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?



Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries Of Britain, Diamond Books (Harper Collins Publishers Ltd)., 1994.

Breeze, David, J., Historic Scotland, Batsford Ltd., London, 1998.

The Automobile Association, Illustrated Road Book Of Scotland, 1963.

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.


The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

The Gosforth Cross, Cumbria

OS grid reference: NY 0720 0360. At the north side of Gosforth village on Wasdale Road, Cumbria, stands the ancient parish church of St Mary and, in  the churchyard the equally ancient and famous Gosforth Cross. The monument is a very tall, slender Anglo-Norse (Scandi-navian) high-cross made from red sandstone, dating from the 10th century. It is richly decorated with some very exquisite carvings of Norse gods, Christian symbolism and mythical beasts. The ancient church houses two hog-back tombstones and another carved stone. Whitehaven on the Cumbrian coast is 12 miles to the north-west and the A595 is three-quarters of a mile to the west of Gosforth village. Seascale the attractive holiday town is 2 miles to the south on the B5344.

The Gosforth Cross stands at 4.4 metres (14 feet 5 inches) high and is very well-preserved for its age, which is probably 950-1000 AD, the late Anglo-Saxon age. It’s slender shaft tapers away towards the ornate, four-holed cross-head that is also in a relatively good state of preservation. Three-quarters of the cross-shaft N, W, E and S faces are richly ornamented with scenes (in panels) bordered by roll-moulding showing Norse gods like Thor, Odin, Loki, Mimir and Heimdallr, all of whom figure strongly in the famous Norse poems of Edda, but there are also Christian figures too like Christ crucified and symbolism from the early Christian period.

English: Gosforth Cross outside St. Mary's chu...

Gosforth Cross(Photo credit: English Lakes – Wikipedia)

Thor is depicted fishing for the Midgard serpent Jormungandr, Heimdallr is holding his customary horn, Loki appears chained and bound with his protective wife, Sigya below him, and Vioarr is attempting to open the fearsome jaws of Fenrir. Christ appears crucified and also in majesty, a sign of his victory over the pagan gods. There are many strange mythical beasts’ heads that are joined together with interlacing, including a dragon (Surt) and numerous serpents, and also animals such as wolves and deer.

A number of human figures also appear, one is holding a spear, while another has his arms and legs chained with a knot-work cord around his neck in the form of a snake; also a female figure holding a bowl. Horsemen are also quite prevelent with spears. The lower rounded section of the shaft has much plainer chevron-style pattern-work representing the tree of Yggdrasil, while below that the bottom of the shaft is largerly devoid of carving. The significance and symbolism of the carvings were first identified by Mr Charles Parker, the antiquarian, in 1886, who later wrote about his findings in a book.

Inside the church of St Mary, a Norman foundation on a Saxon site, there are two carved hog-back tombs (shaped like houses) from the Viking Age, one of which shows Thor once again fishing for the Midgard Serpent, as well as battle scenes and other carvings. Another Anglo-Norse stone in the north aisle called the Fishing Stone, may be part of a cross-shaft or part of a Anglo-Norse frieze? This depicts a deer trampling on the fearsome serpent Jormungandr and dates from the 10th century AD.


Parker, Charles., Ancient Cross of Gosforth in Cumberland, Elliot Stock, 1896.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books (Harper Collins), 1991.

Maxwell, Fraser., Companion Into Lakeland, Methuen, London, 1939.


The Whalley Crosses, Lancashire

OS grid reference SD 7323 3616. In the churchyard of St Mary & All Saints parish church, off King Street, Whalley, in the Ribble Valley are three late Anglo-Saxon sandstone crosses, one in particular is richly carved, but the other two are now showing signs of erosion and, even damage. They all date from the 10th-11th centuries and are often referred to as being Anglian, though two of the crosses display what is probably Norse influence. The three crosses are often thought to be associated with St Paulinus who came to Whalley in the 7th century AD and used them as preaching crosses, but this is thought unlikely. He may, however, have established the first wooden church here on this very site, though the present-day church is largerly a medieval structure, dating from the beginning of the 13th century.

It is well-worth having a look inside the church because there is, amongst it’s many treasures, a Roman altar with a carving of the god Mars, a grave-stone ‘supposedly’ belonging to John Paslew the last abbot of Whalley abbey who was executed at Lancaster in 1537 for taking part in the Pilgrimage of Grace, and also the tombstone of Peter de Cestria, the only rector of Whalley (1235-96). There is an inscribed Roman stone set into the inner archway over the north doorway that has an inscription: FLAVIUS VOT OMPOSU and is probably from the late 3rd century AD. The yellow gritstone font is 15th century. Outside the church adjacent to the south porch there are two hollowed-out stone coffins from the 13th century and near those a large stone block that may be the base of a Roman pillar. The churchyard sundial on a stepped base bears an inscription: LAT 53 40 AD 1757 and another date 1737 – the dial was purchased in 1738.

The three crosses are as follows:-

Whalley Cross No I

Whalley Cross No I

Cross No I (The Western Cross) is decribed as a panelled cross and is just under 3 metres high (9 foot 6 inches). This cross dates from the late 10th to early 11th century and is the earliest of the three. It may have replaced an earlier wooden, painted cross. It displays a strong Anglo-Norse influence in it’s carvings, although now rather worn. There are six panels on the east face – the third middle panel shows a saint in prayer with up-raised hands, or it may be Christ, standing between serpents; another panel has a pelican and another shows the symbol of eternity ‘The Dog of Berser’ the Christianised Scandinavian emblem representing the creator. In the top panel there is a dove representing the Holy Spirit. And there is also the usual interlacing and pattern-work. The head of the cross, now badly damaged, seems not to be the original though it looks about right for this particular cross; it may, however, have been the cross-head for Whalley cross no III? The base of this cross is now set beneath the ground perhaps to stop the lean!

Whalley Cross No II

Whalley Cross No II

Cross No II (Near the porch) is by far the best preserved of the three at 2.2 metres high (7 foot 2 inches) and dating from the late 10th to early 11th century. This sandstone cross stands on a large base-stone that is more recent in date. Part of the shaft is apparently missing at the top and the cross-head is badly mutilated although it’s central, carved boss is still quite prominent. The shaft is richly decorated with what is said to be ‘The Tree of Life’ or ‘The Tree of Calvary’ with vine branches going off in both directions and ending in S-shaped scrolls, and there is more scroll-working and zig-zag patterning on both faces and the edges. It’s base-stone also has zig-zag decoration on it’s upper surface. This is undoubtedly a very nice cross to look at and good to photograph when the sunlight is in the right place!

Whalley Cross No III

Whalley Cross No III

Cross No III (the Eastern Cross) is 2.1 metres high (6 foot 10 inches) and stands in a large oblong base-stone that has two other square-shaped socket holes. Were there originally three crosses similar to a calvary here? The cross is now heavily eroded but traces of Anglo-Saxon carving can still be seen (with a keen eye) on the front (west) face, whereas the opposite face is worn away and showing some damage. The cross-head is not the original – this one being a 14th century Gothic head. Fragments of the original cross-head can be seen in the interior walls of St Mary’s church. The shaft has two figures with haloes stood together half-way up with scroll-work and interlacing above and below all in a pelleted edged-border that show signs of Norse origins. The Gothic head is very ornate and has the letters I.H.S in the centre and a crucifix on the opposite side.


Dixon, John & Phillip,  Journeys Through Brigantia (Volume Nine) The Ribble Valley, Aussteiger Publications, Barnoldswick, 1993.

Snape, H.C. Rev., The Parish Church Of Saint Mary All Saints Whalley Lancashire England, Church Guidebook (6th Edition), 1978.

Fell, Jimmy,  Window on Whalley, Countryside Publications Limited, Brinscall, Chorley, Lancashire, 1979.


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St Matthew’s Churchyard Cross, Rastrick, West Yorkshire

Rastrick churchyard cross of (Wikipedia).

The Rastrick church-yard cross, drawing by Joseph Horsfall Turner, 1893 (Wikipedia)

    OS grid reference: SE 1383 2160. The cross-base stands near the entrance to St Matthew’s Church in the village of Rastrick, near Brighouse, West Yorkshire. It can be reached via the A643 Crowtrees Lane and Church Street at the south-western edge of the village; the church is an imposing building with a nice rotunda-like roof. The cross-base is located just inside the walled-churchyard enclosure, near the main entrance, and so can’t really be missed.

    This three and a half foot-high (1.06metre) cross-base is said to be Anglo-Saxon and probably dates from the 10th-11th century AD. It is all that now remains of a once proud Saxon high cross the shaft with its decorated cross-head would have stood inside the large, round socketed hole which measures 30cm by 25cm by about 15cm in depth. The rest of the cross has long since disapeared. The base-stone is of dressed gritstone which tapers away about three-quarters of the way up (75cm or 29′); the bottom of the base being square (52cms or 20′).
    There is a single line of roll-moulding running around the socket base and all four corners, one being edged with cable moulding. Some faint roll-moulding also runs around the top edge, just 5cm beneath the rim which, may also have faint traces of knotworking. Each of the faces of the base show more faint lines of roll-moulding from panels that have carved decoration. The south face has what is probably ‘The Tree of Life’ which comprises of scroll-like branches (interlacing) coming out in a sideways direction from the central stem. This type of decoration is repeated (but much eroded) on the west face, which was originally considered to be empty of any carvings. On the north face the panel is divided by a straight-rib flanked by interlacing – this too is probably a representation of ‘The Tree of Life’.
    It seems that the cross-base stands in it’s original position on or near to a Roman road that traversed the village – the cross would have no doubt marked what was originally an ecclesiastical boundary, or perhaps it was a graveyard marker for a Saxon cemetary. The cross-base is now a scheduled ancient monument listed as No 23376.  It is also grade II listed.
Register of Ancient Monuments Calderdale Council / environment / conservation and ancient monuments.
The Northern Antiquarian – Ancient Crosses.


St Illtyd’s Church, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan, Wales.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

St Illtud’s, Llantwit Major, South Glamorgan (Photo credit: John Salmon Wikipedia)

OS grid reference SS 6990 9580. The Norman parish church of St Illtyd (Illtud) is located on Church Lane at the western-side of the town of Llantwit Major or, in Welsh, Llanilltud Fawr, in the Vale of Glamorgan. This large three-sectioned Norman church, one of the oldest in Wales, houses three very interesting Celtic stones with Latin inscriptions in memory of saints and kings that were associated with a monastic college founded here by St Illtyd at the beginning of the 6th century AD. There are also two medieval grave-slabs, one belonging to an ecclesiastic, some medieval wall paintings and two other ancient stones. At the far west-side of the church the Ragland Chantry Chapel stands in a ruined state. The town of Llantwit Major is 9 miles south-east of Bridgend and 15 miles south-west of the Welsh capital, Cardiff. Close-by the church are the earthworks of the Roman villa of Caermead, dating from the 1st century AD.

English: St Illtud, Llantwit Major, Glamorgan,...

Celtic crosses (Photo credit: John Salmon -Wikipedia)

Housed within the Galilee Chapel of the 13th-15th century church, the old western part that dates from c1100, are three very interesting antiquities: a Celtic cross and two memorial stones with carved decoration and Latin inscriptions. These date from between the 9th-10th centuries and originally stood outside in the churchyard. Cross no 1 ‘The Illtud Cross’ or Samson’s Cross stands at just over 6 feet high and dates from the 10th-century. Although only the base of the gritstone cross remains the decoration is very good, and there is interlacing and key-patternwork with inscriptions in the middle and at the top. The top inscription (front) reads: SAMSON POSUIT HANC CRUCEM PRO ANIMA EIUS or ‘Samson placed his cross for his soul’ and on the reverse side: ILTUTI SAMSON REGIS SAMUEL EBISAR or ‘for the soul of Illtud, Samson the King, Samuel and Ebisar’. Samuel was probably the carver of the cross.

Cross no 2 is ‘Houelt’s Cross’, a 6 foot high disc-headed or wheel-head cross from the 9th-century AD. This has fretwork and patternwork on its lower front section and Celtic-style knotwork, interlacing and key-patterning on the wheel-head, but on the base there is a Latin inscription recalling Houelt (Hywel) the son of Res – probably Rhys ap Arthfael, King of Glamorgan, who died in 850 AD. The inscription reads: ‘In the name of God the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost’. ‘This cross Houelt prepared for the soul of Res his father’. And no 3 ‘Samson’s Pillar Cross’ is 9 foot high and of the 10th-century. On both sides of this there is a long-winded inscription which reads: IN NOMINE DI SUMMI INCIPIT CRUX SALVATORIS QUAE PREPARAVIT SAMSON ABATI PRO ANIMA SUA ET PRO ANIMA IUTHAHELO REX ET ARTMALI ET TECANI and when translated ‘In the name of the most high (God) begins the cross of the (Saviour) which Samson the Abbot prepared for his soul, and for the soul of Iuthahelo (Judwal) the King and of Arthmael and of Tecan’. There is also a 7 foot-high carved cylindrical, pyramidal-shaped stone that may have originally been part of a pagan altar, and two smaller stones that are now worn and damaged but may once have been crosses bases.

St Illtyd or Illtud (450-530) may have been a native of Brittany, though some historians think he hailed from Breconshire. However, by about 460 he was living in south Wales and eventually, after a few years, entered in to the service of King Arthur as a knight and was, according to the legend, one of the keepers of the Holy Grail. At some stage he became a Christian and retired from the world to live as a hermit beside the River Hodnant in south Glamorgan. Here he met St Garmon, his uncle, and together they re-established a monastic school (Bangor Illtud Fawr) where an earlier monastery known as Cor Tewdws (College of Thedosius) had fallen in to decay. The date of the foundation of this monastery is uncertain but it’s beginnings were c480 AD and, certainly by 500 AD the monastic school was flourishing as a renowned centre of learning with many saints being trained there, including St David. A monastery continued to exist uptil the early 12th-century but then fell on hard times, but it was later reformed as a Benedictine house of Tewkesbury and lasted until after the dissolution of the monasteries in 1547.

As for St Illtyd he is thought to have died at Dol in Brittany about 530 AD. However, Welsh historians have always claimed that he died at his monastery in south Glamorgan, or maybe he died at Bedd-Gwyl-Illtyd near Libanus, Brecon, in southern Powys? We may never really know.


Allen, J. Romilly., Celtic Crosses Of Wales, Llanerch Publishing, Felinfach, Dyfed, 1989 (text originally published in Archaeologia Cambrensis 1899).,_Llantwit_Major

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

Barber, Chris & Pykitt, David., Journey To Avalon, Blorenge Books, Abergavenny, Gwent, 1993.

Bord, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries of Britain, Diamond Books, 1994.

The Nogworth and Beth Crosses, Briercliffe, Lancashire

The Nogworth Cross-base, Briercliffe, Lancs

The Nogworth Cross-base, Briercliffe, Lancashire.

OS grid reference SD 8833 3408. The Nogworth Cross also called ‘The Northwood Cross’ is located to the north of Extwistle between Extwistle Hall and Monk Hall about 2 miles south-east of Briercliffe. What remains of the cross stands at the side of a country lane close to Shay Lane and Todmorden Road – having been moved here in 1909. Today only the roughly-hewn base remains, which is a slightly tapered block of sandstone about 3 feet 3 inches across and 20 inches high with a socketed recess at the top for the stump or shaft of a medieval cross – the shaft and cross-head having long since disappeared. The thinking being that this was a former market cross from the 14th-15th century? Or could it have been set-up by the monks of Whalley Abbey to mark the boundary of the land that they owned from the 13th-16th centuries? The Cistercian abbey at Whalley was founded in 1172 and dissolved in 1537. Many people walking along the country lane at Extwistle would now not even notice the lump of stone lying forgotten in the grass beside the wall, which is quite sad really.

Beth Cross or perhaps ‘The Roggerham Cross’ remains largerly forgotten and lost to the mists of time. It was a flat piece of stone with a very faint incised Latin-style cross carved onto it. It’s location is not known, but it was said to have lain in the Holden Clough area about half a mile to the south-east of the Nogworth Cross. It was thought to mark the extent of the land, or the boundary, of the land owned by the small abbey of Newbo near Sedgebrook in Lincolnshire, which was a Premonstratensian foundation founded in 1198 but abandoned soon after 1401. But why did they hold land at Roggerham so far away from their religious house in Lincolnshire. This is something of a mystery. And to confuse things even more there was a ‘Dennis Cross’ and also a ‘Widdop Cross’ (site of) in the same area. Roggerham itself is a tiny hamlet along Todmorden road, Extwistle, to the east of Lee Green reservoir and is not even mentioned on the Os maps. The name ‘Beth Cross’ is a shortened form of Elizabeth’s Cross (maybe some association with St Elizabeth?).

English: Nogworth Cross Shay Lane Base and soc...

Nogworth Cross (Photo credit: Kevin Rushton – Wikimedia Commons)

These wayside crosses were all surveyed by Mr Clifford Byrne in the late 1960s though his work was never published – he also did a survey of Holy Wells and Mineral Springs of North-East Lancashire. [Any further information on the Beth Cross or The Roggerham Cross would be very much appreciated].



The Briercliffe Society (Newsletter archive number 92 May 2007).

Byrne, Clifford., A Survey of the Ancient Wayside Crosses of North-East Lancashire, unpublished manuscript, 1974.

Masham Churchyard Cross, Wensleydale, North Yorkshire

English: Anglo Saxon shaft at Masham church. T...

Masham Churchyard Cross (Photo credit:  Gordon Hatton for Wikipedia)

OS grid reference SE 2266 8066. In the Valley of the River Ure, Wensleydale, 8 miles to the north-west of Ripon and some 4 miles west of the A1 in north Yorkshire stands the picturesque market village of Masham on the A6108 and, close to the market square is the ancient church of St. Mary the Virgin. Just by the south porch there is a quite rare Anglo-Saxon cross-shaft Masham Churchyard Cross which originally had some of the best carvings in the Dales, but sadly these ancient carvings are now rather weather worn. St. Mary’s church also houses two pieces of a Saxon cross.

In front of the porch stands a 7 foot (2.1 metre) high rounded cross-shaft, or pillar cross, said to date back to the 8th or 9th century AD, and probably of Northumbrian craftsmanship. It stands upon a modern stepped base that, sadly, does not do the ancient cross any justice. The top is now protected by a lead cap. Despite being heavily weather-worn the richly carved shaft is quite splendid with much beautiful carving. The cross-head has long since gone. This is a four-sectioned shaft with carvings inside round-headed arcades. Just below the top damaged section Our Lord and the Apostles are depicted, while below that are what appear to be human figures awaiting baptism, or being baptised, and also the Adoration of the Magi. But the carvings are badly worn and are now difficult to make out.

It could be that the cross was set-up as a dedication to St Wilfrid, who was bishop of Ripon from 667-669, by his many followers who were converting large swathes of northern England to Christinanity at this particular time – the cross then being the central focus as a meeting place for local Christians to hear the word of God.

St. Mary’s Church, Masham, dates from the 12th-15th century (Norman and medieval). The tower dates from 1150, but an earlier Saxon foundation of the early 7th century from the reign of King Edwin of Deira and Bernicia (Northumbria) 616-633 stood near this site. King Edwin was baptised into the Christian faith in 627 and after his death in battle at Hatfield Chase he was venerated as a saint. There are still traces of Anglo-Saxon masonry in the fabric of the nave wall. Also in the church two pieces of a 9th century Anglian cross – notably part of the cross-head (looks like a small section of an arm) and a piece of the cross-shaft.


Carter, Robert A.,  A visitor’s guide to Yorkshire Churches, Watmoughs Limited, Idle, Bradford, West Yorks, 1976.,_Masham

Click on the link for more information on King Edwin of Northumbria



Ilam Churchyard Crosses, Staffordshire

Ilam Churchyard Cross, Staffordshire

Ilam Churchyard Cross, Staffordshire

Os grid reference: SK 1325 5069. The very pretty little village of Ilam in north-east Staffordshire stands beside the River Manifold, 4 miles north-west of Ashbourne and 2 miles north of the A52. It is situated just a few miles from the border with Derbyshire. Beside Ilam Hall, an early 19th century Gothic building, stands Holy Cross church, originally a Saxon foundation and, in the churchyard near the porch and at either side of a more modern churchyard cross, are two Anglo-Saxon preaching crosses; one being a typical Mercian-style cross, although both are now without their cross-heads. In the church there is the medieval shrine and tomb of the local hermit saint, Bertelin, and close by are two holy wells associated with the saint – which were credited with miraculous healing powers.

The smaller of the two crosses is decribed as traditionally Mercian in style. It stands at 4 feet 3 inches high and is a cyllindrically-shaped pillar with very little of it’s round cross-head surviving, having suffered from vandalism, although a small boss can still be seen. A raised collar runs around the middle with some raised links running downwards forming a square. The rest is now well-worn and difficult to identify. When it was examined just below ground in 1890 by Rev G.F.Browne it was found to be standing in a rude-stone socket. The second cross over 5 foot high is the more normal Anglo-Saxon thin pillar-shaped cross that has been restored in two places – again due to vandalism. The cross-head has long since gone. However, this cross still displays some interesting carvings including a scroll or circle, knotwork interlacing and, at the bottom, what could be the top part of a human figure is portrayed in a rounded panel. Both crosses date from between the 8th-11th centuries AD.

A third rather battered cross shaft stands on Paradise Walk beside the River Manifold in Hinkley Woods half a mile to the south-west of the church. This one was rescued in 1840 from the foundations of a cottage close by and was said to have originally marked the site of a battle between the Saxons and Danes. It is referred to as ‘The Battle Stone’. The well-worn carvings are similar to those on the two Ilam churchyard crosses, and of a similar date.

Ilam Churchyard Crosses, Staffordshire.

Ilam Churchyard Crosses, Staffordshire.

In Holy Cross church is the medieval shrine tomb of the local Saxon saint, Bertram, Bertelin or Bettelin, an 8th century prince of Mercia who lived here as a hermit. According to the Legend, St. Bertram visited Ireland where he married an Irish princess, but soon returned to his father’s kingdom of Stafford (his father may have been King Ethelbald?) along with his pregnant wife, but on  the way both his wife and new-born baby son were killed by wolves. Later, he became a Christian and studied under St. Guthlac at Crowland, Lincolnshire, but as a penence for what had happened to his family he decided to withdraw from the world and became a hermit beside a well (St. Bertram’s Well) at Ilam. The well is still there today beneath an ash tree, locally called St. Bertram’s Ash, which can be found on Bunster Hill near Townend farm to the north of the village. This healing well is located on a strong ley-line that links the prehistoric sites of Foolow and Arbor Low in Derbyshire, a distance of over 16 miles.

But there is another well associated with the saint just a little south of the church beside Paradise Walk. This is a rectangular walled construction with a holy water basin (baptismal pool) in the middle. St. Bertram supposedly died here at Ilam in the early 8th century AD and his tomb and medieval shrine were built over his resting place within Holy Cross church to which pilgrims came, and still do, in the hope of a miraculous cure. However, some historians are of the opinion, whether right or wrong, that the saint died at Stafford, of which he is now the patron saint with his feast-day on 10th of August.


Sharpe, Neville T., Crosses Of The Peak District, Landmark Publishing Ltd., Ashbourne, Derbyshire, 2002.

Pickford, Doug., Staffordshire – Its Magic & Mystery, Sigma Press, Wilmslow, Cheshire, 1994.

Browne, G.F. Rev., On The Pre-Norman Sculptured Stones Of Derbyshire, [thesis], 1890.


Bewcastle Cross, Bewcastle, Cumbria

English: The 7th C Bewcastle Cross (3), near t...

Bewcastle Cross (Photo credit:  Mike Quinn. (Wikimedia Commons)

OS Grid Reference: NY 5651 7466. Located at the west side of the remote Cumbrian hamlet of Bewcastle, beside the ruined Norman castle, and in the churchyard of St Cuthbert’s stands the famous and highly sculptured Anglo-Saxon Bewcastle Cross. The village is just a few miles to the north of Hadrian’s Wall and close to the border with Northumberland. The city of Carlisle is 14 miles to the southwest beside the M6 motorway, while the village of Brampton is 9 miles to the south. Also at the western side of Bewcastle are the hexagonal-shaped earthworks of Forum Cocidii (Cocidium), a fairly large early 2nd century Roman fort. The church of St Cuthbert stands inside the fort. A Roman road (Maiden Way) runs southeast from here to the Roman wall and another fort at Birdoswald (Banna).

The cross-shaft is made from a single section of sandstone but is now without its cross-head but, even so, it stands to a  height of 4.5 metres (14 feet 6 inches) and is said to date back to the 7th or 8th century AD. All four sides of the shaft are beautifully and intricately carved in relief with human figures, animals, knotwork, interlacing, scrolls and runic inscriptions (one of which recalls a 7th century Saxon king) which were probably carved by stonemasons from the Saxon monastery of Monkwearmouth in Northumbria. They were asigned to carve the cross by St. Benedict Biscop, abbot of Wearmouth in 670 AD, and may well have come from overseas; and were possibly the same stonemasons who carved the Ruthwell Cross, Dumfrieshire, in the south of Scotland, but which was formerly a part of Northumbria?

English: The 7th C Bewcastle Cross - St. John ...

Bewcastle Cross – St. John? (Photo credit: Mike Quinn. (Wikimedia)

The cross-shaft is richly sculptured with Biblical and other religious and also non-religious decoration on all its four sides. These relief carvings are set inside panels of varying sizes; the west face is considered the best because it has three carvings of Biblical characters. At the top in a panel is St. John the Baptist with a lamb (Agnus Dei), below which a short runic inscription: GESSUS KRISTTUS ‘Jesus Christ’. The middle panel has Christ in magesty holding a scroll while treading upon two beasts. The bottom carving is possibly that of St. John the Evangelist with his trademark eagle or hawk perched on his wrist. The north face has a rather worn runic inscription at the top, below which there are vine scrolls, knotwork and interlacing, while the bottom has an inscription to Kyniburg (Cyniburga), wife of King Aldfrith of Northumbria?

It is thought the runic inscription, now incomplete, on the top of the north face should be interpreted as:- THISSIC BEACN THUN SETTON HWAETRED WAETHGAR ALWFWOLTHU EAC OSWIUG CEBID HEO SINNA SAWHULA which roughly translated is ‘This slender pillar (cross) of Hwaetred, Waethgar and Alwfwold set (it) up in memory of Alefrid, a king and son of Oswy’. ‘Pray for them, their sins and their souls’. The east face (top to bottom) has interlinking vine-scrolls in one complete panel, while the south face is carved with three more panels of interlacing, knotwork, scrolls, chequers and a cross; this face also has a very rare sundial. King Alcfrith ruled Northumbria (which included Cumbria, the northern Pennines and Scottish borders) between 685-704 AD, and was said to have been a scholarly ruler, a patron of the arts, and generous to the monastic church during the late 7th century.


Board, Janet & Colin., Ancient Mysteries Of Britain, Diamond Books, 1994.

Kerr, Nigel & Mary., A Guide to Anglo-Saxon Sites, Paladin, London, 1982.

Maughan, John Reverend., The Bewcastle Cross Inscriptions, Manuscript in Durham University Library.

More information and photos by Mike Quinn here:

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Copyright © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2012, and up-dated 2020.