Just before Christmas 2018 the Cunaide Stone was moved inside for it’s own protection. Up until last year this rare 5th century burial stone had spent 175 years exposed to the elements. It was time for a little TLC! The picture above is the stone in its broken state before restoration.
The Cunaide stone was discovered by chance in 1843. It was buried deep, around 4ft below the ground. The stone was exposed by workmen working within the confines of the Carnsew hillfort, also known as The Plantation. And this is where it stood until recently.
The Cunaide Stone is now the star of the show in a wonderful new exhibition in Hayle’s Heritage Centre which explores the area’s prehistory.
What makes this stone particularly special is it’s inscription. The words have been captivating local people since it’s discovery.
Here in peace lately went to rest Cunaide. Here in this grave she lies. She lived 33 years.
But there has always been debate amongst historians as to the exact translation of the latin. (Especially as to whether it refers to a man or a woman.)
The inscription has also been compared to others fround on late Roman milestones, of which there are five in Cornwall. The carving on this stone however is very shallow and it runs down one face of the four-sided stone.
Eleven lines of capital letters, now even fainter due to age and weathering. So, who this woman (if indeed it refers to a woman) was and what she meant to the people that erected this memorial remains a mystery but a potent one.
Who was Cunaide?
Cunaide is a Celtic name, perhaps Irish or even British. The memorial dates from the post-Roman period, around 450-475CE, right at the beginning of the adoption of Christianity in Cornwall. Cunaide then was most likely an early Christian, but was she Cornish or a visitor to these parts?
The stone was carefully selected to stand as a marker for a person who was clearly loved. Time and great trouble was taken to ensure that Cunaide was remembered. The stone is 1.32m high and made of granite. In the top a cross is formed by two intersecting natural mineral veins. It is likely that this is why this particular stone was chosen to mark the burial place.
Since it was moved into Hayle’s Heritage Centre the stone has undergone a thorough cleaning. Hundreds of years of dirt and lichen have been removed. It was also examined for the first time using a 3D scanner. Archaeologist Tom Goskar used close-range laser scanning and photogrammetry to try and reveal some of the stone’s secrets.
Carnsew Iron Age Hillfort, where the memorial stone was found, was damaged by the arrival of the railway and in the 1840s when Henry Harvey decided to landscape the area. But the presence of the hill fort indicates people of a high-status living here more than a thousand years ago. Then the later burial of Cunaide suggests that the fort may have seen a second flourishing of power in the post-Roman period.
Interestingly the site of the hillfort remains largely unexcavated. This means that there is potential for new discoveries. Discoveries that could potentially reveal more about Cunaide and the other people who once lived there.
The Hayle Unearthed Exhibition, featuring the Cunaide stone and other more recent exciting discoveries from the area is on NOW!
Entrance to Hayle Heritage Centre is FREE!
One thought on “The Cunaide Stone – Hayle’s 5th century burial stone.”
We should make much more of Cornwall’s early Christian heritage-perhaps the richest outside of Ireland and Wales and its time that Cornwall Council and the Tourist Boards promoted our Celtic past in a much more positive way. I look forward to visiting the Hayle exhibition