Stone Head
Stone head, St Botolph’s Chapel, photographed shortly after its discovery.
Source: Paul Frodsham. Copyright: Paul Frodsham.

Stone Head
Carved stone head, with its finder, Alan Newham, pictured immediately after the discovery. In this image the cavity above the left eye is still filled with soil – the extent of the damage was not yet clear.
Source: Paul Frodsham. Copyright: Paul Frodsham.

Stone Head
Stone head, as first noticed during excavations in September 2014. At the time this photo was taken, no-one had any idea that piece of worked stone visible here would turn out to be a carved head.
Source: Paul Frodsham. Copyright: Paul Frodsham.

The Tortie Stone
Original Location: St Botolph’s Chapel, Frosterley, Weardale
Current Location: Durham University (awaiting transfer)
Theme: Ritual
Period: Medieval
Date: Probably late 12th century

What is it?
A carved stone head, probably of medieval date, found during Altogether Archaeology excavations at St Botolph’s Chapel, Frosterley, in Sept 2014. Nicknamed ‘The Frosterley Madonna’, little can be said for sure about its iconography or its original form or function within the church. Research on the head, along with other finds from the St Botolph’s excavations, is ongoing.

One fragment from above the left eye was found separately nearby (it has been placed in its original position in image 1), but sadly the missing piece from directly above the eye, despite very careful searching, could not be located.

What is its relevance to the North Pennines?
This stone head, for which no close parallel is known throughout the North Pennines, was found in much disturbed ground to the south of St Botolph’s chapel. The context of the find offers no clues as to its original location within the church. The recent Altogether Archaeology excavations have demonstrated that the history of St Botolph’s extends back at least as far as the eighth century, but exactly where this head lies within this chronological framework is unclear.

Expert opinion suggests it to be late Romanesque in form, with an origin perhaps in the late 12th century. But provisional geological analysis suggests that it is carved from Roker dolomite, the same stone as the ancient cross from St Botolph’s which is thought to date from the eighth century.

Roker dolomite only outcrops at Sunderland, where it was used by masons at the great Anglo-Saxon Golden Age monastery of Monkwearmouth to produce objects like the St Botolph’s cross which seem to have found their way to various churches throughout Weardale. If the head is proved to be of Roker dolomite then either it was carved from a fragment of stone brought to the site much earlier, or is itself earlier than currently thought (a third option, that Roker dolomite was still being worked and transported throughout Weardale in the late 12th century, seems unlikely).

Why is it important?
This intriguing stone head is an important relic of medieval Weardale. At present it has no known local parallels, and there is very little that we can say about it with any degree of certainty. Further work on it (and numerous other fascinating finds from the St Botolph’s excavations) is underway; new information will be provided here as it becomes available.

Further Information
    Text References:
  • St Botolph’s Chapel, Frosterley. Unpublished Altogether Archaeology excavation report by Archaeological Services Durham University, 2015.
    (To be made available via the North Pennines AONB website: http://www.northpennines.org.uk).


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