Early medieval sculptural fragments in St Mary's churchyard


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Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of Early medieval sculptural fragments in St Mary's churchyard
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

Cheshire East (Unitary Authority)
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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.

Whilst not in an original setting, these sculptural fragments are fixtures in their present position and are an important surviving testimony to a major church foundation at Sandbach during the eigth or ninth century. The fragments of Mercian tomb covers are a further important survival, since such covers are rare. Unfortunately time and erosion have obscured much of the sculptural detail but it is clear that these pieces represent the product of a school of ecclesiastical sculpture either at this site or more centrally in a monastic workshop in the kingdom of Mercia further to the south. They will provide further evidence for the organisation of such sculptural workshops both locally and nationally and also confirm the importance of the larger and better preserved cross shafts in the market square.


The monument includes five fragments of Anglo-Saxon sculpture set on a concrete plinth in the churchyard of St Mary's Church. These pieces were once set up in the market place as bollards surrounding the larger Anglo-Saxon cross shafts. They were moved to this location in 1956. The pieces are therefore numbered three to seven, assuming the other two to be in the market square. Numbers three to five are large fragments of cross shafts and six and seven are tomb covers. The sculptural fragments are set onto a concrete slab, 2.75m long and 1m wide, situated immediately to the south of the belfry tower at the west end of the church. The three cross fragments are at the rear of the assemblage with number three at the left hand side. This is a gritstone shaft, decorated with a panel with a figure within, and with roll moulding at each corner. This piece measures 1m high and 0.34 by 0.28m wide. On its north side a slot has been cut out to attach a wooden railing. Number four is also a piece of a cross shaft, 1.2m high and 0.35 by 0.28m wide with a panel and figure carved on the west side. This also has cable or roll mouldings at each corner. It is also cut away on the east side to provide a slot for a railing. Piece number five is another shaft fragment 0.9m high and 0.33 by 0.34m wide. Detail of the carving is not recognisable and again, this has been mutilated on the east and north sides for inserting a railing. The two grave covers are in front of the assemblage and are of a similar type to Mercian sculpture at Wirksworth in Derbyshire. Both have a shallow, pitched roof shaped top and are set on end. Number six is 0.9m long and 0.5m wide and is 0.18m high at the apex of the roof. There are traces of arcaded panels on either side of this roof shape with decoration within each arcade. Number seven is similar in shape, standing on end and measuring 0.8m long and 0.4m wide. It appears to have a haloed figure in a panel on the right side, with the left side broken away where the slab of stone has been re-used. In front of the sculptures is a metal plaque with an inscription detailing the relocation in 1956. The concrete slab is included in the scheduling, as is the ground beneath it.

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.

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Books and journals
Rollason, et al, Four Anglian Monuments in Derbyshire, (1996), 48


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.

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