Churchyard cross in St Buryan churchyard


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
List Entry Number:
Date first listed:
Date of most recent amendment:


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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cornwall (Unitary Authority)
St. Buryan
National Grid Reference:
SW 40910 25699

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 Buryan churchyard has survived reasonably well, the head mounted on a cross base, which is set on a later massive stepped base. It is a good example of a four holed wheel headed cross. Its unusual and distinctive design makes this cross one of the earliest known churchyard crosses and provides important information on the production and stylistic development of pre-Norman crosses, reflected in its specific mention in a recent study of this subject.


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross to the south of the church at St Buryan on the Penwith peninsula in west Cornwall. The granite churchyard cross, which is Listed Grade II, survives as a round or `wheel' head, set on a granite base which is mounted on a massive four step base. The overall height of the monument is 2.07m. The head measures 0.83m high by 0.64m wide and is 0.24m thick. The principal faces are orientated east-west. The head is fully pierced by four small holes creating an equal limbed cross with widely splayed arms linked by an outer ring. Both principal faces are decorated. The west face bears a figure of Christ with outstretched arms, wearing a knee length tunic and with its feet turned outwards. The outstretched arms are slightly splayed at the ends, indicating the sleeves of the tunic, and there is a bead or halo around the head. There is a single bead around the outer edge of the upper limbs of the cross-head, and a double bead on the lower limbs starting below the Christ figure's arms. The lower limb is shaped to accommodate the lower part of the figure of Christ. The east principal face is decorated with five large round raised bosses, one on each of the limbs and one at the centre of the head. The edges of the limbs are outlined with a double bead. The north and south sides of the cross-head have a bead around the ends of the side arms, and the outer ring has a bead on both edges. The cross-head is set in an almost square granite base which measures 1.15m north-south by 1.18m east-west and is 0.35m high. This base is mounted on a massive four step base constructed of large blocks of granite. The top step extends between 0.63m to 0.83m beyond the edge of the cross base, and is 0.25m high. The next step extends 0.34m beyond the upper step, and is 0.26m high. The third step is 0.3m high and extends out at least 0.3m beyond the second step. The bottom step is 0.08m high, and extends out at least 0.4m beyond the edge of the third step. The bottom step measures 4.7m east-west by 4.7m north-south. This churchyard cross in St Buryan churchyard is considered to be the original churchyard cross. The massive four step base is probably of a much later date, as may be the cross base in which the head is set. The figure of Christ motif is more widely found on crosses in west Cornwall, notably around St Buryan which is the site of a major Celtic monastery traditionally founded by Althelstan in the early tenth century AD. A recent study of these crosses, in which this cross is specifically mentioned, has considered that they date to the late ninth or early tenth century and provided a major design inspiration for the mid tenth century development of a more highly elaborate series of west Cornish crosses. The four granite steps immediately to the north west of the cross, the low wall to the west, the headstone and kerb surround of a grave to the south west, the two headstones and iron railings to the south, and the headstones to the south east, east, north east and north, fall within the cross's protective margin and are all excluded from the scheduling 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.

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Books and journals
Langdon, A G, Old Cornish Crosses, (1896)
Thomas, C, 'Anglo-Saxon and Viking Age Sculpture and its Context' in Ninth Century Sculpture in Cornwall: a note, , Vol. 49, (1978), 75-9
Consulted 1995, Cornwall SMR entry for PRN No. 28683.13,
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 32/42; Pathfinder Series 1368 Source Date: 1980 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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