Ancient Monuments

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Medieval churchyard cross-head and medieval cross-shaft in St Mary Magdalene's churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Launceston, Cornwall

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Latitude: 50.6377 / 50°38'15"N

Longitude: -4.3596 / 4°21'34"W

OS Eastings: 233239.0555

OS Northings: 84662.6535

OS Grid: SX332846

Mapcode National: GBR NL.920X

Mapcode Global: FRA 17RD.3CQ

Entry Name: Medieval churchyard cross-head and medieval cross-shaft in St Mary Magdalene's churchyard

Scheduled Date: 16 February 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014023

English Heritage Legacy ID: 26258

County: Cornwall

Civil Parish: Launceston

Built-Up Area: Launceston

Traditional County: Cornwall

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cornwall

Church of England Parish: Launceston

Church of England Diocese: Truro


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross-head set on a modern shaft,
and a medieval cross-shaft set in a modern base, in St Mary Magdalene's
churchyard, Launceston, in south east Cornwall.
The churchyard cross-head survives as the upper portion of a lantern head
(so called because the rectangular shape of the head is of a similar shape to
that of a lantern), set on a modern plinth, shaft and base, the overall height
being 1.72m. The head is carved from Cataclewse stone, a greenstone from the
Cataclews quarries on the north Cornish coast used for fine and intricate
carvings. The head measures 0.57m high and is rectangular in shape; the
principal faces are orientated north west-south east. The top of the head
bears an ornate pyramid shaped top added in the 19th century. Below this
pyramid the head is elaborately decorated with sculpted figures set within
canopies topped with pointed arches. On the north west principal face there is
a crucifixion scene, a figure of Christ hanging from the cross with a kneeling
figure to each side. The antiquarian Blight believed the two attendant figures
to be the Virgin and St John. This scene terminates at the knees of Christ,
and the lower sides of the canopy are fractured. The lower sides of the
canopies on the other three faces have also been fractured. On the south east
principal face the Virgin and Child have a kneeling figure to each side; these
figures have been fractured and terminate at the waist. On the south west side
is a figure holding a staff or a sword, terminating at the knees; and on the
north east side is a figure praying, terminating at the waist. The base of the
head is missing. The cross-head is mounted on a modern plinth, 0.38m north
east-south west by 0.21m north west-south east and is 0.05m thick. This is set
on a ten sided shaft; the widest two sides are 0.16m wide, the four corner
sides are 0.09m wide and the two sides are 0.06m wide. The base measures 0.69m
north east-south west by 0.39m north west-south east and is 0.11m high. There
is a small rectangular metal plaque on the base on the north west face which
is inscribed `Re-erected by the Launceston Old Cornwall Society 1978'. This
base is set in a rectangular block of concrete measuring 0.94m north east-
south west by 0.6m north west-south east set flush with the ground.
The octagonal-section greenstone shaft is located 3.1m to the north east of
the cross-head. The shaft measures 1.83m high above its base, and on the top
is a tenon, 0.14m by 0.1m and 0.02m high. The shaft measures 0.26m wide at
the base, tapering to 0.2m at the top. There is a cement repair to a fracture
0.29m above the base. The north, east, south and west sides of the shaft slope
out above the base, to form a square section moulded foot. The shaft is set in
a modern base, consisting of two hexagonal blocks of stone, the top one having
a 0.03m wide chamfer around its top edge. The base measures 0.7m north east-
south west by 0.7m north west-south east and is 0.22m high.
Prior to 1858 the cross-head had been discovered in the vicarge garden. By
1858 it had been set on the churchyard wall where the antiquarian Blight
illustrated it. Later the pyramid shaped top and a modern shaft were added
and it was used as a memorial on the Lawrence family grave. Around 1958 the
cross was damaged and removed to the crypt for storage. In 1978 it was
re-erected in the churchyard on a new shaft and plinth, to the south west of
the cross-shaft. The octagonal shaft is probably the original shaft for this
cross-head, as it is of a similar date and material, but was not considered
strong enough to support the cross-head.
The gravestones to the south and south east of the cross-shaft are excluded
from the scheduling, where they fall within the protective margin, but the
ground beneath 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

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 medieval lantern cross-head in St Mary Magdalene's churchyard has survived
reasonably well and is a good example of a lantern cross, a rare type of
churchyard cross in Cornwall. It is a rare example of a cross carved from
Cataclewse greenstone, the majority of crosses in Cornwall being of granite.
This cross has survived, in its original churchyard, despite minor
relocations, and has retained its function as a churchyard cross, despite
changing attitudes to religion over the centuries.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses in Mid Cornwall, (1989)
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses of North Cornwall, (1992)
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2787.5,
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2787.6,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 28/38; Pathfinder Series 1326
Source Date: 1989

Source: Historic England

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