Churchyard cross in St Michael's churchyard, Porthilly


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:


Ordnance survey map of Churchyard cross in St Michael's churchyard, Porthilly
© 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.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Minver Lowlands
National Grid Reference:
SW 93687 75355

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 churchyard cross in St Michael's churchyard, Porthilly, has survived well. It forms a good example of a four-holed wheel headed cross. It is of unusual design, in that the limbs are straight; there are only two similar examples of this style of cross motif in west Cornwall. The cross maintains its original function as a churchyard cross despite being re-located within the churchyard in the 19th century.


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross situated to the south of the church in the churchyard of St Michael, Porthilly, also known as St Michael Rock, by the Camel estuary in north Cornwall.

The churchyard cross is visible as an upright granite shaft with a round or `wheel' head. The cross measures 0.96m in overall height. The head is 0.85m wide and 0.28m thick. The head is fully pierced by four holes creating an equal limbed cross with widely expanded ends to the limbs, linked by an outer ring. The ends of the limbs extend slightly beyond the edge of the ring. The irregularly shaped holes have been worked from both faces creating a wide hole with the centre pierced through. There is a narrow bead around the outer edge of the head on both principal faces. The north principal face has a 0.15m diameter circular raised boss at the intersection of the limbs; the south principal face is plain. There is a 0.05m diameter cement filled hole on the west side of the head. The shaft measures 0.23m high by 0.46m wide at the base tapering slightly to 0.44m at the neck, and is 0.28m thick at the base tapering to 0.25m at the neck. The shaft has a 0.07m wide bead on all four corners. Originally all four sides of the shaft would have been decorated, but in 1896 when the historian Langdon illustrated this cross the only visible decoration was some interlace pattern on the north and east sides of the shaft. The cross is set on a rectangular stone base which is completely covered by a layer of turf.

This churchyard cross was situated on the west side of the church, but was later moved to its present position opposite the south porch. It has been suggested that the cross head and shaft are part of the cross shaft and base in Padstow churchyard. The historian Ellis in 1959 dated the cross to the late 12th century. More recent studies of other four holed crosses have dated them to the tenth century. Both this and the interlace decoration on the shaft suggest that this cross is also of tenth century date.

The two graves with their chest tombs to the east of the cross but which fall within its protective margin are excluded from the scheduling, although 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:
Legacy System:


Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Old Cornish Crosses, (1896)
Langdon, A G, Stone Crosses of North Cornwall, (1992)
Pearce, S M, The Kingdom of Dumnonia, (1978)
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN 26358,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 87/97; Pathfinder Series 1337 Source Date: 1981 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:


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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