Medieval churchyard cross in Michaelstow churchyard


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014018

Date first listed: 13-Feb-1958

Date of most recent amendment: 21-Dec-1995


Ordnance survey map of Medieval churchyard cross in Michaelstow churchyard
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

District: Cornwall (Unitary Authority)

Parish: Michaelstow

National Grid Reference: SX0806378855


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.

Reasons for Designation

A standing cross is a free standing upright structure, usually of stone, mostly erected during the medieval period (mid 10th to mid 16th centuries AD). Standing crosses served a variety of functions. In churchyards they served as stations for outdoor processions, particularly in the observance of Palm Sunday. Elsewhere, standing crosses were used within settlements as places for preaching, public proclamation and penance, as well as defining rights of sanctuary. Standing crosses were also employed to mark boundaries between parishes, property, or settlements. A few crosses were erected to commemorate battles. Some crosses were linked to particular saints, whose support and protection their presence would have helped to invoke. Crosses in market places may have helped to validate transactions. After the Reformation, some crosses continued in use as foci for municipal or borough ceremonies, for example as places for official proclamations and announcements; some were the scenes of games or recreational activity. Standing crosses were distributed throughout England and are thought to have numbered in excess of 12,000. However, their survival since the Reformation has been variable, being much affected by local conditions, attitudes and religious sentiment. In particular, many cross-heads were destroyed by iconoclasts during the 16th and 17th centuries. Less than 2,000 medieval standing crosses, with or without cross-heads, are now thought to exist. The oldest and most basic form of standing cross is the monolith, a stone shaft often set directly in the ground without a base. The most common form is the stepped cross, in which the shaft is set in a socket stone and raised upon a flight of steps; this type of cross remained current from the 11th to 12th centuries until after the Reformation. Where the cross-head survives it may take a variety of forms, from a lantern-like structure to a crucifix; the more elaborate examples date from the 15th century. Much less common than stepped crosses are spire-shaped crosses, often composed of three or four receding stages with elaborate architectural decoration and/or sculptured figures; the most famous of these include the Eleanor crosses, erected by Edward I at the stopping places of the funeral cortege of his wife, who died in 1290. Also uncommon are the preaching crosses which were built in public places from the 13th century, typically in the cemeteries of religious communities and cathedrals, market places and wide thoroughfares; they include a stepped base, buttresses supporting a vaulted canopy, in turn carrying either a shaft and head or a pinnacled spire. Standing crosses contribute significantly to our understanding of medieval customs, both secular and religious, and to our knowledge of medieval parishes and settlement patterns. All crosses which survive as standing monuments, especially those which stand in or near their original location, are considered worthy of protection.

The Michaelstow churchyard cross has survived well. It forms a good example of a four-holed wheel headed cross and has an abacus with moulded edges at its neck which suggests a late tenth century date. The abacus is a rare form of decoration which is only present on two other crosses in Cornwall. The burial of the cross head and reuse of the shaft by the entrance to the churchyard, until the 19th century when it was re-erected, illustrates the changing attitudes to religion that have prevailed since the Reformation and the impact of these changes on the local landscape.


Legacy Record - This information may be included in the List Entry Details.


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross situated in the churchyard at Michaelstow in north Cornwall.

The churchyard cross survives as an upright granite shaft with a round or `wheel' head set into a modern rectangular base stone. The cross measures 3.4m in overall height. The principal faces are orientated south west-north east and the head measures 0.68m wide. Each principal face bears an equal limbed cross, with slightly splayed limbs. The head is perforated by four large holes marking the angles where the limbs of the cross meet and creating a distinct ring enclosing the limbs. These holes take up the whole area between the edges of the limbs and the ring. Below the head is an abacus, a collar-like disc around the neck of a cross, which encircles the top of the shaft and projects beyond the shaft edge. The shaft measures 0.43m wide at the base tapering to 0.3m, and is 0.34m thick at the base tapering to 0.18m. A narrow bead 0.04m wide runs the length of the shaft on all four corners. At the base of the shaft on the north east side, an unworked area of granite projects from the shaft; this was probably not originally intended to be visible. The shaft is set into a roughly shaped block of granite, measuring 1.02m north west-south east by 1.11m north east-south west, and is 0.39m high.

The original location of the churchyard cross is unknown, but the shaft had been in use as the lowest step of a flight of steps at the west entrance to the churchyard. In 1883 the shaft was removed from the steps, the head was found nearby, and the cross was re-erected in its present position.

The gravestone to the south east of the cross and the metalled surface of the footpath to the north east are excluded from the scheduling, where they fall within the protective margin of the cross, but the ground beneath is included.

This cross is Listed Grade II.

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: 26253

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Old Cornish Crosses, (1896)
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses of North Cornwall, (1992)
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 17791,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 07/17; Pathfinder Series 1338 Source Date: 1988 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing