Mercian cross, St Mary and St John's churchyard


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1014511

Date first listed: 07-Oct-1954

Date of most recent amendment: 15-May-1996


Ordnance survey map of Mercian cross, St Mary and St John's churchyard
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

County: Leicestershire

District: Charnwood (District Authority)

Parish: Rothley

National Grid Reference: SK 58613 12637


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

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 cross to the south of St Mary and St John's Church is a rare example of a standing cross of the pre-Viking period; it is one of only two near-complete examples in the East Midlands. The Mercian-influenced ornamentation on the shaft makes an important contribution towards the understanding of the regional and chronological variations in the design of early medieval crosses. Situated to the south of the church on a slight mound, it is considered to stand in its original location and thus archaeological deposits relating to the monument's construction and use are likely to survive within, beneath and around it. The modern repairs to the shaft illustrate the continued use of the cross as a public monument and amenity from at least the mid-ninth century to the present day.


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


The monument includes part of a Mercian cross located in the churchyard of St Mary and St John's Church, Rothley, approximately 10m south of the church. The cross is late eight or ninth century in date with modern repairs, and takes the form of a base, comprising a socket stone and the shaft which has been fashioned from Millstone Grit. The cross, which was originally a monolith, has been broken into four stones at some date and subsequently reasssembled. The cross stands on an earthen mound which has a diameter of 3.9m and rises to 0.6m high at the centre, within which the socket stone is partly buried. Set into the socket stone is the stone shaft, of tapering rectangular section, which measures 0.53m north-south and 0.42m west-east at its base and stands to a height of 3.7m. Each face of the shaft is divided by doubled mouldings into four ornamental panels. The elaborate low relief carved decoration is mostly of interlaced plaitwork and plant scrolls, including whorls of foliage with elongated leaves. One panel on the south face is believed to include a carving of a winged beast or dragon with an interlacing tail, whilst that above the gabled head on the north face has a symmetrical foliate ornament. The grave markers immediately to the north and south west of the cross are excluded from the scheduling, although the ground beneath these features is included.

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: 21646

Legacy System: RSM


Books and journals
Kendrick, T D, Anglo-Saxon Art, (1938), 207

End of official listing