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Early medieval sculptural fragments in St Mary's churchyard

A Scheduled Monument in Sandbach, Cheshire East

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Latitude: 53.1435 / 53°8'36"N

Longitude: -2.3612 / 2°21'40"W

OS Eastings: 375933.427822

OS Northings: 360770.080727

OS Grid: SJ759607

Mapcode National: GBR 010.XH1

Mapcode Global: WH9B0.P7SY

Entry Name: Early medieval sculptural fragments in St Mary's churchyard

Scheduled Date: 30 January 1925

Last Amended: 24 September 1999

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1016853

English Heritage Legacy ID: 30396

County: Cheshire East

Civil Parish: Sandbach

Built-Up Area: Sandbach

Traditional County: Cheshire

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): Cheshire

Church of England Parish: Sandbach

Church of England Diocese: Chester


The monument includes five fragments of Anglo-Saxon sculpture set on a
concrete plinth in the churchyard of St Mary's Church.
These pieces were once set up in the market place as bollards surrounding the
larger Anglo-Saxon cross shafts. They were moved to this location in 1956.
The pieces are therefore numbered three to seven, assuming the other two to be
in the market square. Numbers three to five are large fragments of cross
shafts and six and seven are tomb covers.
The sculptural fragments are set onto a concrete slab, 2.75m long and 1m wide,
situated immediately to the south of the belfry tower at the west end of the
church. The three cross fragments are at the rear of the assemblage with
number three at the left hand side. This is a gritstone shaft, decorated with
a panel with a figure within, and with roll moulding at each corner. This
piece measures 1m high and 0.34 by 0.28m wide. On its north side a slot has
been cut out to attach a wooden railing. Number four is also a piece of a
cross shaft, 1.2m high and 0.35 by 0.28m wide with a panel and figure carved
on the west side. This also has cable or roll mouldings at each corner. It is
also cut away on the east side to provide a slot for a railing. Piece number
five is another shaft fragment 0.9m high and 0.33 by 0.34m wide. Detail of the
carving is not recognisable and again, this has been mutilated on the east and
north sides for inserting a railing.
The two grave covers are in front of the assemblage and are of a similar type
to Mercian sculpture at Wirksworth in Derbyshire. Both have a shallow, pitched
roof shaped top and are set on end. Number six is 0.9m long and 0.5m wide and
is 0.18m high at the apex of the roof. There are traces of arcaded panels on
either side of this roof shape with decoration within each arcade. Number
seven is similar in shape, standing on end and measuring 0.8m long and 0.4m
wide. It appears to have a haloed figure in a panel on the right side, with
the left side broken away where the slab of stone has been re-used.
In front of the sculptures is a metal plaque with an inscription detailing the
relocation in 1956. The concrete slab is included in the scheduling, as is the
ground beneath it.

The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.

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

Whilst not in an original setting, these sculptural fragments are fixtures in
their present position and are an important surviving testimony to a major
church foundation at Sandbach during the eigth or ninth century. The fragments
of Mercian tomb covers are a further important survival, since such covers are
rare. Unfortunately time and erosion have obscured much of the sculptural
detail but it is clear that these pieces represent the product of a school of
ecclesiastical sculpture either at this site or more centrally in a monastic
workshop in the kingdom of Mercia further to the south. They will provide
further evidence for the organisation of such sculptural workshops both
locally and nationally and also confirm the importance of the larger and
better preserved cross shafts in the market square.

Source: Historic England


Books and journals
Rollason, et al, Four Anglian Monuments in Derbyshire, (1996), 48

Source: Historic England

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