The Giant's Thumb - Anglian high cross in St Andrew's churchyard, Penrith


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Eden (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
NY 51613 30156

Reasons for Designation

High crosses, frequently heavily decorated, were erected in a variety of places in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are found throughout western and northern England, although they are particularly concentrated in the north. Surviving examples are all of carved stone but it is known that decorated timber crosses were also used for similar purposes. Such crosses comprise shafts supporting carved cross heads. They might be set within a carved stone base. The cross heads were frequently small; the broad cross shafts being the main feature of the cross. They were erected in a variety of locations and appear to have served a variety of functions. Some are associated with established churches and monasteries and may mark burial places, focal points used in religious services, or the boundaries of ecclesiastical land holdings. Others may have marked routeways or other gathering points for local communities. All examples tend to be heavily decorated, the patterns and ornament used drawing on wider artistic traditions of the time. Patterns of interlace are common, some depicted as 'vine scrolls', tendrils of growth of the grape vine, sometimes complete with leaves. On the most developed examples this 'vine scroll' is shown to be inhabited by a variety of animals and birds. Panels depicting figures and animals are also commonly found; on occasion these depict Biblical scenes or personages. This carved ornamentation was often painted in a variety of colours, although traces of these colourings now survive only rarely. The earliest examples were created and erected by native inhabitants; later examples are heavily influenced by Viking art styles and mythology, and their creation can be related to the Viking infiltration and settlement of the north of England. Several distinct regional groupings and regional types have been identified; some being the product of single 'schools' of craftsmen. Around 200 examples of such crosses have been identified. This is likely to represent only a small portion of those originally erected. Some were defaced or destroyed during bouts of iconoclasm in the late medieval period. Others fell out of use and were taken down and reused in new building works. They provide an important insight into art traditions and changing art styles. The figured panels provide information about religious beliefs. The Viking period stones contribute to studies of the impact of the Scandinavian newcomers on the north of England. All well preserved examples will be identified as nationally important. Although considered unlikely to be in its precise original location, the Giant's Thumb high cross survives reasonably well. Together with the nearby Giant's Grave group of two crosses and four hogback stones also located in St Andrew's churchyard, the Giant's Thumb forms part of a remarkable group of richly carved tenth century monuments unparalled in Cumbria. It displays good examples of the art styles of that period and attests to the importance of both the church environs and the wider local area as a centre of activity during the tenth century.


The monument is an Anglian high cross - known locally as the Giant's Thumb - located in St Andrew's churchyard, Penrith. It is constructed of local red sandstone and is set in a modern sandstone base. The total height of the cross and base is c.3.2m with the cross measuring 1.96m tall. It is of rectangular cross section tapering towards the top. All sides of the shaft display decoration, however, the eastern and western sides are heavily weathered and the decoration virtually unrecognisable. The northern and southern faces depict Anglian scroll work and intertwining vines. Much of the wheel head survives but the decoration has weathered. A drawing of the cross produced in 1921 shows the the east and west faces to have displayed a decoration of scroll and interlacing with a crucifixion scene on one side depicting Christ flanked by two figures interpreted as Longinus the spearman and Stephaton the sponge bearer. Above Christ there is a serpent. On the opposite side of the stone there was another human figure too weathered to interpret. The cross is thought to date to c.AD 920. Sandstone and iron railing supports on the north side of the cross, a gravestone and grave on the south side of the cross, and sandstone flags around the base within which the cross is set are all excluded from the scheduling. The ground beneath the railing supports and sandstone flags, however, is included

MAP EXTRACT 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.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Collingwood, W G, 'Trans Cumb and West Antiq and Arch Soc. New Ser' in The Giant's Grave, Penrith, , Vol. XXIII, (1923), 126


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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