Medieval Crosses

Between 2002 and 2005 I worked as a tutor for the WEA and I used to run a whole series of courses on art and architecture across North Yorkshire. One of the courses I ran in 2004 was on the Gothic Revival and during the course I took my students to the Yorkshire Wolds to visit the glorious series of village churches built by the Anglo-Catholic Tattton-Sykes family of Sledmere. One of these churches was Thixendale, a building built by G E Street in the 1860s. There was one incongruous element of this church and that was the altar cross pictured above, whichw as sitting in the centre of the high altar directly in front of the cross G E Street had provided for the building. The churchwardens and vicar had no idea what it was, but I instantly recognised it as the head of a pre-Reformation processional cross and alerted them to this fact. A couple of years later when I was at theological college, I was surprised to see the cross on the front page of the Church Times. The church had decided to sell the cross at Christie's to raise funds for a new heating system. I had visions of it leaving the country, but I am glad to say that it was purchased by the East Riding Museum.

The Thixendale cross is a fairly significant find. It is English and dates from around 1500. It is made of latten, a type of bronze, the same material that monumental brasses are made of. There are about thirty or so of this type of latten cross surviving and quite a number are in the V & A. One was found on the battlefield at Bosworth, another was found in a chest with some recusant vestments at Abbey Dore in Herefordshire. Many are cast from the same mould and it is probable that they were more-or-less mass produced. The Thixendale cross is one of the better preserved examples. It would appear to have been gilded and enamelled and some areas of the cross still have enamel and gilding on it.

Being made of latten these crosses were probably reasonably affordable for even the poorest medieval parish in England. Generally the crosses were configured so that they slipped into a socket with two attendant figures of Our Lady and St John. It is probable that they doubled up both as processional crosses and altar crosses. The head could be removed from the cross staff and placed on a stand so it could sit on the altar, like the example from the V & A above.

Another of the V and A crosses.

I can't seem to get away from these crosses. I have recently found another in a Linolnshire church. Sadly it isn't in quite as good condition as the Thixendale cross. It has been mounted on a staff and has been polished to death. In 2005 Colum Hourihane published a monograph on these crosses called The Processional Cross in Late Medieval England 'The Dallye Cross' . I found my two crosses rather two late for inclusion in this work.


Anonymous said…
Your blog has been useful to me in my research of Medieval crosses in American collections. May I have permission to site you in a college paper? Thank you, Rachel

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