High cross shaft, high cross head, and high cross base in St Michael and All Angels churchyard


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Date first listed:
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Ordnance survey map of High cross shaft, high cross head, and high cross base in St Michael and All Angels 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.

Copeland (District Authority)
National Park:
National Grid Reference:
SD 10393 96555

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.

Despite being partly weathered and lichen covered, the high cross shaft, high cross head and high cross base in St Michael and All Angels churchyard, Muncaster survive reasonably well. The shaft and head display good examples of Anglo-Scandinavian art styles, and together the three fragments attest to the importance of both the church and its environs as a pre-Conquest centre of ecclesiastical importance.


The monument includes a late tenth/early eleventh century Anglo-Scandinavian high cross shaft, a tenth century Anglo-Scandinavian cross head, and the socle or base of a high cross shaft, all of which are located in the churchyard to the south of St Michael and All Angels Church, Muncaster. The cross shaft is constructed of red sandstone and is rectangular in cross section tapering towards the top. It is 1.03m high, measures 0.41m wide by 0.17m thick at its base, and is set into a modern sandstone base. The shaft is decorated on all four sides, with each side being divided into two panels. The upper panel, which is decorated differently on each face, occupies the greater length of the shaft and is bordered laterally by a roll moulding. The lower panel depicts a step pattern decoration on all faces. The broad west face is largely decorated with ring-chain carving; the east face depicts a broad six-strand plain plait carving; the south face has a broad simple twist decoration, and the north face has a broad two-strand twist decoration. A small fragment at the top of the shaft suggests the cross head was circular.

At the foot of the cross shaft, and set into the same modern sandstone base as the shaft, is a circular cross head constructed of red sandstone. It measures 0.47m wide by 0.39m high and is 0.12m thick, and is in the form of a circle head with an additional outer ring. The broad west face depicts a crudely incised linear cross at the centre of the head and three-strand plain plait decoration elsewhere. The east face has faint traces of a step pattern decoration. No decoration is visible on the narrow north and south faces. In the 19th century this cross head was found in the garden wall of Eilbeck Ground cottage, Irton, approximately two miles away from its present location. It is thought possible the cross head originally came from Muncaster. Adjacent to the modern sandstone base in which the cross shaft and cross head are set is the socle or base of a high cross. It is constructed of red sandstone and measures approximately 0.7m square by 0.3m high. The shape of the socket shows that it once held a rectangular cross shaft, although it is not known if this was the adjacent cross shaft.

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
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 117-18
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 134
Bailey, R N, Cramp, R, Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, (1988), 117-8


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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