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instance transgressing the ordinary abbreviations of Latin inscriptions he reads the letters as follows:
IN MANUS T
VAS DME CO
i.e., "In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum (meum)." (Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.) Mr. Murray, of the British Museum, to whom Canon Hicks sent a squeeze of the inscription, approved his reading of it, and I think a close examination and comparison of the letters will establish its correctness.
II. What light does the inscription shed upon the meaning and the use of the stone? Hitherto it has been generally supposed that the stone is a fragment of a larger stone representing the Annunciation, such as might have formed the tympanum of a doorway, especially the doorway of a church dedicated to St. Mary. Such was Mr. Crowther's view. On the other hand, as is shown by Professor Sayce's reading of the legend, it has been attempted to connect the stone with St. Michael, the patron it will be remembered of the second of the two churches of Mamecestre, mentioned in the Domesday Survey. Neither of these views, however, is supported by the inscription, for, in the first place, the invariable legend of the Annunciation is the "Ave Maria," and, secondly, the attempt to read St. Michael's name into the inscription has already broken down. What, then, was the stone for? My own conjecture is that it was a sepulchral or memorial stone inserted probably into an inside wall over a grave or an altar or altar tomb. I say an inside wall, because the sculpture being in the soft Collyhurst stone is too well preserved to have suffered
exposure to the outside atmosphere. My reasons for this theory are, in brief, that such sculptured stones are found here and there let into the walls of churches for decorative and memorial purposes, e.g., rebus stones, consecration and date stones, crucifixions, and so on; and, with special reference to the subject of this sculpture being an angel, that it was a common custom to represent gifts and commendations from man to God as made through the ministry of angels.
III. What is the date of the stone? Is it a Saxon stone or not? Mr. Crowther thought it was. But I fear the wish in his case was father to the thought, because he admits that the evidences of a Saxon Church constructed with stone" may "appear too scanty to be conclusive," and he remarks further on upon the "singular absence of any Norman remains." Now, if this be so, and I do not forget the small stone representing a head, probably a corbel, found by Mr. John Owen, and supposed by him to be of Norman work, it seems to me that the explanation of this "singular absence of remains" is that no such Saxon or Norman stone church ever existed, and that the church on this site, if any, previous to the Early English period was not of stone but of wood, according to Hollingworth's tradition. And this explanation becomes the more probable when it is remembered that great numbers of fragments of all sorts from the Early English and Decorated churches were found at various times.
Bearing these considerations in mind, and observing (1) that the fragment was found in the porch in which several Early English remains were found; (2) that the porch "is stated to have been built by a person of the name of Bibby," probably in the fifteenth or sixteenth century; (3) that in 1685 the "upper part of this
entrance underwent a thorough repair;" that (4) it was again altered in 1815, I am of opinion that the stone originally belonged either to the Early English church, or to the Decorated building which succeeded it; and although Mr. Murray, arguing quite independently from the style of the inscription, said that he did not think it could be assigned to an earlier date than the fourteenth century, for my own part I should date the stone a century earlier.
In conclusion, whilst I feel that on the questions concerning the date and meaning of the sculpture more may hereafter be said, I trust I have contributed something at least towards the solution of these points, and entirely cleared away the doubt as to the inscription.