Regardless of the archaeological studies of recent years Stonehenge remains an enigma. It is this mystery which maintains the endless fascination with this Neolithic monument. That it was a temple aligned to the midsummer – midwinter solstice is without doubt but questions remain, not least how the smaller bluestones got to Salibury Plain, 140 miles from their origin in south-west Wales; but more importantly why? Then there is the argument as to whether the monument was ever finished, as we see it today as incomplete with many stones missing, particularly from the arc of the south-west sector.
Then there is the mystery of the Altar Stone, now lying embedded in the ground under the lintel (Stone 156) that once spanned the top of the Great Trilithon (Stones 55 & 56), the tallest surviving structure at Stonehenge. Was the Altar Stone originally horizontal like an altar, or vertical and knocked over when the Great Trilithon collapsed? When did the Great Trilithon collapse; was it as a result of deliberate wrecking in antiquity?
On the eastern face of this massive lintel (Stone 156) as it now lies, (presumably the lower face) a deep mortise hole is visible closely matching in size to the large tenon at the top of Stone 56. Shallower depressions are visible on the western (upper) face which are often interpreted as the beginnings of mortise holes that were started on the wrong side of the lintel (156). It is claimed that having made this mistake the builders turned it over and made them on the opposite face instead.
But what if the Neolithic architecture of Stonehenge wanted depressions on both sides of the lintel?
The deep mortises underneath lintel 156 were to securely locate the stone horizontally across the two once upright sarsens of the Great Trilithon (Stones 55 & 56) spanning the axis of the monument. Depressions on the top face suggest they were made to locate a structure on top of the Great Trilithon, perhaps another trilithon arrangement.
In a passage in his ” Historia Anglorum” (c.1130 AD) Henry of Huntingdon provided the earliest account that we have of the monument in its English name:
“The second marvel is at Stonehenge, where stones of amazing bigness
are raised in manner of gateways, so that gateways appear erected
over gateways ; nor can any one find out by what contrivance stones
so great have been raised to such a height, or for what reason they have
been erected in that place.”
Henry’s “Gateways upon Gateways” clearly suggests another structure was on top of the lintels at Stonehenge when he wrote in the 12th century.
Drawing on the now lost 4th century BC account of Hecataeus, the 1st century BC Greek historian Diodorus Siculus described a temple in the British Isles dedicated to Apollo:
“And there is also on the island both a magnificent
sacred precinct of Apollo and a notable temple which is adorned with
many votive offerings and is spherical in shape”
If Hecataeus is referring to Stonehenge, and its far from certain that he was, the description of a “spherical temple” certainly implies the monument was covered with a roof. This is not as far fetched as it at first appears, after all the nearby Woodhenge is often depicted as a roofed structure with its concentric circles of postholes.
We know from the first accounts of Stonehenge by antiquarians in the 17th century it was denude of any covering by then and this is how it is depicted in the earliest illustrations from the 14th century, such as the Scala Mundi (1340 AD) and the well known scene of Merlin constructing Stonehenge found in Wace’s Roman de Brut (Egerton MS 3028) dated 1338-1340 AD. However, we can be fairly certain that a wooden structure supporting a thatched roof would have rotted away quite quickly once the monument was abandoned soon after 1500 BC.
Architects and Stonehenge
It seems very likely that the 17th century architect Sir Christopher Wren visited Stonehenge regularly, indeed he was born in East Knoyle, Wiltshire, only about 15 miles away from the monument. The southern edge of Stone 52 has the name “Wren” scratched on its face and is thought to have been carved by the architect of St Paul’s Cathedral himself. There is similar graffiti on Stone 23 in the outer sarsen circle. Wren may have envisaged a roof on Stonehenge and this may well have inspired him in his design of the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral which has the same diameter as the sarsen circle.
St Paul’s is on the site of a Roman temple at Ludgate Hill in London dedicated to the hunter goddess Diana where a stone circle is said to have stood beforehand. The Pagan temple was destroyed in 597 AD, when the first Christian church was constructed on Ludgate Hill by the Saxon King Aethelbert of Kent.
After the original cathedral was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1666 Wren was commissioned to design a new construction. He had originally planned St Paul’s as a large dome but the commissioners preference was for a plan in the form of a cross. The result was a compromise between the two that we see today with the dome centred over the crossing.
In 1675 when construction of the present St. Paul’s cathedral began, Wren is said to have discovered the remains of the old pagan temple in the foundations. Perhaps the dimensions of the dome and Stonehenge preserve the sacred dimensions of the original stone circle on Ludgate Hill.
A Roofed Temple
After carefully examining and analysing the remains of the monument on Salisbury Plain with the eyes of a Landscape architect rather than as an archaeologist Sarah Ewbank believes Stonehenge once had a roof enclosing a large oval hall overlooked by galleries.
Drawing on her expertise of forty years experience in patterns and construction Ewbank argues that the entire Stonehenge site was constructed and laid out using a single consistent unit of measurement, which she calls the BAUNT (Bronze Age Unit) as evidence that our ancestors were far more advanced than they are typically portrayed in our Hi-Tech world today. Galleries were constructed on top of the stone structure that supported a thatched roof as a Neolithic temple she asserts.
Ewbank is that convinced that Stonehenge was a Neolithic temple with a thatched roof that she has made scale models to test her theory and published her findings in the book Stonehenge: Temple Cipher Roof in A4 full colour format, 155 pages, with over 350 illustrations.
Ewbank points out that the diameter of Stonehenge is almost exactly the same as Shakespeare’s Globe, a similarly thatched building which is unquestionably the right size for an enclosed public venue as several millennia later the human voice can carry to every member of the audience within. As a temple to view astronomical events it certainly makes sense that these phenomena could be observed at Stonehenge through openings in the roof space like an observatory.
Putting aside the depressions in the upper face of Stone 156, no evidence of this structure has survived into modern times in the ruined temple on Salisbury Plain. However, instead of creating a design from scratch, Ewbank worked with the remains of the original design of the four concentric formations of stones which make up Stonehenge: an outer and an inner circle, a horseshoe and an oval.
None of these features is complete today but archaeological investigations have turned up indications of where the missing stones once stood, suggesting the outer ring consisted of 30 pillars of sarsen stones, each about four metres high, which would have supported the upper structure of the temple.
Ewbank argues that we see the same common building form across the ancient world, bringing our attention to other famous historic buildings, such as the Parthenon in Athens, whose roofs are supported by similar columns. It’s believed that these pillars were all originally capped by horizontally placed stones known as lintels. At Stonehenge the sarsen and lintels are interlocked by mortise and tenon joints; the only stone circle constructed this way. Ewbank argues that these would not have been necessary unless they were supporting something, such as the load of a roof.
Of course not everyone will agree with Ewbank but she certainly presents a plausible argument.
Stonehenge: Temple Cipher Roof – Sarah Ewbank