Three Anglo-Scandinavian crosses in St Mary's and All Saints' churchyard
Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number: 1012671
Date first listed: 12-Nov-1962
Date of most recent amendment: 12-Jun-1995
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
District: Staffordshire Moorlands (District Authority)
National Grid Reference: SK 02790 37873
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
The three crosses in the churchyard of St Mary's and All Saints' Church survive well and are believed to stand in or near to their original position. They are an unusual example of several early medieval crosses sited in close proximity to each other. They are considered to be amongst the finest Anglo-Scandinavian crosses in Staffordshire and provide important evidence for both Anglian and Anglo-Scandinavian forms of ornament. In particular they exhibit rare examples of figure carving. Limited disturbance in the area immediately surrounding the crosses indicates that archaeological deposits relating to their construction and use are likely to survive intact. The crosses have not been restored and have continued in use as public monuments and amenities from the early medieval period to the present day.
The monument includes parts of three Anglo-Scandinavian stone crosses located
in the churchyard of St Mary's and All Saints' Church, Checkley. They are
situated on the same alignment, approximately 4m south east of the south porch
and are early medieval in date.
Although no longer evident on the ground surface, each cross is known to stand
on individual stone bases which were visible during the mid-1940s; however, it
is unclear if these are early medieval socket-stones. The bases will survive
as buried features and are included in the scheduling. The southernmost cross
stands to a height of 1.6m and represents the lower portion of an early
medieval shaft. It has a tapering, rectangular section and has two panels of
decoration divided by a double band of curved moulding on all four sides. The
lower panel of the east face is ornamented with carvings of three full-length
human figures with plaitwork bodies and well-defined legs, and a semicircular
band of interlace immediately above their heads. The panel above contains a
pattern of three concentric circles interwoven with four semicircles. The
shaft is broken off just above this although it is clear that the design
originally continued upwards. The south face, also has two panels; the bottom
panel decorated with a plaitwork motif, while the upper panel has two separate
plaitwork interlacements, the top one of which is now incomplete. The bottom
panel of the north face has an identical design to that on the south face, and
above the arch is a further human figure, although incomplete, with a body of
pure interlace. The west face is occupied by two panels which contain six
figures. They are arranged in two tiers of three; all have bodies of
interlacement but with no arms or legs.
The central cross of the three is of tapering rectangular section and
represents part of a larger cross-shaft. It is 1.35m high and its decoration
is thought to be of Northumbrian derivation. It differs from the southernmost
cross in that the panels are divided by horizontal rather than curved
divisions. The south face is in two panels, the lower one decorated with two
human figures without arms or legs, and the upper has a zoomorphic
interlacement including what is thought to be a dragon or serpent. The top
panel on the east face is decorated with plaitwork and the lower panel has
plaitwork which seems to be divided by a diagonal cross. The north face has
two figures and plaitwork above. On the west face, three human figures occupy
the lower panel, and immediately above them, divided by a bar, stand three
smaller figures. Above these, is a fret type of ornament. The human figures
which decorate the central cross do not have the interlace pattern visible on
the figures carved on the southernmost cross.
The northernmost cross in the churchyard at Checkley stands to a height of
1.43m and also has a tapering, rectanguar section. No decoration is visible on
this cross-shaft which is also thought to be early medieval in date.
Tradition asserts that the crosses were erected as monuments to the memory of
three bishops who were killed during a battle which was fought close to
The table tomb on the west side of the crosses is excluded from the
MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract. It includes a 1 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: 21601
Legacy System: RSM
Books and journals
Plot, R, The Natural History of Staffordshire, (1686), 404
Pape, T, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in Rectangular-shafted pre-Norman crosses of North Staffordshire, , Vol. 81, (1947), 49
Pape, T, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in Rectangular-shafted pre-Norman crosses of North Staffordshire, , Vol. 81, (1947), 28
Pape, T, 'Transactions of the North Staffordshire Field Club' in Rectangular-shafted pre-Norman crosses of North Staffordshire, , Vol. 81, (1947), 25
Staffordshire SMR, Crosses in Checkley churchyard, SMR number 93,
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