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A Pagan Stone On a Christian Grave

A very interesting but ultimately sad relic lies in a Wiltshire churchyard. The Church of Mary Magdalene in Winterbourne Monkton has a mysterious, roughly hewn slab lying within its precincts, but what is it?

This is actually the capstone from a Neolithic dolmen - once a chambered tomb - dragged here from a nearby hilltop. The long barrow was known as Millhill and was sketched by William Stukeley, who called it "magnificent".

A century later the dolmen and its surrounding stones were flattened by a nonplussed farmer, following in the footsteps of earlier "stone breakers" in the Avebury area. The capstone was hauled away and served as a grave marker for the vicar of Mary Magdalene's, Reverend Brimsden, when he passed away in 1863.

Whether he chose this unusual tombstone himself before his death or not is anyone's guess, and quite why he would have wanted a slab from a pre-Christian tomb to cover him is also a mystery - but there it is nonetheless.

The fields, churchyards and hedgerows of the Avebury area are still littered with odd stones, survivors of the megalith destroyers, and it makes one wonder what the landscape would have looked like before.

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