Medieval churchyard cross-head and medieval cross-shaft in St Mary Magdalene's churchyard


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014023

Date first listed: 16-Feb-1996


Ordnance survey map of Medieval churchyard cross-head and medieval cross-shaft in St Mary Magdalene's 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: Launceston

National Grid Reference: SX 33239 84663


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 medieval lantern cross-head in St Mary Magdalene's churchyard has survived reasonably well and is a good example of a lantern cross, a rare type of churchyard cross in Cornwall. It is a rare example of a cross carved from Cataclewse greenstone, the majority of crosses in Cornwall being of granite. This cross has survived, in its original churchyard, despite minor relocations, and has retained its function as a churchyard cross, despite changing attitudes to religion over the centuries.


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


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross-head set on a modern shaft, and a medieval cross-shaft set in a modern base, in St Mary Magdalene's churchyard, Launceston, in south east Cornwall. The churchyard cross-head survives as the upper portion of a lantern head (so called because the rectangular shape of the head is of a similar shape to that of a lantern), set on a modern plinth, shaft and base, the overall height being 1.72m. The head is carved from Cataclewse stone, a greenstone from the Cataclews quarries on the north Cornish coast used for fine and intricate carvings. The head measures 0.57m high and is rectangular in shape; the principal faces are orientated north west-south east. The top of the head bears an ornate pyramid shaped top added in the 19th century. Below this pyramid the head is elaborately decorated with sculpted figures set within canopies topped with pointed arches. On the north west principal face there is a crucifixion scene, a figure of Christ hanging from the cross with a kneeling figure to each side. The antiquarian Blight believed the two attendant figures to be the Virgin and St John. This scene terminates at the knees of Christ, and the lower sides of the canopy are fractured. The lower sides of the canopies on the other three faces have also been fractured. On the south east principal face the Virgin and Child have a kneeling figure to each side; these figures have been fractured and terminate at the waist. On the south west side is a figure holding a staff or a sword, terminating at the knees; and on the north east side is a figure praying, terminating at the waist. The base of the head is missing. The cross-head is mounted on a modern plinth, 0.38m north east-south west by 0.21m north west-south east and is 0.05m thick. This is set on a ten sided shaft; the widest two sides are 0.16m wide, the four corner sides are 0.09m wide and the two sides are 0.06m wide. The base measures 0.69m north east-south west by 0.39m north west-south east and is 0.11m high. There is a small rectangular metal plaque on the base on the north west face which is inscribed `Re-erected by the Launceston Old Cornwall Society 1978'. This base is set in a rectangular block of concrete measuring 0.94m north east- south west by 0.6m north west-south east set flush with the ground. The octagonal-section greenstone shaft is located 3.1m to the north east of the cross-head. The shaft measures 1.83m high above its base, and on the top is a tenon, 0.14m by 0.1m and 0.02m high. The shaft measures 0.26m wide at the base, tapering to 0.2m at the top. There is a cement repair to a fracture 0.29m above the base. The north, east, south and west sides of the shaft slope out above the base, to form a square section moulded foot. The shaft is set in a modern base, consisting of two hexagonal blocks of stone, the top one having a 0.03m wide chamfer around its top edge. The base measures 0.7m north east- south west by 0.7m north west-south east and is 0.22m high. Prior to 1858 the cross-head had been discovered in the vicarge garden. By 1858 it had been set on the churchyard wall where the antiquarian Blight illustrated it. Later the pyramid shaped top and a modern shaft were added and it was used as a memorial on the Lawrence family grave. Around 1958 the cross was damaged and removed to the crypt for storage. In 1978 it was re-erected in the churchyard on a new shaft and plinth, to the south west of the cross-shaft. The octagonal shaft is probably the original shaft for this cross-head, as it is of a similar date and material, but was not considered strong enough to support the cross-head. The gravestones to the south and south east of the cross-shaft are excluded from the scheduling, where they fall within the protective margin, but the ground beneath 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: 26258

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses in Mid Cornwall, (1989)
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses of North Cornwall, (1992)
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2787.5,
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 2787.6,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SX 28/38; Pathfinder Series 1326 Source Date: 1989 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing