Anglo-Saxon Cross Fragments

York Museum’s Trust organised an exhibition, to celebrate the 1700 th anniversary of Constantine becoming Roman Emperor, while in York. The proclamation was made there in AD 306. The Exhibition was described as ‘…the most important archaeological – historical loan exhibition to have been held in a British provincial museum ever’.

The Minster loaned the Trust three Saxon sandstone fragments. They are thought to have been part of a huge cross, commemorating Paulinus’ preaching and celebrating in Dewsbury AD 627. Two of the stones are once again displayed with several others in the Minster Heritage Centre while the Christ in Majesty stone has returned to the Paulinus Chapel. The exhibition’s book/catalogue, referenced below, includes a description by Jane Hawkes, and superb photographs by Charlie Nickols. We are grateful to have been allowed to present the photos on this website below. The book is also available for viewing, but only at the Minster.

Book reference:
‘Constantine the Great: York’s Roman Emperor’ by Elizabeth Hartley, Jane Hawkes, Martin Henig and Frances Mee.
Hardback ISBN 0 85331 928 6 Paperback ISBN 0 905807 21 9.

Lay interpretation of the text:

273 – 275: Dewsbury Columns in three pieces

These stones are different in several aspects (including the figures’ size and the depth of their relief) to the other Anglo-Saxon stones at Dewsbury. They were probably from the upper part of a column section. Horizontal moulding with rope moulding above bound them, marking perhaps where a round column stopped and a square crosshead began. Set here were the figures of Christ enthroned, flanked by his apostles, a scheme popularly associated with Constantine in the Christian art of the later eighth and ninth centuries. At this time sculptures had naturalistic, turning poses, well-modelled faces and bodies could be made out under well-defined classical garments. View a photograph of these exhibits in the Yorkshire Museum, York 31st March – 29th October 2006. [photo 5.2a in here]

Cross 273273 Column Fragment

Early 9th century

Under a plain moulding stand two figures. Above them two strands of rope moulding sweep up to the left over the remains of a leaf. The left figure is bearded with deeply drilled eyes. The figure on the right has deeply drilled eyes and a well-modelled, clean-shaven head with short hair. His full length, long sleeved under garment is covered by a long over garment. A high collar round his neck extends in bands down the front. Although he has no tonsure, his dress is reminiscent of a priest’s or a monk’s clothing. Over his chest, in his left hand, he holds a scroll.

Cross 274274 Column Fragment

Early 9th century

Three figures stand physically on an arcading. Beneath it are pairs of figures, the heads and shoulders of which survive. One has a well-moulded face with deeply drilled eyes. The damaged figures above wear full-length robes, showing their limbs under slightly upswept hems, and long over garments. The left and right figures face forwards and the centre one turns left. The lower figures may have illustrated narrative events, as on an early ninth century column in Masham, Yorkshire.

Cross 275275 Column Fragment

Early 9th century

Above the figure of Christ enthroned in Majesty is an incomplete inscription that reads: I HIS XLVS, possibly an incorrect abbreviation for Iesus Christus. The halo has a narrow moulding round the rim but no cross, as is usual with depictions of Christ. However, the drilled eyes would have contained paste glass which means the sculpture would have been coloured, so the halo probably had a coloured cross. Christ is clean-shaven with long hair knotted by the ears, following Anglo-Saxon tradition. His stylised over garment falls in folds and is draped over his left arm. In his left hand he holds a scroll. His disproportionately large right hand is held palm outwards, as with other carved images of Christ from Dewsbury, emphasising Christ’s blessing. A moulding, visible to the right of Christ, indicates he was probably framed and separated from the neighbouring apostles.