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header image: © Colin Park

A ruined medieval church with early medieval carved stones in the grounds

AOC undertook excavations and survey at the site of a medieval church and burial ground

The ruinous remains of St Helen’s Church at Old Cambus sit high on a cliff above the North Sea, close to Cockburnspath in the Scottish Borders. The church is said to have been established by three Northumbrian princesses who sought refuge from a violent war in their home kingdom. Stormy weather prevented them from reaching the Firth of Forth as planned, but they were given shelter by the bishop or prior of nearby Coldingham. They showed their gratitude by building three new churches: St Abb’s at St Abb’s Head, St Bee’s at Dunbar and St Helen’s at Old Cambus. It is recorded that there has been a church at Old Cambus since the 7th century, though the ruinous remains of St Helen’s are certainly much later in date, perhaps 12th century at the earliest.
Amongst the headstones in the graveyard are two hogback stones, early medieval commemorative monuments that generally date to the 10th or 11th centuries. The stones at St Helen’s have been known about for many years, but dense vegetation has made them hard to track down and they have gone undetected in recent surveys. 
In January 2021, AOC undertook excavations and survey at the site of St Helen’s Church on behalf of Historic Environment Scotland following a report of possible damage to one of the hogbacks. Both hogbacks were identified, excavated and recorded before being reinstated. 
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