Examples of Derby Knots

I visited Derby in 2007. In the Derby Museum and Art Gallery, there are lovely examples of Celtic knots on St Alkmund's Sarcophagus. Alkmund or Ealmund was son of Alcred, king of Northumbria, who was deposed by his rival, Eardwulf, in 774. Alkmund fled south to Mercia, but was murdered on the orders of Eardwulf. Mercia promoted the cult of Alkmund, perhaps as a gesture to their enemies, Northumbria. A ninth century list of saints says "St Ealhmund rests in the minster called Northworthy beside the river Derwent." Another text says "the place called Northworthy, but in the Danish language, Derby." The sarcophagus is made of stone, and empty. There is only a bit of the lid left.The outside is covered with different Celtic knot designs. These look regular, but there are oddities in them! There is a plan of the coffin, right, to show where the different patterns are. The head (or possibly the foot) of the sarcophagus is set into a wall, so I couldn't see if it had any patterns on it.

This is at the bottom of the sarcophagus (or possibly the head). The pattern looks symmetrical, but there are loose ends on the left and not on the right. This makes the righthand side a little empty. This isn't noticeable in the original. Perhaps the carver ran out of room on the left, so altered the pattern and cheated the angles to make them fit. The coloured version shows that it has two closed loops and one with two ends.

This pattern runs along the left side. There are 18 roundels, but they are not all the same. The bottom right and bottom left have their own patterns. I'm not quite sure why, since I managed to make a perfectly good design with them the same before I noticed the difference! There is only one thread, with two ends. Again, I don't know why, since it would be easy to join them into a loop. The coloured version changes the colour every time the thread is at one end or the other, so you can see how the knots interconnect.

This pattern runs along the right side. There are 10 knots joined at top and bottom. The first top knots are not only a different pattern from the others, but are looser. If you look at the coloured version, you can see they both have a loop which is connected with threads on either side. This means that the start is a disconnected thread. The other one joins with the rest of the pattern. The rest of the pattern is all one thread, but I have changed the colours four times so you can see how the knots are connected. Most of them have a pointed part which points either to the left or the right. There doesn't seem to be any logic in this. Perhaps the carver started by having them facing all to the left, then decided to try it the other way once, then saw it could do them in pairs. The last knot is a simpler plait. This panel is the same size as the one above. I am trying to give the logical layout of the knots rather than an accurate representation of the curves and angles and scale of the original.

This pattern is on the left corner. It is worn at the top, but seems a pair of regular patterns of knots. Each pattern uses a single thread, but I have coloured each in two colours, to show how the simple thread running through one knot becomes the complicated knot in the next.

This pattern is on the right corner. In the left hand pattern, there seems to be a loose end half way up. It is hard to see where it is, since the carving isn't that clear at that point. There are also loose ends at the top and one at the bottom. It seems quite irregular. There are two threads, which are shown in the coloured version. The righthand pattern is regular, with a neat knot at the bottom to round it off. It is similar to the patterns on the left corner, and I have coloured it similarly, apart from the bottom knot. It has a single thread. Both these patterns should be the same length, but I am giving a regular version rather than the smooth, flowing line of the original.

There is a small bit left of the sarcophagus' cover, above the left corner. Here is some of the pattern on it. The rest is a little hard to make out. The left pattern is the usual regular knot. There is a trefoil in the middle, which is right on the corner. Then there is a more complicated knot on the right. Since they haven't bothered to finish off the ends, there seem to be more than one thread, but this is hard to make out with a fragmentary pattern.

Return to Knots index.

© Jo Edkins 2007