East Riddlesden Cross, Keighley, West Yorkshire

Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SE 079 421

Archaeology & History

A little-known early christian relic found in the driveway to East Riddlesden Hall was saved and propped up in the stable floor at the back.  In 1984 however, the National Trust got round to moving it and bringing the relic to greater public attention by putting it on display in the great hall of the building. (I think you’ve gotta pay to go in and see the stone these days – which is a bittova pain if you just want to examine the carving)

Old photo of the carved stone (after Margaret Faull)

Measuring just 1 foot across and 2 feet high and carved on all sides, the design is all too familiar to those of you exploring early christian or late-Celtic art forms.  Executed sometime between the 5th-10th century, on the main face of the cross we have the traditional ‘Celtic’ interlacing, with a bird-figure emerging on or around an early ‘cross’ symbol.  There are a variety of interpretations of this, but none relate to any modern christian mythic structures.  Indeed, we should cautiously reflect on the more pre-christian nature of this design: carved as it was at a time when the spirit of the natural world (animism) was endemic amongst all people.  This carving would in some way reflect such implicit subjectivity, though perhaps have had emergent ideals relevant to the christian cult within it.  However, we should be cautious about this christian idea, despite it being much in vogue by prevailing groups of consensus trance historians.

References:

  1. Faull, Margaret L., “The Display of the Anglo-Saxon Crosses of the Keighley Area,” in Transactions of the Ancient Monuments Society, New Series no.30, 1986.

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

East Riddlesden Cross

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East Riddlesden Cross 53.875043, -1.881328 East Riddlesden Cross

Maen Achwyfan, Whitford, Flintshire

Cross: OS Grid Refence – SJ 129 788

Also Known as:

  1. The Stone of Lamentation
  2. St Cwyfan’s Stone

Getting Here

Maen Achwyfan Cross (after J.O. Westwood)

Go north on the A5026 from the town of Holywell for about 3 miles; at the hamlet of Lloc take the turning first right towards Trelogan village for another mile – the ancient cross stands in the corner of a field at the junction of 3 roads at the turning from Whitford to Trelogan, halfway between Whitford and Sarn. The cross can also be reached via Pantasaph from the A55.

History

The cross probably dates from 1000 AD and is said to be the tallest wheel-headed cross in Wales, standing at 11 feet 3′ in height. The metal fence surrounding the cross spoils the monument quite a bit, but it is there for security reasons.  It is richly decorated on all sides and on the cross-head. Much of the decoration is Celtic in origin, but there are also Viking influences here, probably Northumbrian. On the south face there is a human figure standing on a serpent that has associations with the Norse god Odin; also a three-legged horse that may also be connected to Odin. The north-west face has Celtic pattern-work in the form of the letter “X” and below that another figure (naked) holding a spear. The north-east face is rather eroded, but there is some Celtic-style decoration. There is more knotwork and chainwork elsewhere on the cross with other animal figures.  The wheel-head has a distinctive central boss and a four star-shaped cross radiating from the boss.

Folklore and Legend

The cross is also called ‘The Stone of Lamentation’ because penances were carried out at the cross in the Middle Ages. This act would have concluded with weeping and the ‘act of contrition’ by pilgrims visiting the site whilst making their way between St Winifred’s Well and St David’s.  Legend says that St Cwyfan, a local 7th century Celtic saint preached on this site and set-up the cross – hence the name, Maen Achwyfan.  One local legend tells us that Queen Boudica fought her last battle against the Romans close by in the fields called ‘Cydio ar Leni’ or ‘The fields of the seizing legions’.  During the Middle Ages the monks of Basingwerk Abbey preached at the cross and also set up a chapel for pilgrims just to the south at Whitford.

References:

  1. Allen, J. Romilly, “Celtic Crosses of Wales”, in Archaeologia Cambrensis, 1899.
  2. Owen, Rev. Elias, Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd and Neighbouring Parishes, Bernard Quaritch: London & Oswestry 1886.
  3. Sharkey, John, Celtic High Crosses of Wales, Carreg Gwalch: Llanrwst 1998.
  4. Westwood, J.O., Lapidarium Walliæ – The Early Incised and Sculptured Stones of Wales, Oxford University Press 1879.

Copyright © Ray Spencer 2011

Maen Achwyfan cross

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Maen Achwyfan cross 53.298966, -3.308362 Maen Achwyfan cross

Swinden Cross, Colne, Lancashire

Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SD 878 409

Archaeology & History

Carved cross design

In the 19th century a fragment of an Anglo-Saxon cross was dug up in the grounds of Alkincoats Hall between Colne and Foulridge — this area was probably once an early Medieval settlement that was taken over by Knights Hospitallers in the 12th and 13th centuries.  However, the carved cross-head was lost for a long period of time but was thought to have come to light again in more recent times when the sewerage works were being built at Swinden on the boundary between Colne and Nelson. If the cross had stood at Swinden then it almost certainly marked the boundaries between Colne and Marsden (Merclesden).

This fragment was thought to be almost certainly the same as that found at Alkincoats Hall.  The piece of cross-head would have adorned the top of a late Saxon or early Medieval cross-shaft dating from the 10th-11th century. The carvings of knotwork interlacing on the arms and central boss were thought reminiscent of Anglo-Norse work — similar to the crosses at Whalley and Burnley.

I believe that the cross fragment was housed in St Bartholomew’s parish church at Colne, but I don’t know whether it still resides there. What a shame that the shaft has long gone – because almost certainly it would have looked resplendent.

References:

  1. Byrne, Clifford H., “A Survey of the Ancient Wayside Crosses in North East Lancashire,” unpublished manuscript, 1974.
  2. Taylor, Henry, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, Sherratt & Hughes: Manchester 1906.

© Ray Spencer, 2011

Swinden Cross

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Swinden Cross 53.864563, -2.186300 Swinden Cross

Churchyard Cross, Prestbury, Cheshire

Cross: OS Grid Reference – SJ 9007 7692

Archaeology & History

Prestbury Cross (by R.A. Riseley)

Many churches strive to find evidence in the greater antiquity of their foundations than the industrial age; and even those whose origins are medieval hope to find much older roots.  Such is the case with this Norman church of St. Peter, where just such an antiquity was found in the middle of the 19th century, embedded in the old walling where it had been encased many centuries before.  Thought to have been carved around the 8th century, the design on the stone typifies much ‘Celtic’ art, as it tends to be called, such as are found all over northern England.  As we can see here, the main feature is a series of curved and interlocking lines covering most of the rock face (sadly, no swastika occurs on this stone, but it’s common on many others of this period).  The old vicar of the church — Harold Rogers — takes up the story:

“About the year 1841, when part of the chancel work was taken down, some fragments of curiously ornamented sandstone were discovered embedded in the masonry.  They were carefully removed, put together, and placed in the churchyard where, protected from injury by a glass case, they may now be seen.  The carved ornamentation on this ancient relic was probably executed about the 8th century, and it is conjectured that the stone formed part of a cross placed there by some early Saxon converts…to commemorate the spot where the gospel was first preached in this locality.”

A brass inscription attached to the encased carved stone informs the visitor the same information.  The proximity of this early carved stone to the River Bollin and, very probably, an ancient ford crossing, implies the waters here were held as sacred in ancient days and hence the supplanting of the ornate carved cross at this position in the landscape.

References:

  1. Rogers, Harold W., Prestbury and its Ancient Church, Arthur Clownes: Macclesfield n.d. (c.1960)

© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian

Churchyard Cross

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Churchyard Cross 53.289221, -2.150507 Churchyard Cross