The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

Church of St Mael and St Sulien, Corwen, Denbighshire, Wales

Cross-Shaft in Corwen churchyard (Jeff Buck - Geograph)

Cross-Shaft in Corwen churchyard (Jeff Buck – Geograph)

OS grid reference SJ 0788 4341. Near the centre of the little town of Corwen, in the Dee Valley, beside Chapel street and London road (A5) – stands the parish church of St Mael and St Sulien, a building that dates back to the 12th-15th centuries, although there was an earlier, Norman church on this site as far back as the 12th century and, probably even further back to the 6th century AD. The church houses a small collection of antiquities that are well worth viewing. In the porch there is a strange-shaped stone in the wall that could pre-date the church, and above the priest’s door a flat stone bearing an incised cross; also an ancient font and medieval tomb. Out in the churchyard a Celtic cross-shaft stands upon a pre-historic stone base that has what are ‘considered to be’ cup-markings. The town of Llangollen is 11 miles to the east on the A5, while the historic town of Ruthin lies some 10 miles to the north along the winding A494 road.

The first church, whether that be in the 6th century or the 11th century, according to legend, it was built where a large and ancient pointed stone stood – as it could not be built eleswhere because a “voice” from a higher place (not of this world) had warned against it. At some stage this large pointed stone 6 feet in length was incorporated into the wall of the north porch, but it is difficult to see it today as the porch has been plastered over. Local people called it the ‘Thumb Stone’ or ‘Pointed Stone’. It could well pre-date the church and be pre-historic in date. It is also known in Welsh as ‘Carreg y big yn y fach rhewllyd’ or “the pointed stone in the icy corner.” On the outer south wall of the church, above the priest’s door, a large flat stone lintel has an incised Celtic-style consecration cross carved onto it, possibly dating from the early Christian period. Local people believed that this mark was actually the impression made by Owain Glyndwr’s dagger when he hurled it at the church in a fit of rage from Pen-y-Pigyn hill overlooking the town; and ever since it has been referred to as ‘Glyndwr’s Dagger Stone’. Glyndwr (1349-c.1445) led the Welsh in a revolt against King Henry IV. A few others have suggested the dagger or spear was thrown by Owain, King of Gwynedd, from Caer Drewyn in the 12th century? Also in the church a Norman font of circa 1100, a dug-out wooden chest and a beautifully carved 14th century memorial tomb to Iorweth Sulien, a prevoius rector of the church.

In the round-shaped churchyard near the porch stands a slender Celtic preaching cross-shaft, dating from between the 9th to 12th centuries, which sadly, has a broken head. It is made of granite and is 7 foot (2.2) metres high. There is interlacing on the broken cross-head (capital) and some other decoration on the shaft, including a small incised Latin cross. The cross stands on a large, circular (octagonal) base-stone that is 5 foot 3 inches in diameter and 1 foot in depth; this stone is ‘thought’ to date back to the Bronze-Age and has what are considered to be 7 depressions or cup-marks (is this the only cup-marked stone in Wales), quite possibly, and could it have come from a pre-historic burial site that once stood in the churchyard or close by? where there was originally an alignment of stones.

The dedicatees of the church St Mael and St Sulien were, according to the Legend, Christian missionaries who came to Wales from Brittany in 516 AD along with St Cadfan, St Padarn, St Cynllo and St Tydecho. However, it is quite plausable St Mael never existed at all because Corwen church now adopts St Michael the Archangel as it’s second patron, in a way dropping St Mael, although the name is very similar. But St Sulien is remembered in north Wales – indeed he was the cousin of St David. Sulien or Silian went on to establish a number of churches in northern Wales, including Llansilin and Llandyssil in Powys and Capel-St-Silin in Cardiganshire, but over time he has become confused with another saint called Tysilio. In later life we are told: Sulien settled at Luxulyan in Cornwall but returned to Brittany and died there. He has a feastday on the 13th May. At Tyn Llan near Llansilin, Powys, there is a holy well named for him (Ffynnon Silin) and there is a St Sulien’s holy well (Ffynnon Sulien) near Rug Chapel – west of Corwen on the A494 road.


Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

Gregory, Donald., Country Churchyards In Wales, Gwasg Carreg Gwalch, Capel Garmon, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, 1991.

Jones, Francis., The Holy Wells Of Wales., University of Wales Press, Cardiff, 1992.

Spencer, Ray., Historic Places In Wales – An Exploration of the Fascinating and Mysterious (unpublished manuscript), Nelson, Lancashire, 1991.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Publishers, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, 1991.

Bakewell Churchyard Crosses, Bakewell, Derbyshire

Bakewell Cross, in the churchyard of Bakewell ...

Bakewell Cross,  (Photo credit: JeremyA Wikimedia)

OS grid reference SK 2156 6848. In All Saints’ churchyard on Church Lane, near the centre of Bakewell, Derbyshire, stand two rather weather-beaten Anglo-Saxon, Mercian-style crosses known collectively as Bakewell Churchyard Crosses. The tallest of the crosses has lost its head, rather sadly, while the smaller cross known as ‘Beeley Cross’ is what you might call ‘a stumpy shaft’, although it has the best surviving carved decoration of the two. Inside the porch there is a large collection of Anglo-Saxon and Norman stones and, in the church itself another collection of ancient stones known as ‘The Bateman Collection’. The town of Bakewell in the centre of the Peak District National Park is on the A6 Derby to Manchester road, and Matlock is some 8 miles to the south-west on the A6, whilst Buxton lies 9 miles to the west on the very same road.

Near the east wall of the parish church, beside the outer wall of the Vernon Chapel, stands the best-known of the two crosses here; however it’s carvings are now quite warn and most of the head is missing and because of this it is only around 8 feet high now. It is said to date from the 7th to 9th centuries AD and is very similar to the Eyam Cross in Derbyshire, although that particular cross retains it’s head! The cross was almost certainly carved here at Bakewell as there was apparently a thriving stone-carving operation going on, supplying the northern part of the ‘Kingdom of Mercia’ – that’s why there are so many carved crosses and stones in this ‘one’ place. The cross originally stood at a cross roads just south of Hassop village about 1 mile north of Bakewell. On the east face three large vine-scrolls with grapes in their centres and vine leafs in the spaces around the scrolls; at the bottom a cross in a circle and at the top, below the damaged head, a creature holding something in it’s paw and it’s long tail curled around it’s back, while above that a horse is trampling on a human figure? The west face has four arched panels showing the Annunciation, a figure holding a cross, another figure holding a horn and a figure that is now worn away. These figures might be Odin and Loki from pagan Norse mythology. On the north and south faces scrolls turning in opposite directions. The north face also has a crucifixion scene with soldiers on either side, one with a spear and the other holding a sponge. The cross-base is a large, unhewn lump of stone but probably not as old as the cross?

The carvings on the smaller 10th century cross known as ‘Beeley Cross’, which is 5 feet 4 inches high, are better preserved. This cross was dug up in a field at Holt House 1 mile north of Darley Dale or, alternately it was dug up from beside the Chatsworth to Alfreton road (B6012) near Screetham farm at Beeley during the 19th century and, later brought to All Saints’ churchyard, Bakewell. Carved onto this cross there are circles (spheres) linked-together (top and bottom) on all it’s four faces, varying in size, with slightly smaller spheres inside and crosses or wheel-like patterns (banding) across these or, according to Neville T.Sharpe in his excellent book ‘Crosses of the Peak District‘ “interlaced carving with the interstices filled with small hemespheres” – reminicent apparently to the Saxon cross at Hope church, Derbyshire. There is other decoration too including groups of dots in circles. The cross-base is perhaps of a late medieval date and stands at 2 foot high and 2 foot 7 inches wide with nicely chamfered corners.

In the south porch (now the main entrance) there is an amazing collection of upto 40 Anglo-Saxon stones, some quite large, piled one on top of the other; there are cross-fragments, pieces of grave-covers, of all shapes and sizes, as well as some grotesque ‘Celtic’ stone heads that may in fact be medieval, while on the opposite side there are carved Norman stones. At the rear of the church another pile of ancient stones known as The Bateman Collection, named after Thomas Bateman (1821-61) the English antiquarian and archaeologist who collected them together in 1842. Among this collection are a number of cross-shaft pieces. These were restored to the church in 1899 after residing in the Weston Park Museum at Sheffield. The 14th century font is carved with various figures and the rood-screen dates from the 15th century. Standing against the outside wall a collection of medieval coffins, shaped to fit the bodies that were in them! All Saints’ is a partly Norman and Early English church, but they was undoubtedly a Saxon church of the 7th century here before the present-day building, perhaps even a Romano-British settlement?


Sharpe, Neville T., Crosses Of The Peak District, Landmark Publishing Limited, Asbourne, Derbyshire, 2002.

Clarke, David., Ghosts & Legends of the Peak District, Jarrold Publishing, Norwich, 1991.

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

Pickford, Doug., Earth Mysteries of the Three Shires, Churnet Valley Books, Leek, Staffordshire, 1996.

St Maelog’s Cross, Llowes, Powys

St Maelog's Cross, Llowes

St Maelog’s Cross, Llowes

OS grid reference SO 1923 4172. St Maelog’s Cross can be found inside the parish church of St Maelog in the village of Llowes just off the A438, some 2 miles west of Hay on Wye, Powys. The cross-slab was probably carved in the early Christian period, although the stone itself is said to be of a prehistoric date. It originally stood at Croes Faelog in the Begwn hills to the north-west of Llowes, but in the 12th century it was erected in the churchyard; then in 1956 the monument was placed, for safety reasons, inside the church. The village takes it’s name from a St Llywes who may have had a hermitage here, but when St Maelog arrived from ‘the north’ he allowed him to settle in this place (Llowes) and build a small monastery or a church? More likely his monastery originally stood at Croes Faelog.

The cross-slab is said to weigh a massive 3 tonnes, stand to a height of 7 feet, is 3 feet in width, and to date probably from the 6th or 7th century AD. On the front face there is a well-defined and quite impressive carved Celtic cross that stands out
in high relief from the surface. It is a fairly simple style of cross made up of small and large diamond-shapes inside squares with strong borders running from top to bottom, forming a wheel-type cross at the top. However, the carved cross on the opposite side was added in the 11th century and is quite crude, compared to the front side, and not that special. The slab is thought to be a prehistoric standing stone; the cross being carved onto it to Christianise the pagan stone by Celtic missionaries who came to the area in the so called Dark-Ages after the Roman withdrawal from Wales sometime between the 5th and 7th centuries AD. The church was largerly rebuilt in the mid 19th century and the only antiquity from the earlier, medieval church is the font which may be 12th century?

St Maelog, Meulog or Meilig was a native of Clydeside in Scotland who became a soldier in the 6th century but decided to abandon that life, for a Christian one. He was of the family of Caw Cawlwyd, a chieftain of noble descent. His brothers were said to be St Caffo and St Gildas the Historian. It seems he first settled on the Isle of Anglesey (c 510) where he became a follower of St Cybi; there is a church dedication for him at Llanfaelog, Anglesey. Later, after an education under St Cadoc at the monastic college of Llancarvan, south Glamorgan, he became a Christian missionary at Llowes (c 540) and evangelized around the area as far as the Begwns. Maelog is also known to have visited Ireland where he goes under the name St Malloc, and to have died in Brittany about c 590 AD.

Celtic Cross, Llowes.

Celtic Cross, Llowes.

A well-known local and rather fanciful legend says that a 12th century giantess called Moll or Malwalbee (Maude de St Valerie) of Hay Castle got the stone, or pebble in her case, caught in her apron while at at Glasbury and, because it started to annoy her she decided to throw it across the River Wye from her castle at Hay to where Llowes church now stands; the pebble was, in fact, St Maelog’s Cross! In the book ‘The Story of Brecknock’ by Wendy Hughes we are told that: “she re-built Hay Castle in a night carrying stones in her apron”. Maude was actually the wife of William de Braose, Lord of Hay Castle. The slab has come to be referred to in legend as ‘Malwalbee’s Stone’. There is said to be a stone effigy of Moll in St Mary’s church, Hay on Wye. Maude’s husband, William de Braose, also held Abergavenny Castle 18 miles to the south. By all accounts he was not a nice person and was known as “the Ogre of Abergavenny” according to Wendy Hughe’s book. William de Braose murdered the Welsh chieftain, Sitsylt ap Dyfnwal of Castell Arnallt, near Clytha on Christmas Day in 1176 during a banquet held at the lord’s castle in Abergavenny. The relatives of Sitsylt later destroyed Abergavenny Castle (c 1182) while de Braose was away but they were unable to find the murderer. His noteriety caught up with him eventually, and de Braose died a pennyless beggar in France, 1211.


Hughes, Wendy., The Story of Brecknock, Garreg Gwalch, Llanrwst, Gwynedd, Wales, 1995.

Barber, Chris., More Mysterious Wales, Paladin (Grafton Books), London, 1987.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints Of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Enterprises, Felinfach, Lampeter, Wales, 1991.

Palmer, Roy., The Folklore of (old) Monmouthshire, Logaston Press, Little Logaston Woonton Almeley, Herefordshire, 1998.

With thanks also to The Megalithic Portal

Clonmacnois Monastic Site, County Offaly, Southern Ireland

Clonmacnois Cathedral (photo credit: JohnArmagh - Wikipedia).

Clonmacnois Cathedral (photo credit: JohnArmagh – Wikipedia).

Irish grid reference N0099 3066. The monastic site of Clonmacnois or (Cluain Mhic Nois) meaning ‘the fields of the hogs of Nos’, stands within a walled monastic enclosure beside the banks of the River Shannon near Shannonbridge, Co. Offaly, Southern Ireland. It dates from 545 AD when St Ciaran (Kieran) 512-545, son of a chariot-maker from Rathcrogan, Co. Roscommon (Connaught), founded a great monastic establishment here, surrounded on the landward side by boggy land. There are three 9th century crosses, two round towers (one of which is still intact), upto 200 grave-slabs from the 8th-12th centuries, the ruins of eight roofless churches and also St Ciaran’s Cathedral, and many other interesting antiquities. Clonmacnois was once referred to as ‘a monastic city’ that originally had 105 monastic buildings, before the Vikings and, later the Normans came here in 1179 and, very sadly, destroyed many of them. In 1552-3 the site and it’s remaining buildings were badly damaged by the terrible atrocities following the Dissolution of the Monasteries, ’caused by’ the “English”. Clonmacnois lies just north of the R444 ‘Back Road’ between Moate and Shannonbridge, while the town of Athlone is 4 miles to the north on the M6/R446 roads.

Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnois.

Cross of the Scriptures.

Perhaps one of the finest and best preserved of the the high crosses (now partially restored) is that called ‘The Cross of the Scriptures’ (the Western Cross), dating from the early 9th century AD, near the west door of the cathedral. It stands at 4 metres (13) feet high and is made of sandstone; the front face shows scenes from the Life of Christ and other biblical scenes. The bottom panel (front) shows King Dermaid, son of Fergus, or of Aed? of the southern Ui Neill clan, helping St Ciaran the disciple of St Finnian of Clonard to build the first section of his monastery in AD 545 – with what could be a tree in between them? At the base of the cross there are scenes showing horses pulling a cart and, warriors riding on horses. An inscription recalls ‘a prayer for Colman who made this cross for King Flan’. The other two 9th century scultured high crosses – ‘the North Cross’ is badly damaged and the South Cross beside Temple Dowling is also quite damaged, but both still very rich in Celtic-style carvings.


One of the two round-towers stands to it’s original height of 17 metres and was used as a bell-tower for Temple Finghin (or St Finghin’s church), while the other, O’Rourke’s Tower, is damaged at the top, but is still some 20 metres high. Of the remaining churches The Nuns’ Church is perhaps the best. This dates from 1167 and is Irish-Romanesque in style; the carved chancel arch has beautiful geometric design-work; also the ruined St Ciaran’s Cathedral, which replaced an earlier 9th century cathedral, probably dates from the 13th or maybe 14th century, and has some beautiful carved figures of saints above the north doorway; the west doorway dates from 1200. The collection of 200 grave-stones inscribed with crosses and inscriptions in prayer-form are now housed in the visitor centre at the site, and there are another 500 smaller stones, some very fragmented. One stone, in particular, is round-shaped with a hole in the centre and a large incised-lettered inscription to the memory of SECHNASACH, an abbot who died in 928 AD; and another grave-slab with an elaborate Latin cross has an inscription in prayer-format to the memory of MAELFINNIA, an abbot of Clonmacnois who died in 921 AD. These stones would have marked the graves of former abbots of the 7th-9th centuries AD and, also a number of high kings of Mide, Brefni, Tara and Connacht. There are also three richly carved cross-shafts with Celtic ornamentation, but they are without their cross-heads.


Cross of the Scriptures (panel), Clonmacnois.

Cross of the Scriptures (bottom panel)

St Ciaran, however, only lived for another seven months after the foundation of his monastery, dying at the age of thirty-three in 545 AD, or possibly 549 AD of yellow fever, according to some historians in the field of Irish monasticism. But undoubtedly this is one of Ireland’s “greatest monastic centres”, with much still remaining from the Early Christian period, although many of it’s monastic buildings are now in a somewhat ruinous state. Clonmacnois was regarded as ‘A Cradle of Celtic Christianity’ for 600 years. A hoard of Hiberno-Norse coins, dating from the late 11th century, was dug up close to the site in 1979 by a group of school children, and a number of other monastic antiquities including implements, bones and an ornamental twisted gold rod and copper-alloy ring, thought to be Hiberno-Norse. To the west of the monastic site and just north of St Ciaran’s National School, are the earthworks and walls of a Norman castle. The famous Clonmacnois crozier is now displayed in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street, Dublin.


King, Heather.A (Editor)., Clonmacnois Studies Vol 1 Seminar Papers 1994, Duchas The Heritage Service, Dublin, 1998.

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

Reader’s Digest., Illustrated Guide To Ireland, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Mysterious Britain, Paladin (Granada Publishing), London, 1984

With thanks also to ‘The Megalithic Portal’

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St Orland’s Stone, Cossans, Angus, Scotland

English: St Orlands Stone. Details of the symb...

(Photo: Wallace Shackleton Wikipedia)

OS grid ref: NO 4008 5002. Roughly half-way between Kirriemuir and Forfar in a farmer’s field near the ruined Cossans farm stands the 8th century Pictish symbol stone known as St Orland’s Stone, but also called Cossans Stone and Glamis Manse No 3. Now fenced off the stone looks rather forlorn on the borderline of two fields, but originally a chapel stood on this site that was associated with the un-known Pictish saint called Orland, and also a number of cist-type graves from the Dark Ages or earlier were excavated here in 1855. The stone may have marked the burial place of St Orland himself? Originally the stone and chapel would have stood on a raised area of land surrounded by marshland. Today the stone is more or less in the middle of nowhere!

There are a number of footpaths and tracks heading off from the A928 and A926 roads towards the stone, but by following the path of the disused railway line from the A928 for just over a mile to the hamlet of Cossans is just as good because you can see the monument in the field to the east. Glamis is 2 miles to the south-west, whilst the town of Forfar is 4½ miles to the east along the A94.

The red sandstone slab is a Pictish Class II monument and stands to a height of 7 feet 10 inches high by 2 foot 4 inches wide, but it has had to be clamped around it’s edges by iron bars that look rather unsightly, though if that’s what it takes rather than the monument collapsing, so be it, because there are some large cracks and a small hole in the stone at the edge. It is sculptured on both sides with some extraordinary Early Christian carvings and Pictish symbols, dating probably from about the 8th century AD. The stone slab is one of four Pictish antiquities that make up the Glamis Manse collection; two others (Nos 1 & 2) being within half a mile of Glamis village, the other stone (No 4) being in the Meffan Institute at Forfar.

The front face has a well-sculptured ringed-cross (in high relief) that runs from top to bottom with faint interlacing (in low relief) formed by spirals and other strange pattern-work in and around the cross, while the reverse side has a hunting scene with men riding on horses, six men in a boat, other human figures, two hounds, serpents, and two animals (bulls) attacking each other at the bottom. In the boat at the far right is what could be Christ with his four evangelists Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. The two serpents with fish-like tails take up much of the reverse side – their jaws holding what could be a human head? Also, the well-known Pictish symbols of crescent and V-rod and double disc and Z-rod.


Sutherland, Elizabeth., The Pictish Guide, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh, 1997.

Childe, Gordon, V., Ancient Monuments Vol VI SCOTLAND Illustrated Guide, H.M.S.O., Edinburgh, 1959.



St Materiana’s Church, Tintagel, Cornwall

Roman Milestone, Tintagel, Cornwall

Roman Milestone, Tintagel, Cornwall

OS grid reference SX 0506 8845. On Vicarage Hill Lane at Glebe Cliffe close to the seashore and just to the west of the famous Arthurian village of Tintagel, north Cornwall, stands St Materiana’s church, also called Mertheriana’s, an ancient religious foundation that is now the parish church. At the west end of the south transept there is a Roman milestone commemorating the Emperor Licinius which dates from the 4th century AD. The inscription on the stone reads IMPCG VAL LICIN (the Emperor). This would be Caesar Galerius Valerius Licinianus (308-24 AD). This milepost was originally built into the church lychgate (Lower Church Stile) where it had been used as a coffin rest! but in 1888 it was brought inside the church for safety. Another Roman milestone was found at nearby Trethevy village. This has a Latin inscription: IMP C DOMIN GALLO ET VOLUSIANO honouring Gallus* and Volusianus (AD 251-253). *The Roman emperor Gallus ruled together with his son Volusianus.

Also housed inside the church at the west end of the nave is a very fine Norman font bowl which is said to have come from St Julitta’s Chapel in the grounds of Tintagel Castle. The church dates from about 1080 AD and was built on the site of a Saxon or Dark-Age settlement. Much of it’s wonderful carved stonework is from the Norman and medieval periods, especially the north doorway (1080) and the south doorway (1130). The building was restored in the 1870s by J.P.St Aubyn.

St Materiana (Madryn or Madrun) was a 5th century princess from the south-east of Wales who came to live in the area as a nun with some female companions. She founded the first church and, possibly a monastery, at Minster (Talkarn) near Boscastle (SX 1105 9046) some 5 miles to the east of Tintagel. She was eventually buried at Minster with her feast-day on 9th April. Her tomb existed in the ‘mother church’ of Boscastle (which is also dedicated to her) in Minster Woods about half a mile east of that village, in the Valency Valley, up until the Reformation.

According to the ‘Legend’, Materiana was the daughter of Vortimer the son of the British King Vortigern (of Wales), and later she married Ynyr, King of Gwent. However, she decided to lead a religious life and with her companions Marcelliana and Uliet (Juliot or Julitta) sailed to north Cornwall where they set about their mission to covert the local people to Christianity. St Uliet (Juliot) founded a small monastery on the eastern promontory of Tintagel Head, opposite Tintagel Castle, circa 500 AD, which was excavated by archaeologists in the 1930s. There is a church dedication to St Uliet at Llanilid in Mid Glamorgan, south Wales, where she is described as being one of the many daughters of King Brychan of Brecknock (Brecon) whose second wife was called Marcella – maybe St Marcelliana? St Materiana’s holy well can still be seen in Minster churchyard.

Aelnet's Cross, Tintagel, Cornwall

Aelnet’s Cross, Tintagel, Cornwall

Back in the village of Tintagel itself and in the grounds of the former Wharncliffe Arms Hotel (now new flats) on Fore Street stands a 5th-6th century Celtic cross. Although the cross dates from that time the carvings and an inscription are thought to have been carved in the 10th or 11th century? Originally the cross, which is just over 4 feet high, stood at nearby Trevillet where it had been used as a farm gatepost and has therefore suffered some damage.

It has wheel-head crosses on both faces and also Latin inscriptions. On the front face there is the inscription: AELNET FECIT HAN CRUCEM PRO ANIMA SUA or ‘Aelnet made this cross for the sake of his soul’. On the opposite face the names of the four Evangelists MATHEUS, MARCUS, LUCAS AND JOHANES with their beaded faces being carved into the angles of the expanded cross-arms.


Pevsner, N & Radcliffe, E., The Buildings Of England, Cornwall, Penguin Books, 2nd edition, 1970.

Spencer, Ray., A Guide to the Saints of Wales and the West Country, Llanerch Publishing, Felinfach, Lampeter, Dyfed, Wales, 1991.

Ashe, Geoffrey., The Quest for Arthur’s Britain, Paladin Books, St Albans, Herts, 1971.


The Ruthwell Cross, Dumfries And Galloway, Scotland

OS grid reference NY 1006 6821. About ½ a mile to the north of Ruthwell village in the Scottish borders, near Annan, is Ruthwell parish church and housed within is The Ruthwell Cross, a quite spectacular Anglo-Saxon (Northumbrian) cross dating from the late 7th to early 8th century, and which also has Norse carvings, some Germanic influence and a runic inscription. It is considered by historians to be one of the most important of the early Christian, Dark-Age crosses in Europe. The church stands beside the country lane to Newfield, close by Aiket farm, a short distance to the east of the B724 Annan road. Dumfries is 6 miles to the north-west.

The cross stands in the church apse that had to be specially built to accomodate the monument that is 18 feet (5.3 metres) in height; the base of the shaft being set below the level of the floor. Originally it stood outside in the churchyard where in 1642 it was toppled and broke up by the Scottish Church authorities, but in 1800 a local clergyman, Reverend Duncan, realising it’s importance decided to assemble the pieces of cross-shaft which was finally placed inside the church for safety in 1823. A large part of the cross-head was missing and badly damaged, especially the arms, and so it had to be entirely rebuilt with what fragments were available, but I must say a fairly good job has been done. The rest of the tall cross-shaft had also been broken in several places and has had to be rebuilt with the original sections set into their proper places and, once again a brilliant job has been done.

The Ruthwell Cross

The Ruthwell Cross (front)

The north face (front) of the cross-shaft has some pretty astounding carvings. Christ is shown in magesty (glory) standing upon the heads of two beasts, a sign of his triumph over evil; also Christ’s crucifixion, St John the Evangelist with his eagle, St Matthew, St John the Baptist holding the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) with a cruciform numbus around it’s head and a cross in it’s front foot; also a vexillum – a cross-inscibed banner. Around the front edges there are 18 of the earliest ‘extant’ Northumbrian dialect verses from the epic English poem ‘The Dream of The Rood’ that is in both runic and Latin. In the 7th century the Scottish borders came under the control of the Northumbrian kingdom of Deira. On the opposite (south) face St Mary Magdalene tenderly washes (annoints) the feet of Christ. On the west face another runic inscription along with some beautifully carved and very delicate interlinking vinescrolls, incorporating many strange looking creatures; the east face also has interlinking vinescrolls. Other figures on the south face include two figures embracing, often thought to be Mary and Martha, an archer, the Virgin Mary and baby Jesus on a donkey. Other carvings on the cross include various strange animals and human figures, two of which could be St Paul & St Anthony breaking bread?

Ruthwell Cross (front)

This truely is a masterpiece of Early English Anglo-Saxon craftsmanship with Scandinavian and, possibly Germanic influence, that can only be equalled by a few of the Celtic high crosses in Ireland. When the Ruthwell Cross was first set up it would have been painted in some quite vivid colours – what a sight it must have been for the early Christians of northern Britain. There is some uncertainty about the age of the cross, but it was probably carved somewhere between 660-700 AD?



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Humphrey, Rob; Reid, Donald & Tarrant, Paul., Scotland – The Rough Guide (4th Edition), The Rough Guides Ltd., London, 2000.

Bottomley, Frank., The Church Explorer’s Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1978.