And did those feet in ancient times – walk upon the ancient Datuidoc Stone, and therein begins the story of this early relic which today resides inside St. John’s Church at Lustleigh. As can be seen below, today the Datuidoc Stone is securely fixed to the west end wall of the north aisle however this was not always the case. It is thought that the stone began life sometime between AD 450 and 600. Then for whatever reason between then and 1979 it was ‘recycled’ to become part of the church’s doorstep where numerous ancient footsteps gradually wore down its surface. For varying reasons the stone has attracted many questions along with some controversy in its later life. What was its purpose, who was ‘Datuidoc, how did the complete inscription read, why was it moved? etc. etc.
What was the stone’s purpose? The consensus of opinion is that originally it served as a grave marker although there was a vague suggestion that it served as a marker on the old Anglo Saxon Peadington Landscore boundary. The author suggested that it may have been known as the Writelan Stone: “Should on the other hand, the sepulchral inscribed stone, which now form the sill of the church at Lustleigh, be the Writelan Stan, then we are without guide; for none can probably say from what site the stone was removed to its present position..” J. R. Davidson,p.402. This theory has also been taken up by the English Heritage Pastscape website although with a question mark.
However, this is most unlikely so let’s revert to the grave marker idea. There are several things to note here, firstly if you look at an aerial view of Lustleigh Churchyard it can be seen that it forms an oval shape which is suggestive of an early Romano-British Christian site. The first mention of the stone appears in a document dated 1757 and donated to Oxford’s Bodleian Library. All agree that it comes from the Brittonic language but there have been various proposals put forward to its wording and translation. the favoured options are: DATUIDOCI CONHINOCI FILIVS or DATUIDOC CONHINO. It is hard to be exact as the stone has undergone a tremendous amount of wear and tear but what is fairly certain is that there are two Celtic male names inscribed in a Latin style; DATUIDOC or DATA-UIDACOS and CONHINOCI – so the translation goes ‘Datuidoc son of Conhinoc‘. It is also worth noting that in all probability the local stone masons who carved the letters were not that proficient with their Latin which may also lead to some mis-interpretation. Who they were is anybodies guess but possibly they were men of high status?
As noted above; the reason the Datuidoc Stone is in such a poor condition is that it served some of its life as part of the doorstep into the church. Since then a great deal of debate and supposition has surrounded the stone. In 1821 Mr. T. Mortimer suggested that it had always remained near the porch as in, “very remote times,” it was the practice to bury people in church porches. In his publication – The Inscribed Stones and Ancient Crosses of Devon, C. Spence Bate wrote; “It lies at this time as when Lysons observed it, at the door of the main entrance to Lustleigh Church. The stone is four feet long by fourteen inches wide; the extreme ends are covered by the two pilasters that form the doorway. The door is double, and as one half only appears to be generally open, the stone at the eastern end is more worn and polished, so that the inscription is gradually becoming less distinct. The last letter in the second row having being entirely obliterated since Lysons described in 1822,” p.20. The drawing of the stone’s inscription above is what Spence Bate drew sometime between 1870 and 1879. In 1871 the Rev. Dr. Thornton proposed that the stone had originally been brought from Cornwall and that the characters of the inscription were of a Roman nature and the words of a Celtic origin. He also surmised that the translation of the wording was; “David the son of Gawain,” – The Exeter & Plymouth Gazette, February 3rd, 1871.
By 1884 the location of the stone was causing some fierce debate, a Mr. Hutchinson wrote a lengthy piece in the East & South Devon Advertiser stating; “My business now is to pour out another measure of lamentation over its still unhappy situation in the run of the doorway, subject to the grinding of all the ‘scoets’ (?) and hob-nails in the parish that weekly pass in and out. A mat is thrown over it to hide its shame, but this is only a perishable and an uncertain protection. Thirteen years ago, the church was in preparation for restoring, and writing about the stone I incidentally expressed a hope that this would be carefully carried out… In response to this plea the rector wrote; ” I rather fear, however, that a writer who could recommend the removal of the stone from its present position – a position it has occupied for over 450 years and upwards, is scarcely likely to be a very competent judge on such matters.” In the same reply the rector also commented that the stone being in the porch was safe as it was not exposed to the action of the weather and that if allowed to remain it was in no danger of being defaced.” Hutchinson then ended his article by commenting that the stone is; “one of the most interesting and most valuable monoliths in this county. It deserves a better place. Scarcely would it be judicious to plant it upright, as the inscription reads lengthways; and as there is a crack or shady place near the middle, it would better rest at ease bedded on a stone shelf against one of the walls inside the church or tower, some four or five feet from the floor,” – August 9th, 1884.
Mr. Hutchinson sort of got his wishes granted when the Datuidoc Stone was moved inside the church. Unfortunately his plea that it be ‘planted’ lengthways, (which to me sounded logical) was not to be for it was ‘planted’ vertically. It is said that the Datuidoc stone is only one of four early inscribed stones to be found in Devon’s churches.
J. R. Davidson, 1876 Some Anglo Saxon Boundaries. Transactions of the Devonshire Association, Vol VIII, Plymouth: Brendon & Son.