Churchyard cross-head in wall of Paul churchyard


Heritage Category: Scheduled Monument

List Entry Number: 1015067

Date first listed: 12-Nov-1996


Ordnance survey map of Churchyard cross-head in wall of Paul 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: Penzance

National Grid Reference: SW 46428 27072


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.

This churchyard cross in the wall of Paul churchyard has survived reasonably well, the head mounted on a boulder, later incorporated into the churchyard wall. It is a good example of a four holed wheel headed cross-head, with unusually widely splayed limbs and short outer ring. 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.


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


The monument includes a medieval churchyard cross-head set on a large granite boulder in the south western boundary wall of Paul churchyard, on the southern coast of Penwith in west Cornwall. The granite churchyard cross-head survives as a round or `wheel' head, measuring 0.6m high by 0.6m wide and is 0.2m thick. The principal faces are orientated north east-south west. The head is pierced by four holes creating an equal limbed cross with widely splayed arms linked by an outer ring. Three of the holes fully pierce the head, only the lower hole on the north west side does not, forming a hole 0.12m deep on its north east face. The limbs are unusually widely splayed, leaving little room for the short outer ring. Both principal faces are decorated. The south west face bears a figure of Christ 0.55m high, with outstretched arms, a long body, and short legs which extend slightly beyond the edge of the lower limb of the cross-head. There is a 0.04m wide bead or halo around the head, and the outstretched arms extend to the edge of the side limbs. There are the remains of a single outer bead on the upper limbs of the cross-head, and a double bead on the lower limbs starting immediately below the Christ figure's outstretched arms. The north east face of the cross-head is decorated with five large round raised bosses, 0.1m in diameter, one on each of the limbs and one at the centre of the head. The boss on the north west side limb has been removed at sometime in the past leaving a dent 0.16m long by 0.08m wide and 0.04m deep. The edges of the limbs are outlined with the remains of a double bead, visible on the lower and side arms. There is a 0.02m diameter lump of iron embedded in the cross head immediately below the lower limb on the south west face. The head is cemented to the top of a large, granite boulder which measures 1.19m high by 1.06m wide at the base tapering to 0.4m wide at the top, and is 0.48m thick. This churchyard cross-head was cemented onto the boulder at some time in the past, and at a later date the churchyard wall was built up to the boulder. These events took place before 1896 when the historian Langdon recorded the cross in its present position. There is a local tradition that this boulder is the original shaft of the cross-head. This is unlikely as most four holed crosses have ornately decorated shafts. The figure of Christ motif is more widely found on crosses in west Cornwall, notably around St Buryan, 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 gravel surface of the footpath passing immediately to the north east of the cross is excluded from the scheduling where it falls within the cross's protective margin, but the ground beneath is included.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

Legacy System number: 28467

Legacy System: RSM


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
Title: 1:25000 Ordnance Survey Map; SW 32/42; Pathfinder Series 1368 Source Date: 1980 Author: Publisher: Surveyor:

End of official listing