A Stone Cold Reality

Today the Vindolanda Field School traveled to Hexham to explore the old Abbey, where many Roman stones were taken from Hadrian’s Wall to create it’s eerie crypt. 

I am stone – enduring and strong, some say I am indestructible.

The Romans thought I was. Hadrian’s Wall winds its way across the English landscape, seen as a permanent fixture, solid and unbreakable. Using stone, the might of the Roman Empire can be expressed through these fearsome buildings, with strong, straight lines, meant to exhibit power and ability. Along this mighty stone wall, forts dominate the landscape, acting as control points and sending out a clear message: we are Roman, you cannot break us.

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Hadrian’s Wall: undefeatable and indestructible

I am stone – mark me, and I can carry your story for centuries.

The Romans thought I could. My rugged surfaces can be smoothed, ideal for carvings and inscriptions. Perhaps you want to commemorate a birth or mourn a death, or maybe you simply want to write your name, an individual identifier which will last through time.

Marks also mean histories can be removed. One of my surfaces tells the story of the sons of Emperor Septimius Severus. Set up before setting out on their Scottish campaign, Severus died soon after reaching York. Upon his death, the eldest son, Caracalla, murdered his brother Geta and had his name chiselled out from all such stones. Once there, now gone – perhaps stones are not quite so permanent.

 

I am stone, and I can be stolen.

The Saxons knew I could be. Such was the case in Hexham, where the old abbey was built for Wilfrid, Bishop of York, by the order of Queen Etheldreda in 674 CE. I was among many stones taken from the mighty Corbridge fort. Already quarried and shaped, the might of Roman Britain was steadily dismantled and used to create an entirely different structure for an entirely different ruling race.

I am stone, and I can be broken.

The Saxons were able to. The crypt in Hexham Abbey reveals the ease with which our inscriptions and frieze patterns were cut apart. Once a pinnacle of achievement, the story of Geta now supports a shadowed ceiling. A little further forward, another inscription has been carved in half to form an arch. Littered across the walls, stones with beautiful frieze patterns and diamond broaching are obscured and damp, their splendour hidden by the dark.

Anna demonstrating how easily stones can be knocked down at the Hexham Abbey museum

I am stone, but perhaps I am more human than I thought.

This assumption of permanency can be flawed – I am not an eternal fixture, and my message depends on the hands which shape me. However, whilst I may not necessarily last forever, remain in one place, or belong exclusively to one storyteller or builder, I am still important. Like the people around me, I am constantly changing and developing with time. This is recorded on my surface, the context surrounding me, and where I am found.

Therefore, as stone, I will always be part of history.

2 thoughts on “A Stone Cold Reality

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