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Mercian cross, St Mary and St John's churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Rothley, Leicestershire

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Coordinates

Latitude: 52.7082 / 52°42'29"N

Longitude: -1.1339 / 1°8'2"W

OS Eastings: 458613.026975

OS Northings: 312636.887572

OS Grid: SK586126

Mapcode National: GBR 8LP.84D

Mapcode Global: WHDJ4.K684

Entry Name: Mercian cross, St Mary and St John's churchyard

Scheduled Date: 7 October 1954

Last Amended: 15 May 1996

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1014511

English Heritage Legacy ID: 21646

County: Leicestershire

Civil Parish: Rothley

Built-Up Area: Mountsorrel

Traditional County: Leicestershire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Leicestershire

Church of England Parish: Rothley St Mary the Virgin and St John the Baptist

Church of England Diocese: Leicester

Details

The monument includes part of a Mercian cross located in the churchyard of
St Mary and St John's Church, Rothley, approximately 10m south of the
church. The cross is late eight or ninth century in date with modern repairs,
and takes the form of a base, comprising a socket stone and the shaft which
has been fashioned from Millstone Grit. The cross, which was originally a
monolith, has been broken into four stones at some date and subsequently
reasssembled. The cross stands on an earthen mound which has a diameter of
3.9m and rises to 0.6m high at the centre, within which the socket stone is
partly buried. Set into the socket stone is the stone shaft, of tapering
rectangular section, which measures 0.53m north-south and 0.42m west-east at
its base and stands to a height of 3.7m. Each face of the shaft is divided by
doubled mouldings into four ornamental panels. The elaborate low relief carved
decoration is mostly of interlaced plaitwork and plant scrolls, including
whorls of foliage with elongated leaves. One panel on the south face is
believed to include a carving of a winged beast or dragon with an interlacing
tail, whilst that above the gabled head on the north face has a symmetrical
foliate ornament.
The grave markers immediately to the north and south west of the cross are
excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is
included.

MAP EXTRACT
The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.
It includes a 1 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
important.

The cross to the south of St Mary and St John's Church is a rare example of
a standing cross of the pre-Viking period; it is one of only two near-complete
examples in the East Midlands. The Mercian-influenced ornamentation on the
shaft makes an important contribution towards the understanding of the
regional and chronological variations in the design of early medieval crosses.
Situated to the south of the church on a slight mound, it is considered to
stand in its original location and thus archaeological deposits relating to
the monument's construction and use are likely to survive within, beneath and
around it. The modern repairs to the shaft illustrate the continued use of the
cross as a public monument and amenity from at least the mid-ninth century to
the present day.

Source: Historic England

Sources

Books and journals
Kendrick, T D, Anglo-Saxon Art, (1938), 207

Source: Historic England

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