also, as the need arose. But they who came here in the 4th century were not the first. The hill is also the location of two burial mounds which predate the iron-age fortifications and may date back to the 3rd millennium BCE. Interestingly, the later occupants seem to have left these barrows undisturbed. Whether that instinct was born out of respect or fear, Castle-an-Dinas reminds us that the past had a past of its own which it sought to understand and come to terms with. Did the newcomers weave tales about the people who built those mounds and were buried there, just as later ages would in turn mythologise them?

And Castle-an-Dinas certainly was ― or became ― the stuff of legend: William of Worcester (c.1415– c.1482) came here in 1478 and recorded the story that this was where Cador ‘duke of Cornwall’ met his untimely end. A similar connection emerges in the early 16th–century Beunans Meriasek, where the ‘duke of Cornwall’ (who is strongly reminiscent of Arthur) challenges the tyrant ‘Teudar’: echoes of the An Gof rebellion of 1497 come to mind. In Meriasek, the duke states that Castle-an-Dinas is his dwelling, but that Tintagel is also his residence; the Galfridian background to this strand of the story is not hard to detect. Strategically, Castle-an-Dinas looks towards Tintagel; and Alan Kent has suggested that it may have been a seasonal or battle dwelling, with Tintagel itself providing longer-term residence. Interestingly, as Oliver Padel has noted, the Tristan legends position Tintagel itself as a defensive response to pressure from Irish raiders; and although there is no corroborating Cornish documentation for this, the presence of Dark-Age ogham inscriptions in the area do attest to an Irish presence. Does the Tristan story preserve folk memories of actual events?

It is not, however, the duke whose stories are interwoven with this landscape and whose name echoes out of legend, but Arthur. Medieval Welsh tales and poetry locate several of Arthur’s courts in Cornwall, and his association with this part of the world is central to the pre-Galfridian literature, such as Culhwch ac Olwen, the Triads, and Breuddwyd Rhonabwy. In the 11th/12th–century ‘Dialogue of Arthur and the Eagle’ (Ymddiddan Arthur a’r Eryr), a text which is independent of the tales invented or reworked in the Historia Regum Britanniae, Arthur is the pagan “chief of the battalions of Cornwall”, and the eagle is the reincarnation of his dead nephew Eliwlad, who offers him Christian enlightenment:

Arthur of surpassing far-flung fame,

bear of the host, joy of shelter

the eagle has seen you before.

Here too we find ‘Arthur’s Hall’, on Bodmin moor; Treryn Dinas, one of his ‘castles’; and ‘Arthur’s Hunting Lodge’ (or ‘Seat’): this, by tradition, was Castle-an-Dinas itself. Oliver Padel has suggested that if the Thomas de Kellewik who was murdered at Gulval in 1302 came from these parts, then it is feasible that the toponym Celli-wig, noted in medieval Welsh tales of Arthur as his principle Cornish residence, may be associated with Castle-an-Dinas, although this identification is tentative.

We have to bear in mind, however, that for all the attacks on the Arthurian legends, until well into the 18th century their various strands were accepted not only as factual, but as defining elements both in regard to the history of these islands and the right of the English crown to still wider dominions. The Welsh themselves long considered these legendary accounts as validating their supposed descent from the nobility of Troy; Owain Glyndŵr and Henry Tudor alike propagandised their bids for power by appeal to Welsh vaticinal poetry (it was not by chance that Henry named his son and presumed heir ‘Arthur’); Henry VIII appealed to historical authority of these same legends, as did John Dee in his Brytanici Imperii Limites of 1578, his most important construction of the basis for territorial claims on behalf of the English monarchy in furtherance of its imperial ambitions.

Polydore Vergil’s scepticism in regard to the Galfridian tales was met with stubborn resistance, and for a surprisingly long time: Leland excoriated Vergil and, in doing so, preserved stories and traditions about Arthur which would otherwise have been lost. Sir John Prise wrote his Historiae Britannicae Defensio (1553) in similar vein, and the chorographer and historian Humphry Llwyd too was a staunch defender of the essential historical basis of the accounts, as were recusant authors in the 16th–and 17th centuries. As late as 1716, Theophilus Evans of Carmarthenshire could appeal to this ‘history’ as the cornerstone of his people’s dignity. Here we see the sustaining myth at work: as the 15th–century Welsh poet Siôn Cent reminded his listeners, ‘For all our travails and humiliations, we are not as they [the English are] are: we are the descendants of a noble race, and we hope for that which is to come’. In 1575, Morys Clynnog, custos of the English and Welsh Pilgrim Hospice in Rome, made a paraphrase of this same poem for Pope Gregory XIII as he highlighted the plight of his people under Elizabethan rule. With all of them, their point was that Geoffrey of Monmouth’s fables were not the only source of the surviving Arthurian references. From what came to be called the ‘Old North’ through Wales to Cornwall, some of the Arthurian associations have affinities with much older material: for example, the stone now associated with St Columb, said to bear the imprints of Arthur’s horse, is curiously reminiscent of a similar legend recorded in the 9th–century Historia Brittonum. Who would not look at a site like Castle-an-Dinas and see in it the fortress of some mighty king of the past, as its very name suggests; and of them all, who greater than Arthur?

In any event, place-lore is both consistent and central to the early Arthurian legends; and as Padel says,

What interests us, and is so impressive, is not the antiquity of any individual name, but the vitality and consistency of the tradition in the various Brittonic areas … The folklore may in some cases have been boosted by the literary developments … [but] it remained largely unaffected by the literary Arthurian cycle, and retained its character throughout the period.

Castle-an-Dinas drew the attention of later writers too: Richard Carew (1555-1620) of East Antony in Cornwall comments on it in 1602, as does John Norden (c.1547-1625), the cartographer and antiquary, in his Survey of Cornwall of 1610. Even in the 19th century, there was a curious legend that the John Trevisa, who translated Higden’s Polychronicon, also wrote an account of King Arthur and a book of his acts. Perhaps he did.

The ‘bare hill’ of Castle-an-Dinas reminds us that the past in its place is never just “the past”, and it is not only our place. From the people who built the ancient barrows to those who constructed the iron-age ramparts, and from the weavers of myths to the partial interpretations we create and believe to be true, here we find an interplay of many pasts and many understandings. Quondam et futurus: we are only the latest to pass this way.

In 1987, Castle-an-Dinas was acquired by the Cornwall heritage Trust from the Duchy of Cornwall for £4,000. Even on a day of biting cold and winds, it seems like money well spent.

Paul Bryant-Quinn


Putting statues on trial: the case of Cecil Rhodes in Cape Town

I have been laid up these last few weeks with a ruptured Achilles tendon. On the one hand, this experience has made me reflect on the continuing heritage of Greek myth – in that the ‘Achilles tendon’ has to be written as a proper noun (and Microsoft Word automatically corrects it). On the other hand, it gave me a chance to read the newspaper every day from cover to cover. On heritage-related story that caught my eye connected to the Cecil Rhodes statue in Cape Town: what it means, and what to do with it.

Cecil Rhodes was a mining magnate and arch imperialist in Southern Africa towards the end of the 19th century ( As with many imperialists, he was commemorated and memorialised throughout this region with statues, buildings and even entire countries being named in his honour, as well as within the Metropole with, for instance, the Cecil Rhodes Memorial Museum in his birthplace in Hertfordshire, UK. Not surprisingly, recent decades have seen a good deal of re-naming practices taking place – with the ‘Rhodesias’ being renamed as Zambia and Zimbabwe, and his Memorial Museum being prosaically renamed as the Bishop’s Stortford Museum.

Two decades after the end of apartheid in South Africa, however, a Cecil Rhodes statue from the 1930s still sat on the campus of the University of Cape Town, and became a focus of protest. A campaign that involved the daubing of excrement over the statue and various other site-centred protests in Cape Town, alongside a social media effort, through Facebook and Twitter brought worldwide media attention – which I have followed in newspapers.

Cecil John Rhodes

Within Cape Town, the University Authorities first held a ballot of students to decide the statue’s fate: 60% of those voting were against the removal of the statue – but this came alongside an acceptance that the simple holding of a ballot hardly scratched the concerns of the protesters over the legacy of imperialism in Africa. It seems that the issue has triggered a wider and deeper debate over issues of heritage and power. On the 9th April, the University of Cape Town removed the statue, though I cannot find out what the longer term plans are. See newspaper articles for more information:


“Goodbye Cecil John Rhodes20 (16481463023)” by Tony Carr – Goodbye Cecil John Rhodes20. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

More widely, the controversy has led to further reflection and protest. Students at Oriel College, Oxford, where Rhodes was a scholar, have called for the removal of their own statue, but I feel that this event points towards a larger issue of what to do with Imperial statues worldwide. In itself, this is a much debated concern, with the experience of Soviet-era statues in Eastern Europe providing an important prompt for an on-going debate that has an interesting history in itself (see Yvonne Whelan’s work on the changing statuary in Dublin, before and after Irish independence, for instance). Indeed, Laragh Larsen has written a very good paper about the curation (and moving) of colonial era monuments in Kenya (Journal of Historical Geography, 2012). But the use of a public vote to help make decisions on the issue reminds me more of Lisa Johnson’s work on the statue of Jan-Peter Coen, in the Dutch town of Hoorn (International Journal of Heritage, 2014).

Jan-Peter Coen was the Governor General of the Dutch East India Company in the early 17th century, and his statue has long stood in the central square of his home town of Hoorn. In 2011, there was growing pressure to remove the statue, and in 2012 the local Council added a (slightly timid) section of text that criticised Coen’s involvement with the slave trade, and genocidal activities. The protests did not cease, however, so the town’s Museum held an exhibition on the controversy, which included putting the statue on formal ‘trial’. Visitors were asked to vote on whether the town should keep the statue, and as things turned out, 60% voted to keep it, not as a celebratory memorial, but as a warning – with a stronger critical statement of text added to the plaque.

I thought it was interesting that the proportions of ‘keep the statue’ votes were very similar to that in Cape Town, where the statue was removed despite the narrow vote to keep it – but I can’t help thinking that the context of the votes were quite different, and the implication of the decision to keep/not keep was entirely different.

The role and potential for critical and creative destabilisation of hegemonic heritage narratives for an imperial statue in Holland seems to be entirely different to the on-going meaning and implication of an imperial statue in post-Apartheid South Africa. Indeed, maybe these events point towards a fair and defendable practice of how it is possible to ‘decommission’ heritage in certain circumstances. In Holland, the maintenance of JP Coen’s statue as a ‘warning’ and ‘critical reminder’ suggests a continuing and progressive use-value of the statue. But, as Johnson herself implies, we need to be careful that the reflection on the 17th century ‘deep-past’ of Dutch colonial endeavour does not mean that more recent colonial stories (such as the Indonesian War of Independence, 1945-9) are skimmed over or ignored in the process. What these stories show, therefore, is how crucial it is to uncover and narrate the open-ended ‘biographies’ of heritage – their meaning in the present for different populations, as well as their future potential.

Preserving the heritage of heritage: heritage ruins, or ruined heritage?

In his book ‘Heritage: Critical Approaches’ (2013), Rodney Harrison calls for society to take more consideration of how we can de-commission ‘heritage’. Arguing that ‘we live in a world in which heritage is ubiquitous’ Harrison is concerned with all the piling up of heterogeneous items, traces and practices of the past in the present. Connecting this to the contemporary value systems that govern conservation agendas, he suggests that we are at risk of being ‘overwhelmed by memory’. This is very dramatic language, but perhaps we do need to think about how we can ‘prune’ some elements of heritage? There is, perhaps, too much of it about – but how should we make decisions?

This issue can be approached from at least two perspectives: First, as Harrison himself notes, we should recognise that (drawing on Mark Augé) forgetting is a necessary form of cultural production. So that while we might place a lot of emphasis on remembering and memorialising events and phenomena that have ‘social value’, we should not necessarily be sad or worry about to forgetting things that are ‘irrelevant’. In other words, we need to think sustainably and sensibly about the pasts we produce in the present for the future. Of course, this decision-making process should not be focussed on preserving and protecting ‘the best examples’, but by recognising and thinking about issues of power and equality. And this leads me to consider the second approach towards deciding what sort of heritage to maintain and what to let go – allowing ‘the market’ to decide.

Allowing ‘the market’ to decide what is preserved and protected seems to be an increasingly common method of dealing with the issue; and one which is an honest reflection of the Neoliberal world that we live in, whether you agree with the outcome or not.

There are many heritage centres and museums that are cutting their work force, opening hours and attractions, and are increasingly reliant on voluntary labour. Having gone through a period of ‘expansion’, as Heritage Lottery Funds, EU monies and other State-led grants allowed for a relatively positive environment for the celebration and marking of all sorts of heritage, we are now in an era of austerity.

As ‘austerity’ kicks in, the ‘market-led’ approach to preservation decisions is something that is increasingly clear. Optimistic visitor projections have come back to haunt several sites, leading to an increasing category of ‘ex-heritage sites’, representative of a sort of ‘heritage of austerity’; the heritage of decaying heritage; obsolete, due to market pressures. This is certainly something that crossed my mind last week when I visited the Minions Mine Heritage Centre, in the small village on Minions, high up on Bodmin Moor.


Although the website reported that it should be open at 10am, the site was boarded up and clearly closed when we visited. A plaque on the wall celebrated the building of the original mine engine house in 1881 (at a time when the Cornish mining industry was already in decline); and its refurbishment in 1991, with a grant from the Rural Development Commission. I checked up on further websites when I got home, however, and found that the closure is only temporary – brought on by the need to replace some rotten lintels, it should be open by the Summer.

While this heritage centre was not permanently closed, however, the situation still turns our attention towards the wider issue of how to deal with the ‘heritage of heritage’: the recognition that heritage-related decisions, processes and practices, themselves, have a recognisable ‘heritage’.

In 1997, The Archaeolink Prehistory Park at Oyne, in Aberdeenshire, was hailed as a flagship attraction. Aberdeenshire Council was forced to take control of the prehistory park in 2005 after spending £1.5 million of taxpayers’ money in a bid to keep the centre afloat as its visitor numbers, originally projected at 100,000 a year, plunged to just over 19,000. The park finally closed its doors in February, 2011. (See article in the Scotsman for details: There are a few blog sites that have recorded the slow demise of this heritage theme park: for instance, see the ‘Heritagelandscapecreativity’ blog for August 2013, which has some excellent photos: (


In many ways, this now corresponds to an exploration of the ‘heritage’ of the early 21st century ‘heritage industry’; one that reflects both the choices and funding regimes that permitted the park to open in the late 1990s, as well as the political-economic context that faces such heritage sites today. It strikes me that this ‘heritage of austerity’ is not something that should be swept under the carpet, in an attempt to air-brush out the political decisions that are being made about what is deemed fundable. And it should also be challenged, in a manner that goes beyond the slightly ironic – slightly dramatic realms of ‘urban exploration’ at such sites. Once more, we must be prompted to look towards issues of power and equality – in how sites get funded; what sorts of heritage get chosen to be preserved in a state of ‘managed obsolescence’ as a ‘heritage-ruin’ – or abandoned to become ‘ruined heritage’ of an obsolete past.

Panda Heritage in Cornwall:

Later this week, the Past in its Place project (, will be visiting is Cornwall; making trips to Bodmin Moor and Castle-an-Dinas, a large Iron Age hillfort close to St Columb Major. This hillfort is actually very close to the new section of the A30 dual carriageway between Victoria and Indian Queens, though it does not appear at all remarkable when viewed from the road.


Although all the guidebooks, official websites and archaeological surveys talk about Castle-an-Dinas (loosely) as a ‘hillfort’ from the ‘Later Bronze Age and used through the Iron Age’, this ‘time-tagging’ tends to gloss over the longer-term life history of the site. There is lot of Arthurian material associated with the site, linking it to Tintagel, while it is also the possible camping ground and site of an ‘Army Council’ of a Royalist force in 1646, where they deliberated whether to surrender to Parliament. It is also the place where at least two murderers were starved to death; of suicide pacts and ghost stories. In the 20th century, Wolfram was discovered and mined on the slopes of the hill, while more recently Castle-an-Dinas has seen the ‘revival’ of Midsummer Eve Bonfires, connected with the Cornish Nationalist Movement. In such a ‘busy’ and multi-faceted landscape, it seems a shame to foreclose so much of the meaning of the site by simply calling it an ‘Iron Age hillfort’!

For me, however, one of the highlights of the trip is the chance to stay in Lanivet. It brings back memories.


When I was a young boy, journeys along the A30 involved a traffic jam through Bodmin (and many other long-since by-passed places). When we reached Lanivet, my father always reminisced about the same story – that Lanivet was famous for the Pandas. The Pandas were not actually resident at Lanivet; rather, Lanivet was where the bamboo was grown to feed the Pandas of London Zoo. In my mind, the village was overgrown with bamboo, and there were pandas hiding behind every clump. But when the Bodmin By-pass opened in the mid-1970s, I never went through again to check.

On hearing that the Past in its Place project would be staying in Lanivet, I was intrigued as to whether there were still any signs of pandas – and have been very pleased to see that the Pandas of Lanivet (or panda memories of Lanivet) are still alive and well. The local football team (and even the Lanivet team in the Bodmin and district Pool League) are nick-named ‘The Pandas’. Indeed, the online report of the football match between St Cleer Reserves and Lanivet FC in October 2014 ( is entitled ‘Disappointing Result for the Pandas’ (St Cleer won 4-3). This is a banner headline that would be difficult to fathom without knowledge of the village’s panda memories, and the pub sign of the Lanivet Inn is unmistakable for its panda connections.


Speaking with the Dead in Leicester, III: The Cathedral Gardens

An unanticipated extra on my trip to Leicester was the sight of the newly laid out Cathedral Gardens. In keeping with what’s going on both within the cathedral and across the road in KRIII, repositioned memorials to the dead are a central feature. Amidst the low hedges, planted beds, and benches, eighteenth and nineteenth century gravestones have been laid out in various eye-catching formations.

2014-10-20 15.53.59

All of the headstones are of a similar thickness and grey hue, though they vary in height and contours. With one stone often standing no more than 18 inches behind another, they are obviously no longer fulfilling the function of marking individual graves. Rather, they resemble clusters of prehistoric standing stones — perhaps in particular the similarly thin and grey Callanish Stones of the Outer Hebrides. Continue reading

Speaking with the Dead in Leicester, II: Leicester Cathedral

Emerging from the King Richard III Visitor Centre, I walked across Peacock Lane to St. Martin’s Cathedral. A small placard at the entrance advised (or warned?) the visitor that, though Richard III belonged to an era of turbulence and violence, “Leicester Cathedral is called to be a place of peace.”

The peace of the interior was inevitably somewhat disrupted by the ongoing preparations for the installation of Richard III’s tomb and the interment of the King in March of next year. Much of the building is off limits and screened off. I had not grasped the extent to which the whole structure and meaning of the cathedral is being reorganized around this controversial royal tomb. Although architectural plans and artists’ drawings were everywhere on display, I found it difficult to get a sense of what the cathedral would look like when the work was finished (or, indeed, what it had been like before the work began). Continue reading