The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland


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The Triskele Stone, St Michael’s Church, Iselgate, Cumbria

The Triskele Stone from photo at St. Michael’s church.

NGR: NY 16240 33314. The Church of St Michael at Iselgate, half a mile southeast of Isel village, in the Derwent Valley, Cumbria, used to house the famous ‘Triskele Stone’, a Celtic symbol of motion, but sadly it was stolen from this 12th Century Norman church in 1986. Only a photo survives. However, there are still two large fragments of an Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft. The Triskele is a pre-Christian symbol or motif consisting of a three-armed carving similar to the Manx symbol (Three Legs of Man) which might represent the Holy Trinity? although the symbol goes back thousands of years to the Neolithic, and was used in ancient Greece; this particular stone, however, had Viking origins, being associated with the Norse gods, Thor and Odin. The stone also had carvings of a sun-snake and a four-armed swastika (or fylfot – the symbol of Freya). The hamlet of Iselgate is a few miles northeast of Cockermouth, whilst St Michael & All Angels’ Church is just off Blindcrake Lane – beside the river Derwent, not far from Isel Hall.

Stanley Kingsnorth (1984) in a magazine article tells us a lot about the Triskele Stone, saying: “The Triskele Stone came to light in 1812 when the bridge of 1691 spanning the river Derwent was rebuilt.” Mr Kingsnorth continues, saying it: “takes its name from the three-limbed design which appears on two faces, a variation of this sign is well known to us as the three-legs of Man. This strangely sculptured stone, now placed in front of one of the chancel windows, is about twelve inches high and has been closely studied by scholars. It is described in some detail by the Rev. W. S. Calverley, a former vicar of Aspatria in his paper presented to the Cumberland and Westmorland Antiquarian and Archeology Society in 1885. 

“Each of the four faces of the stone shows designs in relief, those in the upper panels being different on each side, while the lower panel of all sides displays the “‘Sun-Snake”′ sign resembling a double ended hook on its side, which is to be found in the relics of many early cultures. Three of the upper panels depict the emblems of the principal pagan Norse gods. The symbol for Thor is the thunderbolt or hammer device and appears in strong relief on one face. Another side is adorned with an unsymmetrical triskele sign with two limbs to the left and one to the right and which is attributed to Odin, or in the alternative spelling, Woden. 

“On the third face a four-armed swastika appears, being the symbol of Freya the god of fertility and peace, while the re-maining side shows a balanced triskele having all three arms turning to the right, that is, with the sun. This sign is held to represent the Trinity of the Christian faith, and is the most significant dedication if the stone is, as so many suppose, part   of an early stone cross which stood on the site..”  

Stanley Kingsnorth goes on to add: “The other two stones now to be found near the south door are clearly fragments of the main shaft of a pre-Norman cross probably of a later date than the Triskele Stone. They were discovered in the walls of the church during the major restoration which took place just over 100 years ago. One is worked in relief on two sides and the other on all four faces with a variety of spirals and whorls, typical Christian designs of the Celtic post-Roman period. But again the pagan influence has persisted, as at the bottom of the fully patterned stone there is a boldly carved broad arrow or spearhead pointing downward. In his study of 1889, Calverley identified this as the sacred emblem of Woden as descri-bed in the old Norse sagas, where the unfortunate sacrifice has his breast marked with the point of a spear and is offered to Woden, after which he is hanged.

“In heathen ritual, the gallows was in the form of a cross, usually of ash, so it can easily be understood how the Cross of Christ and the symbolic ash cross of the Nordic peoples came to have an over-lapping meaning to the diverse inhabitants of this remote area during the confused and changing times between the withdrawal of the Roman legions and the arrival of the Normans. 

Lawrence E. Jones & Roy Tricker (1992)  say that Isel church has: “A perfect setting by the river Derwent for St Michael’s small and simple towerless church. (The nearby hall is much more spectacular, and has a pele tower). It is a Norman church of c1130 (with a fine chancel arch), but there are three Saxon stones with very interesting carvings, including a swastika and a triskele, also Saxon cross fragments. One 15th century chancel window has three Mass-dials carved in          its stonework.”

Arthur Mee (1961) tells us: “The church was chiefly built by the Normans, and has still their doorway, their chancel arch, and several of their little windows. Another window pierced in the 15th century has three sundials on it. There are two stones carved before the Normans came, and one being part of a 10th-century cross and the other having the rare three-armed symbol called the triskele, one of the earliest devices found on Christian monuments.” 

Sources / References & Related Websites: 

Jones, Lawrence E. & Tricker, Roy, County Guide To English Churches, Countryside Books, Newbury, Berkshire, 1992.

Kingsnorth, Stanley, Storied Stones At Isel — A Visit to St. Michael’s Church, (Magazine Article in Cumbria – Lake District Life, May, 1984), The Dalesman Publishing Co. Ltd., Clapham, Lancaster.

Mee, Arthur, The Kings England — Arthur Mee’s Lake Counties — Cumberland And Westmorland,  Hodder And Stoughton Limited, London, 1961.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Michael%27s_Church,_Isel

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triskelion

https://www.explorechurches.org/church/st-michael-all-angels-isel

https://www.ancient-symbols.com/symbols-directory/triskele.

Check this out: https://mythologian.net/triskelion-triskele-symbol-celtic-spiral-knot-meaning/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 


St Columba’s House, Kells, Co. Meath, Southern Ireland

Irish Grid Reference:- N 73908 75963. At the side of Church Lane, opposite the monastic site, in the town of Kells (Ceanannas Mór), Co. Meath, Southern Ireland, there is a curious little ecclesiastical building that is called ‘St Columba’s House’ or ‘the House of Columcille’ (Teach Naomh Cholumba), which dates back to the 9th-11th Centuries AD, although its sloping roof was probably rebuilt in more recent times. The chapel/oratory was probably built by one of the abbots. Traditionally, it was here that the famous illuminated gospels known as ‘The Book of Kells’ was written by a monk from St Columba’s Abbey in 800 AD and, the body of the Irish saint, may have been housed in this very building (or one before it) after being brought from Iona in Western Scotland in the late 9th Century. The monastic enclosure and graveyard on the other side of Church Lane has a 100 foot-high round-tower, and three sculptured Celtic high crosses, of the early Medieval period; and the Market Cross in the market square. Legend attributes the founding of the abbey at Kells to St Columcille (550 AD), although there has always been some uncertainty about that. 

St. Columba’s House, Kells, in Co. Meath, by Peter F. Anson

Peter F. Anson (1952) tells us about St. Columba’s House, saying that: “It is quite possible that in this curious little building with an upper chamber hidden away above the barrel vaulting of its roof, was written the famous Book of Kells, the great treasure of the library of Trinity College, Dublin. Who wrote this and illuminated this most perfect expression of Christian art which has survived the centuries of war and strife in Ireland ? Tradition has it that the artist was an unknown monk of the abbey of Kells, in Meath. Anyhow, whoever he was he must have been one of the greatest book illustrators and masters of penmanship the world has ever known, and for this reason I had always wanted to make a pilgrimage to Kells. When this marvelous work of art was being produced in what is now no more than a sleepy little country town, ‘London was a haunted Roman ruin on a hill with the brambles over London Wall and the camp fires of the East Angles shining on the marsh beyond the city which they were afraid to enter,’ writes Mr. H. V. Morton, ‘Paris was a desolation and the sun was setting over Rome.’ But Ireland, thanks to her isolation, remained a stronghold of learning and culture. What is left to-day of the ancient glories of Kells? There is this little building, known as St. Columba’s House, a dreary neglected churchyard containing some magnificent Celtic crosses, and that is all.”

The Wikipedia website says: ‘St. Columb’s House is today thought to mostly date from the 10th century. It is named after Columba (Colm Cille), whose relics it may once have housed. The roof was modified at a later date. The house was used by monks to say the Liturgy of the Hours, or possibly as a shrine church or burial place of an abbot. It once contained a large flat stone called “St Columb’s Bed”, possibly a grave slab. His relics were brought to Kells in 878, and moved to Skryne Church later before finally going to Downpatrick, according to Wikipedia. See Link, below.

Katharine Scherman (1981) says regarding the Book of Kells that: “Argument, often stormy, surrounds the history of the Book of Kells, there being strong claimants for its generation in Ireland, Iona, Lindisfarne or other insular foundations of Irish origin and mixed personnel. The answer will probably never be known, though some experts reason that evidence favours its inception at Iona in the late eighth century and subsequent removal to Kells, where it was completed in the first quarter of the ninth century.

“In 795 Iona was pillaged by Norse raiders; in 801-802 they came again and burned the monastery to the ground; returning in 806 they murdered sixty-eight monks….. In 807 the abbot, Cellach, with the remaining monks, moved to Ireland taking with them the bones and other relics of St Columba and whatever valuables they had managed to hide from the ravag-ers—among them, presumably, the unfinished manuscript. They went to the site of one of Columba’s monasteries at Kells, County Meath, and built there a new monastery, to be the headquarters of the league of Columban houses.

“Kells, being inland, was considered safe from the marauders, who, in the early years, limited their invasions to hit-and-run assaults on the monasteries immediately accessible by sea. But Kells was struck the year after its founding and its church destroyed. A new church was completed in 814 and the monastic village, probably fortified, succeeded in fending   off subsequent attackers. Undoubtedly, also, successive abbots paid tribute for the privilege of being left alone. At any rate, the monastery of Kells had years of peace in the early ninth century — time enough for the production of the great book. For the creation of such a complex, profound and subtle work of art is a luxury that presupposes a number of conditions: security from outward disturbance; wealth to afford the years of dedicated specialization of a corps of scribes and painters; a scholarly intimacy with the Christian thought of the time; and a large library of books from abroad, which, being rare, would take years to accumulate. The scriptorium at Kells, fortunate in its relative tranquillity, could meet these conditions and finish — though it was never absolutely finished — the work that had begun at Iona. But the monastery was not permanently inviolate. The Norse sacked it in 919, 950 and 969, and in the following century it was raided repeatedly by the Irish themselves. In 1170 it was burned to the ground by the Anglo-Normans at the instigation of their Irish ally, Diarmait Mac Murrough.

“Despite the brutal history of Kells, the manuscript survived almost intact. In 1006 it was stolen, and turned up two and a half months later buried “under a sod” with the gold of its wood-and-metal cover wrenched off. The inside pages were unscathed, though some missing leaves at the beginning and the end may have been torn off at this time.

Andrew Jones (2002) tells us that: “The first probable record of the existence of the Book of Kells is an account of the theft of ‘the great Gospel of Columkille, the chief relic of the western world’ from the great stone church of Kells in the year 1007. The book was found buried in the ground almost three months later, and presumably remained at Kells until it was brought to Dublin and presented to Trinity College by Henry Jones, Bishop of Meath, some time after the year 1661. It has been in the College Library ever since as its greatest treasure.”

Greenwood, Connolly, Hawkins & Wallis (1999) tell us a lot about the Kells monastic site, saying that: “The Round Tower in the churchyard is known to have been here before 1076, for in that year Murchadh Mac Flainn. who was claiming the High Kingship, was murdered within the tower. It’s a little under 100ft high, with five windows near the top, and missing only its roof.

“Near the tower is the South High Cross, the best and probably the oldest of the crosses at Kells, carved as ever with scenes from the Bible. Here you’ll see, on the south face, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel; then the three children in the fiery furnace; then Daniel in the lions’ den. On the left arm of the wheel Abraham is about to sacrifice Isaac, and on the right are SS. Paul and Anthony in the desert; at the top is David with his harp and the miracle of the loaves and fishes. There are two other complete crosses in the churchyard, and the stem of a fourth (behind the church back-entrance door) with the inscription Oroit do Artgal, A prayer for Artgal. This has several identifiable panels. The near side shows the baptism of Christ, the marriage feast at Cana, David with his harp again, the presentation in the Temple, and others to worn to make out. On the other side are a self-conscious Adam and Eve, Noah’s Ark, and others hard to identify accurately. There are sculptured stones embedded in the walls of the bell tower.

“In the central market square there’s another fine high cross, discoloured by traffic fumes, said to have been placed here by Jonathan Swift. In 1798 it served as the gallows from which local rebels were hanged. Yet again, it is liberally festooned with fine stone carving. The base shows horsemen and animals in a battle scene; on the west face are the adoration of the Magi, the marriage at Cana and the miracle of the loaves and fishes, all surrounding the Crucifixion in the centre of the wheel; on the east are Christ in the tomb, Goliath, Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel, with Daniel in the lions’ den occupying centre stage.”

Sources and related websites:-

Anson F., The Pilgrim’s Sketch Books — No. 4 — An Irish Pilgrimage, Burns Oates & Washbourne Ltd., London, 1932.

Greenwood, Margaret, Connolly, Mark, Hawkins, Hilda & Wallis, Geoff, Ireland — The Rough Guide, Rough Guides Ltd., London, 1999.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Columb%27s_House

Jones, Andrew, Every Pilgrim’s Guide To Celtic Britain And Ireland, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2002.

Scherman, Katharine, The Flowering of Ireland — Saints, Scholars & Kings, Victor Gollancz Ltd., London, 1981.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Columb%27s_House#/media/File:St._Columb’s_House,_Kells_2018-07-24_

http://www.megalithicireland.com/Kells%20Monastery,%20Meath.html

http://irelandsholywells.blogspot.com/2013/06/saint-columbas-well-kells-county-meath.html

http://www.heritagetowns.com/kellslarge1.shtml

http://www.archaeologicalconsultancyservices.com/index.php/archaeological-consultancy-services-blog/47-archaeologist-from-acs-ireland-at-st-colmcilles-house-kells-co-meath

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 


Celtic Cross, Lanherne (St Mawgan-in-Pydar), Cornwall

NGR SW 87219 65926. Standing between the churchyard of St Mauganus & St Nicholas’ Church and the convent garden at Lan-herne or Lannhorne, in the village of St Mawgan-in-Pydar, near Newquay, Cornwall, is a Celtic wayside cross, which is thought to date from the 10th or 11th Century AD. It is a wheel-headed or four-holed cross with a tapering shaft, a carving of Christ, curious inscriptions in ancient lettering similar to the runic-type, and carved decoration. The carvings on the opposite side are very faint. There is a five-boss cross on the head and another inscription at the bottom. However, the cross is not in its original setting, as it used to be located at Roseworthy, 20 miles to the north. The convent of Lanherne, just opposite the church was a manor house built in Elizabethian times, but Carmelite nuns from Belgium moved in in 1794; today it is still home to the Fran-ciscan sisters. St Maugan’s Church stands on the site of a 5th-6th Century Celtic monastery, founded by an Irish saint who came here from south-west Wales! The saint’s holy well can be found near the lych-gate, and there is a 15th Century lantern cross in the churchyard.

The Lanherne Celtic cross.

The Cross of Lanherne is located in ‘a peaceful setting’ at the northeastern side of the convent garden, close by the churchyard. It is just under 5 foot high and is made from a single lump of stone from Pentewan in Cornwall. The SW face: (head) shows in high relief a delicately carved figure of Christ crucified with arms outstretched (forming the actual cross-head but leaving holes visible), his longish body and legs, and with his feet resting upon some outstandingly beautiful Celtic two-cord plaitwork (banding) and three-cord plaitwork – all intertwining (with flat cord-knots at intervals) in a sort of ‘zig-zag’ fashion. Below that a large panel of ancient-style lettering similar, perhaps, to Scandinavian runic letters, which might spell out a personal name? While the opposite side: NE face (head) has a simple rounded cross with five tiny bosses forming the actual head, with the holes left showing, and below that, but now very faint a longer in length area of cord-plaitwork intertwining and twisting in and out in a ‘zig-zag’ fashion with flat-cord knots and, at the bottom, a small panel of ancient lettering similar to that on the main face. The edges of the cross have more cord-plait banding, interlacing and knotwork.

The Historic England Monument List No is: 1020866. See the Link, below. 

Sources / references & related websites:

The AA, The Illustrated Road Book Of England & Wales, The Automobile Association, London, 1961.

https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1020866

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/modules.php?op=modload&name=a312&file=index&do=showpic&pid=100139

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lanherne

https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/CON/MawganinPydar

http://www.friendsoflanherne.org/p/the-sisters-at-lanherne.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 


The Laycock Cross, Laycock, Near Keighley, West Yorkshire

The Laycock Cross in West Yorkshire.

NGR: SE 0328 4105. Built onto the top of the wall at the east side of Laycock Lane in the village of Laycock, near Keighley, west Yorkshire, there is a three-armed wayside cross that looks to have some age about it, but whether it is Anglo Saxon or medieval, we don’t really know with any certainty. A few historians had suggested that it might date from the 7th-9th century AD, and to have been set up by early Christian missionaries, although it could actually date from the 11th or 12th century? It is a curious little cross with its bulbous-shaped shaft and short, stubby arms, but all-in-all it is a rather nice looking monument, and different. It has, however, suffered a bit of damage down the centuries, but not enough to spoil the look of the cross. The Laycock Cross is most likely located on a former pilgrims route, the itinerary of which would have included Jennet’s Well at Calversyke, True Well at Goose Eye, Goff Well at Hainworth and Exley Head Cross. Laycock village is first mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086. Its place-name meaning is taken to be ‘a small stream’, but it could also be a personal family name with the obvious local origins.

References & related websites:-

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laycock,_West_Yorkshire

http://www.village.laycock.com/

http://www.keighleysharedchurch.org.uk/history.html

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=17831

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


2 Comments

St Peter’s Churchyard Cross, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire

Cross in the churchyard of St Peter’s Minster, Stoke-on-Trent. Front.

Saxon Cross, Stoke-on- Trent.

NGR: SJ 87931 45213. In the grassy graveyard of St Peter’s Minster on Glebe Street, Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire, are the remains of a Mercian cross-shaft on a stepped base, dating from the 10th century AD, although some historians think it might date from the 8th-9th century? The actual name and dedication of the Minster church is St Peter’s Ad Vincular (St Peter in Chains). There is visible decoration on the shaft of this preaching cross although it is now rather worn and weather-beaten, and there are cracks from previous damage. It is a Saxon cross, that is a certainty, the area itself being part of the Old Saxon Kingdom of Mercia; and the first church here (and indeed the cross) were of wood. This 7th Century church was probably associated with St Chad, bishop of Lichfield. The building that is now the minster was built in the 19th Century. The site can be reached from the centre of Stoke. Head west onto Glebe Street and a few hundred yards south of the town hall is St Peter’s Minster and its large graveyard; the cross stands on a stepped base behind modern iron railings.

Mercian cross-shaft in St Peter’s churchyard, Stoke. Front face.

The cross-shaft, without its cross-head if it ever had one, stands 4 feet high (1.3m) in a socketed stone upon a base of two chunky steps, which are probably of a 19th Century date, though the cross itself is probably 10th Century or a few hundred years before that. The monument is set within a paved surround. It is said to stand on, or near, the site of a wooden cross from which St Chad is said to have preached in the 7th Century. Sadly the shaft is quite worn with the carvings on one side being difficult to make out, but the front face has long vine scrolls and interlacing and, on the sides there looks to be some key-patterning, while the reverse side has a lot of knotwork and interlacing and, a series of holes that might have been done in recent times? The break across the middle of the shaft can clearly be seen but this does not detract from its great antiquity; the monument being carefully restored. At the base an inscription reads: ‘This fragment of a pre-Norman cross identified by Chas Lynam F.S.A. was re-erected near to its original position in the 25th year of the reign of H.M. King George V by P.W.L. Adams F.S.A.’ The cross-shaft is a Grade II listed monument.

There is a story or tale coming from St Peter’s Church that says the cross-shaft was discovered in 1876 by a gravedigger who spotted it being used as a door lintel inside the old church, which was being demolished to make way for a newer church building. During its recovery the shaft broke in two so it was placed in storage, but in 1935 it was formally identified by Mr Charles Lynam who had it restored and re-erected in the churchyard.

Doug Pickford (1994) tells us more about the site, saying: “At Stoke itself, meaning a fortified stockade, and the collective name so often (wrongly) given to this area there is the Church of St Peter and nearby is the base and trunk of an ancient preaching cross. Was this cross, I wonder, a stone monolith before it was used for preaching. Perhaps in earlier times it was used for praying to, not preaching from. Stoke was most probably a fortified place holding out from the old Britons who took refuge in the high Staffordshire moorlands.”

The very large Minster churchyard also has some re-erected stone arches from an earlier church; and amongst the many in-teresting graves there is the one of Josiah Wedgwood of Burslem and Etruria (1730-1795) the famous master potter; another of Josiah Spode of Stoke-on-Trent (1733-1797) who was also a famous pottery manufacturer, and the grave of Charles Bourne (1775-1836) the pottery manufacturer of Fenton. There is also a commemorative ceramic (mosaic) seat in the churchyard, which was installed in 2000.

Mercian cross at Stoke- on-Trent (reverse side).

The earliest origins of Stoke-upon-Trent go back to at least 800 AD, but probably further back to the 7th Century. It would seem the Saxon name was Stoiche or Stoche – a stockade, but there was no mention of the Church of Stoke in Domesday, though there was a brief mention of it in ‘The description of Caverswall’. The name and its probable meaning have been considered to be: ‘the place of the church’, ‘place by or next to a church’, or ‘settlement beside a church’; the latter name being the most likely. In St Peter’s Minster can be seen a baptismal font that was in use as a garden ornament. It is thought to be of Saxon origins. In 1932 it was restored and put back into use in the church. Also in St Peter’s there are a number of monuments and marble memorial tablets to the ‘great-and-the-good’ of Stoke-on-Trent’s pottery manufacturing history, which brought about, and shaped the Industrial Revolution in the Potteries of North Staffordshire.

Adrian Room (1993) adds more, saying: “This well-known city has a basic name derived from the Old English stoc (place), as considered for STOKE-BY- NAYLAND. It is more likely that the meaning here is ‘dependent settlement’, as there is no evi-dence for the latter sense. The addition of the river name distinguishes this Stoke from the hundreds of others. The name of this city, perhaps the best known example, was recorded as Stoche in the Domesday Book.” 

The PastScape monument no is: 75813.

Sources & References:-

Pickford, Doug, Staffordshire — Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Leisure, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.

Room, Adrian, Dictionary Of Place-Names In The British Isles, Blitz Editions (Bookmart Limited), Enderby, Leicester, 1993.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stoke_Minster

https://megalithix.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/st-peters-cross/

https://historicengland.org.uk/services-skills/education/educational-images/cross-fragment-in-st-peters-churchyard-6467

https://www.pastscape.org.uk/hob.aspx?hob_id=75813

http://www.thepotteries.org/listed/124a.html

History & Heritage

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.

 

 

 

 

 


St Martin’s Cross, Island of Iona, Argyll and Bute, Western Scotland

St Martin’s High Cross.*

OS Grid Reference: NM 28632 24504. At the western side of the Abbey Church on the Island of Iona, Argyll and Bute, Western Scotland, stands the richly sculptured ‘St Martin’s High Cross’, which is similar to some of the Irish high crosses. It is thought to date from the beginning of the 9th or the late 8th century AD, although some think it to be much earlier? This tall granite cross is probably the best preserved Celtic religious monument in the British Isles, displaying scenes from the Bible. It was set up on the island in dedication to the French saint, Martin of Tours, who was much venerated in the so-called Dark Ages, especially in Scotland, Wales and the far west of England, when St Columba (521-597) sailed over from Ireland to set up his celebrated monastery here on this Scottish island in 563 AD. The college quickly became a renowned centre of early monasticism and learning and, also a ‘Cradle of Celtic Christianity’. The Island can be reached by ferry firstly from Oban to Mull, and then a smaller ferry from Fiannphort, taking you across the narrow Sound of Iona, to the little village of Baile Mòr on the eastern side of the island.

Old Postcard: St Martin & St John’s High Crosses, Iona, Scotland.

St Martin’s High Cross on Iona stands over 14 feet high and, on its stepped base, well over 16 feet, and is made of red granite. It is very similar in sculptural design to some of the Irish high crosses, with its typical ring-head. One of its faces has scenes from the Bible, while the opposite face has Celtic-style decoration and bosses; but it is a beautifully and richly carved monument, which is thought to date from around 800 AD although some think it may actually date from the 6th Century – at which time it would have been set-up and dedicated to St Martin of Tours (320-401). So, we might ask: did St Columba have a hand in the setting up of the cross? There is a replica of the 8th or 10th Century St John’s Cross, the original is in the abbey museum (along with St Matthew’s Cross) and has a serpent with boss and spirals. St John the Evangelist was the apostle of Christ. There is also MacLean’s Cross though this is more recent, still, and dates from the 15th Century; it is named after a chief of the clan MacLean.

The Rough Guide (2000) tells us that: “Beside the road stands the most impressive of Iona’s Celtic high crosses, the eighth-century St Martin’s Cross, smothered with figural scenes – the Virgin and Child at the centre, Daniel in the lion’s den, Abraham sacrificing Isaac and David with musicians in the shaft below. The reverse side features Pictish serpent-and-boss decoration.”

The Canmore website tells us much more about St Martin’s Cross, saying: “This cross, whose name was recorded by Lhuyd in 1699, stands in a granite base…..21m W of the Abbey Church. It is carved from a single block of epidiorite, probably from the Argyll mainland, and is 4.3m in visible height by 1.19m in span. The diameter of the pierced ring is 1.09m and that of the armpits 0.24m. In the ends of the arms are vertical slots, open at the top, which may have housed ornamental panels rather than extensions for the arms. The angles bear roll-mouldings which on the W face extended below the lowest panel to flank an inscription, now indecipherable. The shaft of the E face bears three roundels of snake-and-boss ornament, a coarser variant of that in the same position on St John’s Cross. In the top of the shaft are seven interlaced bosses, each producing two snakes, and the largest of these is also one of the group of five high-relief bosses in the cross-head. That at the centre is set in a ring of nine small bosses linked by spirals, and in the side- arms each boss produces three snakes, while that in the top arm lies between two pairs of rampant leonine beasts. The E face of the ring bears knitted interlace.

Canmore also adds: “On the W face the lowest panels bears six bosses with intertwined serpents, followed by four rows of figure-scenes on an undivided field. (i) Two pairs of figures too simplified for indentication. (ii) A harper, seated with outstretched legs as on St Oran’s Cross and facing a kneeling man with a (?triple) pipe; a rectangle between them may represent a drum or a book symbolizing David’s authorship of the psalms. (iii) Abraham’s sacrifice, with a central figure holding a sword across one shoulder and grasping the hair of Isaac, whose arms are extended above a rectangular altar; the small winged figure of the angel stands at the left. (iv) The seated figure of Daniel between two rearing lions, with a lump which may be the head of another lion to the right. This theme may continue in the side-arms, where two passant leonine beasts flank a central roundel with the seated Virgin and Child between four small angels, the upper ones forming a canopy. The top arm bears three pairs of back-to-back leonine beasts with intertwined tails.” I Fisher 2001. See the Canmore website, below. The Canmore ID number is:- 21653. 

Derek Bryce (1989) says of St Martin’s Cross: “In Scotland, on the Isle of Iona, there is a cross known as St. Martin’s. Its front is decorated in a similar way to the Irish high crosses, with biblical scenes on the shaft, and the very centre of the cross has a representation of the Virgin and Child. The ornamentation on the back is, however, purely decorative. This cross stands on a square, stepped base.”

Joyce Miller (2000) adds some interesting info on Iona Abbey and St Columba: “Situated on the beautiful and peaceful island of Iona, this is where St Columba came to found a monastic community. He converted the Picts of mainland Scotland, ruled by Brude, to Christianity. Columba was born in Donegal in 521 and died in 597, and the Columba’s shrine, within the Abbey buildings, dates from the 9th century.

“The abbey was abandoned after raids by the Vikings but was re-established by Queen Margaret, wife of Malcolm Can-more, in the 11th century. Margaret is one of the few native saints still recognized by the present Roman Catholic church. The island was a major place of pilgrimage in medieval times, and there was a pilgrim’s route, marked by standing stones, across Mull.”

Miller goes on to say that: Two crosses – St Martin’s Cross and St John’s Cross – the latter a replica: the original is recon-structed and displayed in the Infirmary Museum – stand just outside the church. An extensive collection of sculptured stones and crosses, one of the largest collections of early Christian carved stones in Europe are held in the museum. The Black Stones of Iona were kept by St Martin’s Cross, and would reputedly turn black (or turn the oath-taker black) if somebody was lying when taking an oath. The last of the stones was apparently here until the end of 19th century, but has since gone.”

Sources and related websites:-

Bryce, Derek, Symbolism Of The Celtic Cross, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales, 1989.

Miller, Joyce, Myth and Magic — Scotland’s Ancient Beliefs & Sacred Places, Goblinshead, Musselburgh, Scotland.

The Rough Guide, Scotland, Rob Humphreys, Donald Reid & Paul Tarrant, Rough Guides Ltd., London, 2000.

*Wonders Of The World, (fwd: by Sir Philip Gibbs K. B. E.), Odhams Press Ltd., London, 1930.

https://canmore.org.uk/site/21653/iona-st-martins-cross

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/archives-and-research/publications/publication/?publicationid=e9970fde-2118-4aad-9fec-a58a00a5d049

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iona

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iona_Abbey

https://orthodoxwiki.org/Iona

http://www.colmcille.org/iona/7-01

http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/onlineex/earlyphotos/s/006sta10370cc35u00011000.html

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.


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Stump Cross, Near Mereclough, Lancashire

Stump Cross as seen from the opposite side of the Long Causeway.

OS Grid Reference: SD 8780 3003. At the side of the Long Causeway, near Mereclough, Lanca-shire, is a standing stone that is locally called ‘Stump Cross’. It is a very weather-beaten stump of a stone which has the name STUMP CROSS carved onto it and also an incised cross. The thinking is that it was originally a Bronze-Age standing stone that had stood on the moors, or it had came from a nearby stone circle? In more recent times, however, it seems to have been chopped down to its current height for it to become a marker stone or guide post, and then brought in to use as a wayside cross; there are other crosses close to the Long Causeway, which is a medieval trackway linking the towns of Burnley, Todmorden and Hebden Bridge. The stone is best reached from the A646 (Todmorden Road). Turn right up to Over Town and Mereclough; then turn right again at the pub and go up hill onto the Long Causeway. Stump Cross is about 1 mile along here at the left side of the road, just before Stone Jug Farm. There is a rough parking place at the opposite side of the road, but the road can be very busy – so please take great care if photographing the stone.

Stump Cross, near Mereclough, Lancashire.

Today ‘Stump Cross’ cuts a lonely figure standing bravely beside The Long Causeway, a wind-swept moorland route between Burnley, Heptonstall and Hebden Bridge, linking Lancashire with west Yorkshire. It is a very worn and weather-beaten stump of a stone but still of local historical interest as a guide post and wayside cross. The words ‘STUMP CROSS’ now quite difficult to make out at the bottom of the stone and the incised cross near the top even more difficult still. It has obviously suffered from being chopped off at the top but this has, in a way, made it into a more shapely little standing stone. And if it was originally a prehistoric standing stone did it come from the moors around here? Did it perhaps stand upon nearby Mosley Height and come from a Bronze Age stone circle there? Or did it come from somewhere else? The Long Causeway was a medieval trackway and, later a packhorse route, though it probably dates from further back into pre-history. There are, or were, several other wayside crosses along, or close to, the Causeway, three such being Robin Cross, Maiden Cross and Mount Cross. Other wayside crosses on or near the Long Causeway have now, sadly, been ‘Lost to Time’.

John Billingsley (2011) tells us that: “In the mediaeval period, the Long Causeway may have also been known, rather literally, as the High Street, and was known as a key conduit in local travel networks. It was then that it picked up its accoutrement of crosses along its length – from west to east, we know of the following named crosses on or near its route: Stump Cross, located on a rise where the road bends……..; Robin Cross (1968 6″, SD8809 2975) which gave its name to Robin Cross Hall and Farm; Maiden Cross, now no more than a scratched inscription on a wall-stone to one side of the wind-farm, 35-40 yards from the site of the original (1968 6″ SD8940 2878) which stood just off the road; Dukes Cross, at a point between Maiden Cross and Stiperden Cross (1968 6″ SD8973 2855), Stiperden Cross, at the junction of the old and new roads, where the new route swings round in a loop to keep to the contours and avoid the muddy direct route with its stream crossing (and Adam’s Well); and Mount Cross (also known as Idol Cross), some yards below the road on Cross Hill, opposite Mount Farm in Shore.”  

Billingsley (2011) refers in his notes to: “Newell, 1911, p174-182. Stump Cross is of course a description, not a name, and may refer to Robin Cross.”

Sources and related websites:-

Billingsley, John, Hood, Head and Hag, Northern Earth, Mytholmroyd, Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, 2011.

https://www.megalithic.co.uk/article.php?sid=4155

https://thejournalofantiquities.com/2012/05/08/mount-cross-cornholme-west-yorkshire/

Toggle down for Long Causeway:  http://www.calderdalecompanion.co.uk/l.html#l75

https://stevemoxon.co.uk/robin_hood_name_origin_myth_etymology/

© Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2019.