NGR: SE 19415 42151. The 13th to 15th Century parish church of St Oswald King & Martyr on Church Street, Guiseley, West Yorkshire, houses a 9th Century Anglo-Danish cross-shaft with some heavily worn carved decoration on its two faces, although the head, or rather a cross-arm, is obviously from another cross, and one other fragment. This carved cross-arm shows a strange serpent-like creature which is Danish in design, while the shaft itself has the more typical Saxon cord-work interlacing and is perhaps earlier than the head. The sides of the shaft are now very eroded. There was a church here in the early 12th Century and perhaps even one before that? There is some fine Norman architecture in the south doorway and arcade, and Early English south transept, while the N tower and arcade are 15th Century Perpendicular. St Oswald’s church, which is Grade 1 listed, was extended and modified in the early 20th Century. St Oswald’s Parish Church is located on Church Street, just south of Queensway, at the northeastern side of the west Yorkshire town.
At the west end of the church nave stands a rather blackened and worn cross-shaft set into a chunky stone base, and on top another fragment which is a carved cross-arm from somewhere else, and which together stand at almost 6 feet high; but the arm is obviously from another cross – the main part of that would now seem to be lost. The cross-shaft itself is made-up of fragments of carved stonework from the Anglo Saxon period, which, had earlier been found inside the church where it had been in use as a door lintel, but did it originally stand out in the churchyard? The front face, as it stands, has intricate cord-work interlacing formed into a sort of trellis – or, according to W. G. Collingwood, “a scimitile trellis”, and nice cord-work scrolls – although those at the top of the trellis are smaller; or are they spirals? Collingwood said there was a sword through the centre of the trellis. Above that (lower cross-arm) a smaller section of curving cord-work interlacing which is better than that below, and what is probably a line of knots? There is now very worn flat mouldings on the edges. See ‘The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture’ website, below.
The cross-arm (top) shows a dragon-headed serpent eating its tail. This is probably the ‘Midgard Serpent’ and likely to be 10th Century and Danish. Beneath the serpent is a half circle or archway. The opposite side (against the wall, and not visible) has a panel with similar carvings to the front, but damaged. There is a moulding on the left-hand side (edge). The cross-arm (top) shows a possible animal carving that is damaged. See ‘guiseleywithesholt’ website, below. Also see ‘The Corpus of Anglo Saxon Stone Sculpture’ website, below.
John & Caitlin Matthews (1988) say: “Midgard Serpent (N) Also called Jormundgand. The monstrous son of Loki and Angrboda. He grew until his body encircled the earth and he could capture his own tail. Placed in the sea by Odin, he writhed so as to cause tempests. He will only be destroyed by Ragnorok, according to Crossley Holland (1980). Please note: (N) – Norse.
Robert A Carter (1976) tells us St Oswald’s was: “Extensively restored in the second half of last century and much enlarged in 1910 by Sir Charles Nicholson. Nevertheless it retains Norman and Early English work. The pulpit and a pew in the south chapel with the initials of Sir Walter Calverley on the door are seventeenth century but most of the other Jacobean style woodwork is by Nicholson. Good woodcarving, including the rood beam erected in 1921, by the Italian artist Gulielimo Tosi. Fragments of Anglo Saxon sculpture. Two literary associations: Patrick Bronte married Maria Bramwell here in 1812 and this was the parish church of many ancestors of the American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”
Also of interest in the church below the arch (at the side of the entrance) can be found a large stone bearing a consecration cross; there were originally seven of these tiny crosses.
Sources / References & Related Websites:-
Photos are by Patrick John Leonard. Many thanks Patrick.
Carter, Robert A., A visitor’s guide to Yorkshire Churches, Watmoughs Limited, Idle, Bradford, West Yorkshire, 1976.
Matthews, John & Caitlin, The Aquarian Guide To British And Irish Mythology, The Aquarian Press (Thorsons), Wellingborough, Northamptonshire, 1988.
© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2020.