Stonehenge was as much a source of awe a thousand years ago as it is today. Historians and poets wove the mysterious circle into their tales of King Arthur, with one lushly illustrated book depicting the wizard Merlin as the architect.
The manuscript is a 14th-century edition of Roman de Brut, a literary history written in verse by the poet Wace in the 12th century. A copy of the book is in the possession of the British Library, which notes on its blog:
Wace's version of the legend, adapted from Geoffrey of Monmouth's Historia Regum Britanniae, tells of King Aurelius, son of Constantine, who, having conquered the usurpers Vortigern and Hengist, decides to erect a monument to the British nobles murdered by the Saxons. Merlin suggests using huge stones that were brought by a giant from Africa to create a stone circle known as the Ring of Killaraus in Ireland. When the King is incredulous at this suggestion, saying that the stones are much too heavy to transport so far, Merlin replies that 'wit is more than strength'. With the help of his magic powers, the stones are indeed brought back to the Salisbury plain by Uther and an army of men, who defeat the Irish on the way. The image [below] shows either a giant helping Merlin to erect Stonehenge or helping to take down the stones from the Giant's ring to be carted off to England.
Of course, modern scientific research has shown that Stonehenge was built from two types of rock that must have been transported from far away: the sarsen stones, a type of sandstone, are believed to come from Marlborough Downs, 20 miles away and the smaller bluestones (even they weigh 25-30 tons) are believed to be from the Preseli Hills in south-west Wales, 250km away! There have been many hypotheses as to how they were transported, but none, it could be argued, are any more plausible than Wace's account involving Merlin and the giant.
(Images: Wikipedia, British Library)