Three high crosses in St Mary's churchyard


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


Ordnance survey map of Three high crosses in St Mary's churchyard
© Crown Copyright and database right 2019. All rights reserved. Ordnance Survey Licence number 100024900.
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Ribble Valley (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
SD 73241 36154, SD 73250 36161, SD 73268 36169

Reasons for Designation

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 important.

Although partly weathered and in places broken, the three high crosses in St Mary's churchyard, Whalley, survive reasonably well. As a group of richly decorated pre-Norman crosses they are unparalleled in Lancashire. They display good examples of early 11th century art styles and attest to the significance of both the church and its environs as a centre of ecclesiastical importance during this period.


The monument includes three decorated pre-Norman cross shafts, each constructed of local sandstone, located in the churchyard to the south of St Mary's Church, Whalley. The westernmost of the three cross shafts measures approximately 2.9m tall and is of rectangular cross section tapering towards the top. All four sides of the shaft have been decorated but only the eastern has survived heavy weathering; this contains six panels, three of which depict interlaced decoration and three of which depict human, bird and animal figures. The top of the shaft has been broken and now has the remains of a small mutilated Anglo-Saxon cross head, originally with expanded arms rounded at the ends. The central cross shaft measures approximately 2.2m high and is socketed into a carved square base stone or sockle. It is rectangular in cross section and tapers towards the top where it has been broken. A piece of the shaft about 0.75m in length is missing. All four sides of the shaft depict well preserved early 11th century decoration comprising foliated scrollwork. The principal ornamentation is on the east and west faces and consists of a central rounded shaft or pole rising from the apex of a gable. At the top of the shaft are the mutilated remains of the carved central boss of the cross head. The easternmost cross shaft is socketed into an oblong stone base with holes at each end of it suitable for supporting other cross shafts. It measures approximately 2.1m high and is of rectangular cross section tapering towards the top where it has been broken. All four sides of the shaft have been decorated but heavy weathering has virtually obliterated artwork on all but the western face where carved scroll work remains visible. The original cross head is missing and has been replaced by a 15th century decorated cross. All graves and headstones, the surface of a footpath, and a flight of stone steps adjacent to the eastern cross shaft are excluded from the scheduling, but the ground beneath the footpath and steps 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Taylor, H, The Ancient Crosses and Holy Wells of Lancashire, (1906), 74-80
SMR No. 185, Lancs SMR, Whalley Churchyard, (1994)


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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