Ancient Monuments

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The Giant's Thumb - Anglian high cross in St Andrew's churchyard, Penrith

A Scheduled Monument in Penrith, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.6642 / 54°39'50"N

Longitude: -2.7516 / 2°45'5"W

OS Eastings: 351613.447761

OS Northings: 530156.343138

OS Grid: NY516301

Mapcode National: GBR 9G7H.2T

Mapcode Global: WH81B.P1W6

Entry Name: The Giant's Thumb - Anglian high cross in St Andrew's churchyard, Penrith

Scheduled Date: 13 April 1949

Last Amended: 20 January 1994

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1007630

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23662

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Penrith

Built-Up Area: Penrith

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Penrith St Andrew

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument is an Anglian high cross - known locally as the Giant's Thumb -
located in St Andrew's churchyard, Penrith. It is constructed of local red
sandstone and is set in a modern sandstone base. The total height of the cross
and base is c.3.2m with the cross measuring 1.96m tall. It is of rectangular
cross section tapering towards the top. All sides of the shaft display
decoration, however, the eastern and western sides are heavily weathered and
the decoration virtually unrecognisable. The northern and southern faces
depict Anglian scroll work and intertwining vines. Much of the wheel head
survives but the decoration has weathered. A drawing of the cross produced in
1921 shows the the east and west faces to have displayed a decoration of
scroll and interlacing with a crucifixion scene on one side depicting Christ
flanked by two figures interpreted as Longinus the spearman and Stephaton the
sponge bearer. Above Christ there is a serpent. On the opposite side of the
stone there was another human figure too weathered to interpret. The cross is
thought to date to c.AD 920.
Sandstone and iron railing supports on the north side of the cross, a
gravestone and grave on the south side of the cross, and sandstone flags
around the base within which the cross is set are all excluded from the
scheduling. The ground beneath the railing supports and sandstone flags,
however, is included

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 2 metre boundary around the archaeological features,
considered to be essential for the monument's support and preservation.

Source: Historic England

Reasons for Scheduling

High crosses, frequently heavily decorated, were erected in a variety of
places in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are found throughout
western and northern England, although they are particularly concentrated in
the north. Surviving examples are all of carved stone but it is known that
decorated timber crosses were also used for similar purposes. Such crosses
comprise shafts supporting carved cross heads. They might be set within a
carved stone base. The cross heads were frequently small; the broad cross
shafts being the main feature of the cross. They were erected in a variety of
locations and appear to have served a variety of functions. Some are
associated with established churches and monasteries and may mark burial
places, focal points used in religious services, or the boundaries of
ecclesiastical land holdings. Others may have marked routeways or other
gathering points for local communities. All examples tend to be heavily
decorated, the patterns and ornament used drawing on wider artistic traditions
of the time. Patterns of interlace are common, some depicted as 'vine
scrolls', tendrils of growth of the grape vine, sometimes complete with
On the most developed examples this 'vine scroll' is shown to be inhabited by
a variety of animals and birds. Panels depicting figures and animals are also
commonly found; on occasion these depict Biblical scenes or personages. This
carved ornamentation was often painted in a variety of colours, although
traces of these colourings now survive only rarely.
The earliest examples were created and erected by native inhabitants; later
examples are heavily influenced by Viking art styles and mythology, and their
creation can be related to the Viking infiltration and settlement of the north
of England. Several distinct regional groupings and regional types have been
identified; some being the product of single 'schools' of craftsmen.
Around 200 examples of such crosses have been identified. This is likely to
represent only a small portion of those originally erected. Some were defaced
or destroyed during bouts of iconoclasm in the late medieval period. Others
fell out of use and were taken down and reused in new building works. They
provide an important insight into art traditions and changing art styles. The
figured panels provide information about religious beliefs. The Viking period
stones contribute to studies of the impact of the Scandinavian newcomers on
the north of England. All well preserved examples will be identified as
nationally important.
Although considered unlikely to be in its precise original location, the
Giant's Thumb high cross survives reasonably well. Together with the nearby
Giant's Grave group of two crosses and four hogback stones also located in St
Andrew's churchyard, the Giant's Thumb forms part of a remarkable group of
richly carved tenth century monuments unparalled in Cumbria. It displays good
examples of the art styles of that period and attests to the importance of
both the church environs and the wider local area as a centre of activity
during the tenth century.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Collingwood, W G, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser' in The Giant's Grave, Penrith, , Vol. XXIII, (1923), 126

Source: Historic England

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