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Roman Sculpture Panel

Bradford on Avon Museum, Wiltshire

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Roman stone sculpture

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A block of stone that was found built into a wall in St Margaret’s Street in Bradford on Avon has been identified as Romano-British by a Roman art specialist and is now in Bradford on Avon Museum.

It seems to be the right-hand part of a larger panel and shows three crudely carved figures. That on the right, perhaps female, is wearing clothes that reach the ground, with two other figures, perhaps male, whose legs are exposed. There is a suggestion of something above the heads that may have been connected with some architectural feature that enclosed the scene.

Panels of this sort, usually featuring three figures, have been found in many places in Britain and on the continent, especially in the area of the Cotswold Hills in western England. Several examples are in the Corinium Museum in Cirencester and one in Cheltenham Art Gallery & Museum. Often they seem to show a female, probably a deity, attended by other figures who are bringing offerings of fruit and eggs. The rough figures on the panel seem to be holding something in front of them. Frequently figures are wearing a hooded Celtic cloak called cuculus and are referred to as genii cuculati (cloaked spirits). They are usually associated with the Celtic people and perhaps this relief shows a Celtic fertility or mother deity. Maybe she was called Cuda, whose name was preserved on one such panel and is possibly preserved in the word Cotswold.

The reason for the stone being where it was found is a mystery. The building is of the 17th century and, as far as we know, there have been no traces of buildings of the Roman period in the centre of Bradford. It may have been brought down from the Roman villa site at St Laurence School or from some unknown site on the top of the hill on the northern side of the town, merely as plundered building materials; it shows signs of having been roughly trimmed. Perhaps it was brought as a curiosity and it may not be a coincidence that a medieval stone lion sculpture was found in the same building.