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Bridlington Priory Founders Stone |

Bridlington Priory Founders Stone

Bridlington Priory written by the late John. W. Lamb, M.A., Ph.D.

Perhaps the most interesting and most ancient object in the Priory is the large black stone which is set up tablewise on two panelled pedestals. Many theories have been advanced concerning its origin and interpretation. It is of Tournai marble and its period can therefore be fairly well established by ten similar objects in other places, as for instance the Tournai marble Font in Lincoln Cathedral.

It was probably the cover of the tomb of Walter de Gant or Gaunt, who founded the Priory in 1113, and in keeping with the custom of those days, as Founder of a church, his remains were buried before the high altar of the Priory which he had founded and endowed. This probability Is increased by the carved representation of a section of a church, showing three arches, thus associating it with the Founder.

The design of this is very similar to the embroidered representation of such a building on the world famous Bayeux Tapestry which was worked in the lifetime of William the Conqueror. This would suggest that the carving is of that period or at least came under Norman influence. Moreover the figure of the lion suggests royalty.

The father of the Founder, Gilbert de Gant was closely related to the Conqueror and accompanied him to England. Gilbert's arms was a lion couchant and it is probable that a variant of this, a lion rampant, was permitted to his son, Walter. The wyverns at the head are also associated historically with that period and even earlier with the Norsemen. No truly satisfactory explanation has yet been given of the centre carving showing a fox and a pigeon attempting to drink out of a narrow-necked vase. It has been suggested that it is a characterisation of Aesop's fable of the "Fox and the Stork".

There is evidence that Greek literature was known to Norman culture, for in the Church of Bassion de la Loire there are early twelfth-century carvings representing scenes from Aesop's Fables. But are not the fox and wood pigeon two animals common both in Norman days and in our own ? Is not the interpretation this, that the cunning of the fox and the fear of the bird are set aside as they strive to quench their thirst without success ? Even so, neither cunning nor fear can prolong man's life who would fain continue to drink of the cup of life.

The rough edge of the stone suggests that it was elaborately carved, probably carrying an inscription, or adorned with ornamentation in silver or gold which has been ruthlessly torn away.

This stone was for many years known as the "Breadstone", because the bread was laid upon it before distribution to the poor and needy.

It is known that before the dissolution of the monastery bread was distributed on the anniversary of the Founder's death, so probably the association of bread with this stone goes back to very early days.

Nearby is a mutilated crucifix which is probably fourteenth century. Attached to the iron gate is a board which attracts much attention. On it is the following wording: "1542-Thomas Newman aged 153 years. 'This stone was refaced in 1771 to preserve the recollection of this remarkable prolongation of human life'. The above is a copy of an inscription on an Ancient Stone in Bridlington Churchyard which has now disappeared". This instance of longevity is not as rare as is imagined. At Bolton-on-Swale Church there was a tablet erected in 1743 to the memory of a certain Henry Jenkins who lived to the remarkable age of 169. Contemporary with him was Thomas Parr of Shropshire who reached the age of 151 and was buried in Westminster Abbey in 1635. (Vide White's "Hist. E. and N. Riding, 1840")