Cornwall And The Isles Of Scilly

It has been estimated that Cornwall has some 500 standing crosses or fragments, dating from between the ninth and the fifteenth centuries. This is a very high number for a relatively small area. More crosses seem to have survived in this county than elsewhere in England, perhaps because of its Celtic traditions where sacred places belonged to families rather than the church. In parts of England and Wales where the Celtic tradition had been weakened or extirpated, crosses belonged to the church, and when Roman Catholicism was suppressed at the Reformation they were destroyed. In predominantly Celtic areas like Cornwall, however, individual crosses actually belonged to individual families, and could not so easily be pulled down.

Cornish crosses tend to be rather simpler than those in other parts of the British Isles, owing perhaps to the hardness of the local stone — granite — that was used to make them. They have three distinct types. Some are round-headed pillar-stones; others are Latin crosses carved from a single stone; others are wheel-headed crosses, often drilled through with four holes between the arms. Of the round-headed variety, there are ten main types of carved cross — six use crosses within circles, and the others have various unencircled kinds of cross carved onto them. Some round-headed cross-pillars are carved with the crucified Christ, but without a cross. The positions of the body vary greatly, and comparable figures exist on wheel-headed crosses. Many of the later crosses have Celtic interlace patterns comparable with known examples in other parts of the British

Because Cornwall was not conquered by the Anglo-Saxons until the year g25, it retained the older Romanized Celtic culture, maintaining links by sea with Wales to the north, the Isles of Scilly to the west and Brittany to the south.

Isles, as well as geometric ornament that resembles Anglo-Norman grave-slab work in England and Wales. The variety of Cornish crosses is a remarkable tribute to the inventiveness of their artists.

Variant forms of Cornish crosses.

Top row, left to right: Camborne; Crowan; Helston; Tintagcl; Budock. Second row: Pradannack; St Buryan; St Wendron; St Dennis; Michaelstow. Third row: Merthyr Uny; Scorrier, St Day; Trevolis, Stythians; Pendarves, Camborne; St Paul. Fourth row: Clowance; Trevean, St Erth; St Erth. Fifth row: St Erth; St Just; Penlee, Penzance.

Most surviving Cornish crosses date from between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. In the thirteenth century, there was a resurgence of crossmaking in the older style, such as the cross at Quethioc, where medieval 'gothic' influence is modified by simplified vinescroll patterns. Because Cornwall was not conquered by the Anglo-Saxons until the year 925, it retained the older Romanized Celtic culture, maintaining links by sea with Wales to the north, the Isles of Scilly to the west and Brittany to the south. Cornwall thus has a number of wheel-head crosses the designs of which arc related to those in south Wales, which may even have been made by sculptors trained there. In some cases, individual patterns may occur in both places. For example, the pattern of a Cornish interlace cross at Cardinham, composed of four triquetra knots, is identical to those at Coychurch in South Glamorgan and Nevern in Dyfed. Also, the monasteries of St Buryan near Land's End and St Pctroc at Bodmin appear to have had schools of sculptors like those identified in south Wales. In the Bodmin area, a series of crosses was set up around the monastery of St Petroc, which was flourishing in the tenth century. In the most notable of these, which stands at Cardinham, the sculptor used a variety of motifs, running spirals, ring-loop interlace and a ring-chain that fades into a rectilinear meander pattern. The ring-chain is a motif the oldest known example of which is the cross at Michael, Isle of Man, which was carved by the tenth-century runemaster-sculptor Gaut Bjornsson.

As in other Celtic countries, stopping-places along paths, pilgrimage roads and trackways in Cornwall were marked by wayside crosses. The custom was maintained for many centuries, and as late as 1447 the Rector of the parish of Creed left money in his will to pay for the erection of new stone crosses in the county at stopping-places 'where dead bodies are rested on their way to burial, that prayers be made, and the bearers take some rest.' Churchyard crosses dating from the ninth and tenth centuries were often located to the right of the church entrance, and, as in the rest of northern Europe, there was a tradition of erecting crosses in market-places. Two tenth-century wheel-head crosses stand in Sancreed churchyard, both with representations of the crucifixion at the centre of the wheel-head. One bears the name Runhol, whose name is also discernible on a cross that stands near the door of Lanherne Convent. Formerly, this cross was in the parish of Gwinear, but, as is the case with so many crosses, it was moved.

The remains of a royal cross stand near the road to Liskeard about 1.6 km (1 mile) northwest of St Cleer. Reduced by breakage to part of a cross-shaft, the remains bear an inscription commemorating Doniert, who was King of Cornwall around the year 875. Close to the celebrated 'lost church' of St Piran at Perranporth stands a cross that is mentioned in a charter dating from the year 960. Unlike the majority of Celtic Crosses, it has pecked ornament rather than interlace or key-patterns. Its most notable feature, however, shows it to be a direct continuation of the older Pagan wheel-headed stones of the Celts, for its wheel-head is not a vertical Christian cross but an X-shapc, with the four holes cut on the vertical and horizontal axes. Thus, it can be said that, technically, this ancient stone is not a cross at all but an instance of the older, Pagan, tradition of the continental Celts.

The crosses of the Isles of Scilly closely resemble those in Cornwall. Three ancient shaped granite crosses exist within the oval churchyard at St Buryan, originally an Irish settlement, while at St Mary's an old high cross serves as a gable cross on the church at Old Town. Two crosses once stood as boundary-markers on the site of the present St Mary's airport, and one of them, from High Cross Lane, Salakee, was removed in 1887 to St Mary's Church. During the nineteenth century, many of the crosses of the Isles of Scilly were taken away from their original positions by collectors. For example, in the nineteenth century, Mr E. N. V. Moyle, the Clerk to the Council of the Isles of Scilly, used his position of influence to assemble a notable collection of stones, including crosses, in his garden at Rocky Hill, St Mary's. It is arguable that the crosses were saved from destruction by their removal, but equally the disrespect for the sacred that allowed holy stones to be taken away for personal pleasure is a sign that a spiritual understanding of the landscape was already in decline.

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Responses

  • Jerry Jones
    Excellent post.
    8 years ago

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