English village series: the stone crosses

We’d never heard of preaching crosses until we came face to face with one in England.

Since then, we’ve kept and eye open for these unusual medieval landmarks – many of which are fast weathering away.

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Cross in the Nadder Valley

Driving on the A30 motorway in Southern Wiltshire, we crossed the River Nadder and entered the picturesque village of Barford St Martin.

Sitting between the provincial centres of Salisbury and Shaftsbury, this dot on the map was known to us only for the 16th Century Barford Inn, which once brewed its own high quality beer.

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After checking out the inn, we set off for Shaftesbury – and then encountered the village’s preaching cross.

It was obviously taller and much different to the market crosses which can be found in many English villages and rural towns.

High crosses

After photographing the structure out of curiosity, we wandered into the adjoining Church of St Martin and were told that the stone cross dated to early medieval times.

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Courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

It was one of many so-called ‘high crosses’ built across England, Scotland and Ireland for travelling priests to preach where there wasn’t a church. At Barford St Martin, for example, we were told that a church wasn’t erected until the 13th Century.

Historians say that Cornwall was probably the first county in England to have stone crosses, as long ago as the 4th century.

Market crosses

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On the other hand, smaller market crosses – like this one at Sturminster Newton in Dorset – designed a market place, although they were also sometimes used as a rallying point for important news.

Political crosses?

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In another twist to the story of the stone crosses, we came across a plaque in the East Sussex town of Rye that marked the site of another cross – this time for the election of the local mayor  between 1289 and 1602.

Perhaps an example of mixing politics and religion?

 

Main photo courtesy Wikimedia and Pauline Eccles

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