Tuesday, December 19, 2017


An Artist's Conception of the Lydney Park Temple

I've been struck by something odd about the story of the apple-bearing ash tree in the 'Mirabilia' appended to the 9th century HISTORIA BRITTONUM.  

Although the 'Mirabilia' are thought to have been composed somewhat later than the HB proper, we would still have had an important differentiation between two words in Welsh at this time:  the ash would be onn, while the rowan would be cerd(d)in.  As far as I can tell, the rowan was not referred to as the 'wild ash' in Welsh ('onn wyllt') until the 17th century.  So the idea that this apple-bearing ash is a mountain ash with berries is not tenable (poma being a word originally used in Latin for any tree fruit, including berries).

Where, then, did this idea of the magical ash tree originate?

Well, I've had a crazy idea.  Suppose whoever wrote this story had before him Afal(l)on/Abal(l)on.  He then chose to interpret it, either through ignorance or perversity, as Afal-onn, i.e. 'Apple-ash.'  This may seem silly, until we ask ourselves whether Avallonis could have existed before Geoffrey of Monmouth's time.  To quote on this notion from p. 274 of Rachel Bromwich's TRIADS:

On this Burgundian 'Avalon', the DICTIONARY OF CONTINENTAL CELTIC PLACE-NAMES has the following to say:

Aballo LN LN: Avallon (FRA). Aballo TP 1,5; Aballone (var. abollone) IA 360, 4;
ABALLONE, AVALLONE Meroving. coins. Celtic, to aballo- on-.

The Proto-Celtic to English word list at



*aballon- apple-orchard

From noted Brythonic place-name expert Alan James:

"Early Celtic -on- is common as a nominative or locative suffix, i.e. in place names it just means 'N-place'. *Aball-onā- would just be 'appletree-place'."

Let us now take another look at the "Mirabilia" entry:

Iuxta flumen, quod vocatur Guoy, poma inveniuntur super fraxinum in proclivo saltus, qui est prope ostio fluminis.

"By the river called Wye, apples are found on an ash-tree, on the hillside by the river estuary."

If this magical ash = Avallonis, where is it to be found, exactly?  In a previous blog piece, I suggested the ash could be a reference to Ashberry (Ashbury) right next to the Spital Meend promontory fort and Offa's Dyke.  Yet there is no evidence of an apple place-name here, nor of any kind of Romano-British temple.

Richmond and Crawford suggested the Lydney Park Nodens temple, despite it being a fair distance from the mouth of the Wye.  They guessed that the RAVENNA COSMOGRAPHY'S Metambala should be *Nemetabala, the 'Nemeton of the Apple Trees.'    If they are right, the temple of Nodens would make for an ideal Avalon.

NOTE: Unlike the nemeton at West Hill/Uley/Nympsfield, the Lydney Park temple did not continue in use during Arthur's floruit.

Excavations at the Roman Temple in Lydney Park, Gloucestershire in 1980 and 1981, P J Casey, B Hoffmann and J Dore, 1 April 2011


Re-examination of the published evidence from the excavation of the Temple of Nodens at Lydney, Gloucestershire, by R E M Wheeler, FSA suggested a more complicated structural sequence than that postulated by the excavator, whilst detailed study of the numismatic evidence threw doubt on the traditional chronology. In the light of new phasing hypothesized from the theoretical work based on re-examination of the published data, selective re-excavation of coin dated features was undertaken. The results, confirming the theoretical work, suggest that the religious buildings had their inception in the second half of the third rather than in the middle of the fourth century, that there was a refurbishment in the fourth century but that there was serious deterioration of the structures after the middle of the century. Features attributed to the post-Roman period are seen to fall within a Roman chronology.


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