Medieval wayside cross at Whitecross, near Crowlas
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1007964
Date first listed: 22-Mar-1932
Date of most recent amendment: 18-Jan-1994
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
National Grid Reference: SW 52488 34394
Reasons for Designation
Wayside crosses are one of several types of Christian cross erected during the
medieval period, mostly from the 9th to 15th centuries AD. In addition to
serving the function of reiterating and reinforcing the Christian faith
amongst those who passed the cross and of reassuring the traveller, wayside
crosses often fulfilled a role as waymarkers, especially in difficult and
otherwise unmarked terrain. The crosses might be on regularly used routes
linking ordinary settlements or on routes having a more specifically religious
function, including those providing access to religious sites for parishioners
and funeral processions, or marking long-distance routes frequented on
Over 350 wayside crosses are known nationally, concentrated in south-west
England throughout Cornwall and on Dartmoor where they form the commonest type
of stone cross. A small group also occurs on the North York Moors. Relatively
few examples have been recorded elsewhere and these are generally confined to
remote moorland locations.
Outside Cornwall almost all wayside crosses take the form of a 'latin' cross,
in which the cross-head itself is shaped with the projecting arms of an
unenclosed cross. In Cornwall wayside crosses vary considerably in form and
decoration. The commonest type includes a round, or 'wheel', head on the faces
of which various forms of cross or related designs were carved in relief or
incised, the spaces between the cross arms possibly pierced. The design was
sometimes supplemented with a relief figure of Christ and the shaft might bear
decorative panels and motifs. Less common forms in Cornwall include the
'Latin' cross and, much rarer, the simple slab with a low relief cross on both
faces. Rare examples of wheel-head and slab-form crosses also occur within the
North York Moors group. Most wayside crosses have either a simple socketed
base or show no evidence for a separate base at all.
Wayside crosses contribute significantly to our understanding of medieval
religious customs and sculptural traditions and to our knowledge of medieval
routeways and settlement patterns. All wayside crosses which survive as earth-
fast monuments, except those which are extremely damaged and removed from
their original locations, are considered worthy of protection.
The wayside cross at Whitecross has survived reasonably well, remaining as a marker on its original route despite the loss of its shaft and its re-mounting on a modern plinth. It is a good example of this unusual group of west Cornish wayside crosses, whose distinctive features and restricted geographical spread provide important information on the production methods and stylistic development of this monument class. This is emphasised by the recent studies of related cross types in this area which indicate an early date in the wayside cross series. The location of this cross beside the main route through Cornwall, marked also by other wayside crosses, demonstrates well the major function of wayside crosses and shows clearly the longevity of many routes still in use. The surviving custom of whitewashing this cross, resulting in the name of the adjacent village, illustrates the regard with which wayside crosses were, and still may be, held by the communities near which they were sited.
The monument includes a medieval wayside cross and a 2m protective margin,
situated beside the road at Whitecross, near Crowlas in west Cornwall.
The wayside cross at Whitecross survives with a granite round or 'wheel' head
set in a rectangular granite base stone on a modern granite base. The cross
measures 1.06m in overall height. The head is 0.54m high by 0.65m wide and
0.25m thick, its lower half clearly elongated, giving the head an egg-shaped
outline. The west principal face of the head bears a relief figure of Christ
set within a broad raised peripheral band 0.1m wide. The figure measures 0.44m
high and 0.45m wide and is depicted with outstretched, slightly upcurved arms,
a large head inclined to the north and a long body truncated above the level
of the feet. The east principal face displays a relief Latin cross, 0.41m high
by 0.36m wide, also set within a broad raised peripheral band, 0.10m wide. The
head is set directly into a large, roughly shaped, rectangular granite
base-stone measuring 1.12m NNE-SSW by 0.84m ESE-WNW and 0.23m high. This base
is set on a modern granite plinth measuring 1.75m NNE-SSW by 1.55m ESE-WNW and
0.25m high. The entire cross, including its base stone and the modern base, is
whitewashed, continuing a longstanding local tradition recorded in the 19th
century when the cross displayed its present form without its shaft, but with
its base slab resting directly on the ground.
The cross is situated in its original location at Whitecross, a hamlet which
has taken its name from the cross, situated on the major ancient, and modern,
route through Cornwall, now the A30T, as it approaches Penzance. This route is
marked at intervals by several other wayside crosses. The peculiar features of
this cross head - its figure of Christ and Latin cross motifs set within a
broad band on an elongated head - are shared on a distinctive group of similar
crosses found in the far west of Cornwall. The figure of Christ motif itself
is more widely found on wayside crosses in west Cornwall, notably around St
Buryan, the site of a major Celtic monastery traditionally founded by
Althelstan in the early 10th century AD. Studies of the crosses there bearing
the Christ motifs have suggested that they date to the late 9th or early 10th
century and provided a major design inspiration for the mid 10th century
development of a more highly elaborate series of west Cornish crosses.
The metalled surface of the modern footpath passing east of the cross is
excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath 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.
Legacy System number: 24273
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Old Cornish Crosses, (1896)
Thomas, C, 'Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age Sculpture and its Context' in Ninth Century Sculpture in Cornwall: a note, , Vol. 49, (1978), 75-9
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 33/43/part 53; Pathfinder 1364 Source Date: 1989 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:
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