Volume II | Chapter 10 |
Numbers and Distribution of Viking-Period SculpturesNext Back to catalogue index
by R.N.Bailey

Most of Cumbria's pre-Norman sculpture belongs to the Viking period. There are, at most, 29 fragments of Anglian work from some 20 sites; against this we can cite at least 116 Viking-age carvings from 38 sites. Statistics like these can be quoted from all over northern England. This increase in the popularity of sculpture is explicable in various ways (Bailey 1980, 81–3), but, given the fact that the Scandinavian settlers had no tradition of stone carving in their homeland, it follows that the enthusiasm with which sculpture was still being produced in the tenth and eleventh centuries in England represents an important native contribution to the fused culture of the Anglo-Scandinavian north.

Anglian sculpture, on the evidence of its find-spots, its literacy, and its iconography, was a monastic art (Bailey 1980, 81–4). Though the Church still continued to patronize stone carving in the Viking period (Lang 1978c, 146), historical considerations dictate the conclusion that sculpture had ceased to be a purely monastic medium in the tenth and early eleventh centuries. Secular patrons and artists now played a dominant role.

Cumbrian centres which had once produced Anglian sculpture (Addingham, Beckermet St Bridget, Brigham, Carlisle, Dacre, Isel(?), Kirkby Stephen, Lowther, Penrith, Urswick, Waberthwaite, Workington) continued to be active in the Viking period but were now joined by other sites from which we have no evidence of Anglian activity. The general distribution, as Higham has noted, follows the 'fertile crescent' of Grade II land around the Lakeland dome and in the valleys cutting into the uplands (Higham 1978). There are, however, interesting contrasts between the distribution maps for the two periods (see Figs. 2 and 3).

There is, first, a notable absence of Viking-age carvings from Kentmere. Both Heversham and Kendal have produced Anglian sculpture, but there are no later crosses surviving from the whole of the valley. It is therefore possible that Tilred's move from Heversham, recorded in the Historia de Sancto Cuthberto, when allied to the evidence of exceptionally dense Gaelic-Norse place-names in the area (including the possible pagan name of Hoff (Smith 1967, ii, 97–8)) reflects a more serious social upheaval in this district than occurred elsewhere.

Secondly, whilst the distribution of the few Anglian carvings does not suggest that sculpture was markedly absent from the Carlisle plain, the more plentiful Viking-age carvings do show a distinct tendency to avoid the lowland area north of a line from (approximately) the river Ellen to Addingham. What little sculpture there is in the north from the tenth and eleventh centuries, such as the shafts from Rockcliffe and Stanwix, comes from sites whose strategic situation leant them particular importance (Bailey 1974a, i, 389). This distinction between the output of the Carlisle plain and the areas further south is not explicable in geological terms and must reflect a difference in political or cultural history (Bailey 1980, 223–9; but see Jensen forthcoming a and b).

The case of Carlisle presents a particularly striking aspect of this distributional anomaly. Alone among the Cumbrian sites which have produced sculpture of both Anglian and Viking date Carlisle actually has less material from the later period than it has from the centuries of Anglian rule. Only one carving of tenth- or eleventh-century date is known from the city and even that is an unambitious piece. On present evidence, and in contrast to York and Chester, Carlisle does not seem to have generated the wealth needed for patronage of either sophisticated or mass-produced sculpture. Nor is there any trace (as there is again at both York and Chester) of its being a metropolitan centre whose tastes were copied in the surrounding area. Judged from the sculptural evidence, economic (and presumably political) power in Viking-age Cumbria lay well to the south of the Carlisle basin. This may be not unconnected to the Strathclyde expansion into the area; moreover, Florence of Worcester's claim that Carlisle was deserted between Halfdan's sacking and the Norman Conquest may have exaggerated the real situation but it should not, on the testimony of the sculpture, be dismissed out of hand as a later fabrication (Florence 1849, s. a. 1092).

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