High cross in St Paul's churchyard


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.

Copeland (District Authority)
Irton with Santon
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
NY 09160 00455

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.

The high cross in St Paul's churchyard, Irton, is an excellent example of this class of monument. It is a rare survival of an intact high cross and is one of the most highly decorated crosses in Cumbria.


The monument includes an early ninth century Anglian high cross located in the churchyard to the south of St Paul's church, Irton. It is constructed of red sandstone and the shaft is rectangular in cross section tapering slightly towards the top. It measures 3.1m high and is set into a sandstone socle or base. The shaft measures 49cm wide by 25cm thick at its base and is decorated on all four sides. The broad west face is edged with delicate interlace carving and is divided into two large panels of interlace separated by a small panel apparently for an inscription. The east face is divided into five panels each differently decorated and depicting, from top to bottom; diamonds and St Andrew's crosses, key pattern, a geometric cross of elaborate spiral carving, key pattern surrounded by roll moulding, and a geometric cross similar to the one above. The narrow north and south faces contain spiral scroll carving edged with roll moulding. The cross head is likewise elaborately decorated; the west face depicts interlace carving on the arms and a central circle enclosing five pellets arranged in a cruciform pattern. The east face has plant scroll carving enclosing beasts of indeterminate type, two human figures, and a central projecting boss surrounded by roll moulding and a circle of pellets. The narrow north and south faces of the cross head depict interlace carving. The fine and varied decoration on this cross is pre-Viking in date. It has similarities with some Irish crosses and some of the geometric ornamentation is thought to be manuscript derived, indicating the manufacturers' contact with a literate centre. All graves and headstones within the area of the scheduling are excluded from the scheduling but the ground beneath them 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
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 115-17


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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