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High cross shaft, high cross head, and high cross base in St Michael and All Angels churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Muncaster, Cumbria

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Latitude: 54.3566 / 54°21'23"N

Longitude: -3.3803 / 3°22'49"W

OS Eastings: 310392.942635

OS Northings: 496554.555951

OS Grid: SD103965

Mapcode National: GBR 4LT2.Z1

Mapcode Global: WH718.1RLJ

Entry Name: High cross shaft, high cross head, and high cross base in St Michael and All Angels churchyard

Scheduled Date: 26 June 1978

Last Amended: 22 June 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1012645

English Heritage Legacy ID: 23783

County: Cumbria

Civil Parish: Muncaster

Traditional County: Cumberland

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cumbria

Church of England Parish: Muncaster St Michael

Church of England Diocese: Carlisle


The monument includes a late tenth/early eleventh century Anglo-Scandinavian
high cross shaft, a tenth century Anglo-Scandinavian cross head, and the socle
or base of a high cross shaft, all of which are located in the churchyard to
the south of St Michael and All Angels Church, Muncaster. The cross shaft is
constructed of red sandstone and is rectangular in cross section tapering
towards the top. It is 1.03m high, measures 0.41m wide by 0.17m thick at its
base, and is set into a modern sandstone base. The shaft is decorated on all
four sides, with each side being divided into two panels. The upper panel,
which is decorated differently on each face, occupies the greater length of
the shaft and is bordered laterally by a roll moulding. The lower panel
depicts a step pattern decoration on all faces. The broad west face is largely
decorated with ring-chain carving; the east face depicts a broad six-strand
plain plait carving; the south face has a broad simple twist decoration, and
the north face has a broad two-strand twist decoration. A small fragment at
the top of the shaft suggests the cross head was circular.

At the foot of the cross shaft, and set into the same modern sandstone base as
the shaft, is a circular cross head constructed of red sandstone. It measures
0.47m wide by 0.39m high and is 0.12m thick, and is in the form of a circle
head with an additional outer ring. The broad west face depicts a crudely
incised linear cross at the centre of the head and three-strand plain plait
decoration elsewhere. The east face has faint traces of a step pattern
decoration. No decoration is visible on the narrow north and south faces. In
the 19th century this cross head was found in the garden wall of Eilbeck
Ground cottage, Irton, approximately two miles away from its present location.
It is thought possible the cross head originally came from Muncaster.
Adjacent to the modern sandstone base in which the cross shaft and cross head
are set is the socle or base of a high cross. It is constructed of red
sandstone and measures approximately 0.7m square by 0.3m high. The shape of
the socket shows that it once held a rectangular cross shaft, although it is
not known if this was the adjacent cross shaft.

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
locations in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are found
throughout northern England with a few examples further south. Surviving
examples are of carved stone but it is known that decorated timber crosses
were also used for similar purposes and some stone crosses display evidence of
carpentry techniques in their creation and adornment, attesting to this
tradition. High crosses have shafts supporting carved cross heads which may be
either free-armed or infilled with a 'wheel' or disc. They may be set within
dressed or rough stone bases called socles. The cross heads were frequently
small, the broad cross shaft being the main feature of the cross.
High crosses served a variety of functions, some being associated with
established churches and monasteries and playing a role in religious services,
some acting as cenotaphs or marking burial places, and others marking routes
or boundaries and acting as meeting places for local communities. Decoration
of high crosses divides into four main types: plant scrolls, plaiting and
interlace, birds and animals and, lastly, figural representation which is the
rarest category and often takes the form of religious iconography. The carved
ornamentation was often painted in a variety of colours though traces of these
pigments now survive only rarely. The earliest high crosses were created and
erected by the native population, probably under the direction of the Church,
but later examples were often commissioned by secular patrons and reflect the
art styles and mythology of Viking settlers.
Several distinct regional groupings and types of high cross have been
identified, some being the product of single schools of craftsmen. There are
fewer than 50 high crosses surviving in England and this is likely to
represent only a small proportion of those originally erected. Some were
defaced or destroyed during bouts of iconoclasm during the 16th and 17th
centuries. Others fell out of use and were taken down and reused in new
building works. They provide important insights into art traditions and
changing art styles during the early medieval period, into religious beliefs
during the same era and into the impact of the Scandinavian settlement of the
north of England. All well-preserved examples are identified as nationally

Despite being partly weathered and lichen covered, the high cross shaft, high
cross head and high cross base in St Michael and All Angels churchyard,
Muncaster survive reasonably well. The shaft and head display good examples of
Anglo-Scandinavian art styles, and together the three fragments attest to the
importance of both the church and its environs as a pre-Conquest centre of
ecclesiastical importance.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 117-18
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 134
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 117-8

Source: Historic England

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