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Temple At Abury, The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Saturday, November 15, 1828.

Temple At Abury

Sermons in stones And good in every thing.—SHAKSPEARE.

What means the mysterious circle of stocks and stones on the other side? Such will be the question of many a lover of fun, novel, fiction, and romance; and though we cannot settle their origin with the quickness or the humour of Munden's Cockletop, we will try to let our inquirer into the secret with the smallest show of mysticism possible.

Our engraving represents the Temple of Abury, the most extensive of all the ruins in Wiltshire, attributed to the Druids. Such was its original state, before the Vandalism of modern times destroyed and levelled much of its monumental grandeur. It consisted of a grand circle, containing two minor circles. The outer circle contained upwards of 28 acres, and was surrounded by a ditch. There was a circle within each of the two circles, contained within the circumvallation; and according to Dr. Stukely, the antiquarian, the original was thus composed:—

         Outward circle, within the vallum  100 stones
         Northern Temple, outward circle     30   —
         Ditto, inward circle                12   —  
         Cove, or cell                        3   —  
         Southern Temple, outward circle     30   —  
         Ditto, inward circle                12   —  
         Central Obelisk                      1   —  
         Ring Stone                           1   —  

The Temple occupied a spot to which there is a gradual and imperceptible ascent on all sides, and was approached by two avenues of two hundred stones each. Its general form was that of a snake, in by gone ages, the symbol of eternity and omniscience. 'To make the form still more elegant and picture-like, the head of the snake is carried up the southern promontory of Hackpen Hill—and the very name of the hill is derived from this circumstance.'

The whole figure thus represented the circle, snake, and wings. By this the founders meant to picture out the nature of the Divinity; the circle meant the supreme fountain of all being, the Father; the serpent, that divine emanation from him, which was called the Son; the wings imported that other divine emanation from them, which was called the Spirit, the Anima Mundi. That the Temple was of a religious, and not of a warlike nature, is proved by its ditch being withinside the agger of earth, contrary to the mode adopted in works of defence.

Of the devastation and decay of Abury, the following data will afford some idea:

The grand total of stones, included in the temples and avenues, was 650; in the original temples, 188.

In Aubrey's time, A.D. 1663          73 stones
In Dr. Stukeley's time, A.D. 1722    29   —  
In 1815                              17   —  

Of very late years, says Sir Richard Colt Hoare, I do not imagine the dilapidations of the temple have been very great.

It should, however, be mentioned, that the tracing of the snake form is due to Dr. Stukeley; for his predecessor Aubrey mentions the avenue as 'a solemn walk leading to a monument upon the top of the hill, without any allusion to the supposed design or its connexion with the Grand Temple at Abury.'

It is a matter of greater speculation than we can here enter into, as to the date and founders of Abury; and their history is as dislocated as are the masses of its ruins. Antiquarians agree on the purpose for which it was founded, viz. for the performance of the religious ceremonies of the Druids. Sir R. Colt Hoare illustrates this point by supposing the flat ledge projecting from the vallum, to have been intended for the accommodation of sitting, to the spectators who resorted hither to the public festivals; and adds he, what a grand and imposing spectacle must so extensive and elevated an amphitheatre have presented, the vallum and its declivities lined with spectators, whilst the hallowed area was preserved for the officiating Druids, and perhaps the higher order of the people!

Gentle Reader! be ye lordling or lowlier born, once more turn back to the engraving. We have a subject of yesterday rife and ready for you, on the next page; but turn to the engraving. Look again at those circles, and the fantastic forms that compose them, and think of the infatuated thousands that were wont to assemble round them, and of the idolized sons of power that once stood within their hallowed area. Think of those days of sacrifice and superstition—those orgies of ignorance and barbarism—and contrast them with the happy, happy age of religious liberty in which it is your boast and blessing to live—and then you may read 'sermons in stones,' to the masterminds of your own time. To us, the stones of Abury are part of the poetry of savage life, and of more interest than all the plaster toys of these days. But they may not be so with you and 'FINIS.' We were once compensated for missing Fonthill and its finery, by witnessing day-break from Salisbury Plain, and associating its glories with the time-worn relics of STONEHENGE!

The engraving and data are from Mr. Higgins's Celtic Druids, for the loan of which and a portion of this article, we thank our friend 'JAMES SILVESTER,' whose valuable note on 'Circular Temples' must stand over for our next.


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