Ancient Monuments

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Medieval churchyard cross in Michaelstow churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Michaelstow, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.5778 / 50°34'40"N

Longitude: -4.7123 / 4°42'44"W

OS Eastings: 208063.2683

OS Northings: 78854.809

OS Grid: SX080788

Mapcode National: GBR N3.DTNB

Mapcode Global: FRA 170J.XNY

Entry Name: Medieval churchyard cross in Michaelstow churchyard

Scheduled Date: 13 February 1958

Last Amended: 21 December 1995

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014018

English Heritage Legacy ID: 26253

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Michaelstow

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: St Tudy with Michaelstow

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross situated in the churchyard
at Michaelstow in north Cornwall.

The churchyard cross survives as an upright granite shaft with a round or
`wheel' head set into a modern rectangular base stone. The cross measures 3.4m
in overall height. The principal faces are orientated south west-north east
and the head measures 0.68m wide. Each principal face bears an equal limbed
cross, with slightly splayed limbs. The head is perforated by four large holes
marking the angles where the limbs of the cross meet and creating a distinct
ring enclosing the limbs. These holes take up the whole area between the edges
of the limbs and the ring. Below the head is an abacus, a collar-like disc
around the neck of a cross, which encircles the top of the shaft and projects
beyond the shaft edge. The shaft measures 0.43m wide at the base tapering to
0.3m, and is 0.34m thick at the base tapering to 0.18m. A narrow bead 0.04m
wide runs the length of the shaft on all four corners. At the base of the
shaft on the north east side, an unworked area of granite projects from the
shaft; this was probably not originally intended to be visible. The shaft is
set into a roughly shaped block of granite, measuring 1.02m north west-south
east by 1.11m north east-south west, and is 0.39m high.

The original location of the churchyard cross is unknown, but the shaft had
been in use as the lowest step of a flight of steps at the west entrance to
the churchyard. In 1883 the shaft was removed from the steps, the head was
found nearby, and the cross was re-erected in its present position.

The gravestone to the south east of the cross and the metalled surface of the
footpath to the north east are excluded from the scheduling, where they fall
within the protective margin of the cross, but the ground beneath is included.

This cross is Listed Grade II.

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

A standing cross is a free standing upright structure, usually of stone,
mostly erected during the medieval period (mid 10th to mid 16th centuries AD).
Standing crosses served a variety of functions. In churchyards they served as
stations for outdoor processions, particularly in the observance of Palm
Sunday. Elsewhere, standing crosses were used within settlements as places for
preaching, public proclamation and penance, as well as defining rights of
sanctuary. Standing crosses were also employed to mark boundaries between
parishes, property, or settlements. A few crosses were erected to commemorate
battles. Some crosses were linked to particular saints, whose support and
protection their presence would have helped to invoke. Crosses in market
places may have helped to validate transactions. After the Reformation, some
crosses continued in use as foci for municipal or borough ceremonies, for
example as places for official proclamations and announcements; some were the
scenes of games or recreational activity.
Standing crosses were distributed throughout England and are thought to have
numbered in excess of 12,000. However, their survival since the Reformation
has been variable, being much affected by local conditions, attitudes and
religious sentiment. In particular, many cross-heads were destroyed by
iconoclasts during the 16th and 17th centuries. Less than 2,000 medieval
standing crosses, with or without cross-heads, are now thought to exist. The
oldest and most basic form of standing cross is the monolith, a stone shaft
often set directly in the ground without a base. The most common form is the
stepped cross, in which the shaft is set in a socket stone and raised upon a
flight of steps; this type of cross remained current from the 11th to 12th
centuries until after the Reformation. Where the cross-head survives it may
take a variety of forms, from a lantern-like structure to a crucifix; the more
elaborate examples date from the 15th century. Much less common than stepped
crosses are spire-shaped crosses, often composed of three or four receding
stages with elaborate architectural decoration and/or sculptured figures; the
most famous of these include the Eleanor crosses, erected by Edward I at the
stopping places of the funeral cortege of his wife, who died in 1290. Also
uncommon are the preaching crosses which were built in public places from the
13th century, typically in the cemeteries of religious communities and
cathedrals, market places and wide thoroughfares; they include a stepped base,
buttresses supporting a vaulted canopy, in turn carrying either a shaft and
head or a pinnacled spire. Standing crosses contribute significantly to our
understanding of medieval customs, both secular and religious, and to our
knowledge of medieval parishes and settlement patterns. All crosses which
survive as standing monuments, especially those which stand in or near their
original location, are considered worthy of protection.

The Michaelstow churchyard cross has survived well. It forms a good example of
a four-holed wheel headed cross and has an abacus with moulded edges at its
neck which suggests a late tenth century date. The abacus is a rare form of
decoration which is only present on two other crosses in Cornwall. The burial
of the cross head and reuse of the shaft by the entrance to the churchyard,
until the 19th century when it was re-erected, illustrates the changing
attitudes to religion that have prevailed since the Reformation and the impact
of these changes on the local landscape.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Old Cornish Crosses, (1896)
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses of North Cornwall, (1992)
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 17791,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 07/17; Pathfinder Series 1338
Source Date: 1988

Source: Historic England

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