Volume III | Chapter 5 | Anglian-Period FormsNext Back to catalogue index
by James Lang

GRAVE-MARKERS AND GRAVE-COVERS (General Introduction / Grammar of Ornament, hereafter G.I., pp. xiv, xxi, and figs. 4–7)

Grave-markers and stelae

Small upright grave-markers are rare and are confined in this region to the city of York. The earliest group was found in the Minster excavations, unfortunately in secondary contexts (Minster nos. 11–24; Ills. 44–102). They have the form of tapering shafts with square section and truncated top. They cannot have been more than a metre in height. Each is cut from fine-grained Magnesian Limestone, any decoration and inscriptions being incised on smoothly dressed surfaces. Indeed, their crispness and lack of weathering suggest that they may have stood within a building originally (see Chap. 4).

The form of these markers is unique to the Minster. Whilst resembling cross-shafts in their proportions, there is evidence that they did not have three-dimensional cross-heads: firstly, no head has been found; secondly, the presence of incised crosses on some principal faces would be superfluous on a free-standing cross; and finally, the fragment, no. 15 (Ills. 60–5), represents a vertical section of the top of such a monument, 50 cm tall, a dimension which would have revealed cross-arms had they existed. In view of their distinctiveness, they have been termed 'stelae'.

The decorative treatment of the Minster stelae is reminiscent of the name-stones from Hartlepool, co. Durham (Cramp 1984, i , 97–101, ii , pls. 84–5) but their form is different. One face of the stele usually carries an incised cross, sometimes with semicircular expanded terminals identical with the Hartlepool, and the later Clonmacnoise, co. Offaly, series (nos. 19 and 23). Other examples however, have crosses with restrained serifs which have more in common with Mediterranean rather than Hiberno-Saxon models (nos. 20–1). The lettering of the epitaphs on the name-stones (nos. 20–2), which are in Latin, and contain Old English personal names, is also distinct from that of the Bernician inscriptions (see Chap. 12). It is the height and square section of the stelae, however, which characterize the York group: they are expanded, truncated pyramids, without any horizontal element to render them cruciform, and provide a form half-way between the grave-marker and the cross-shaft. The square- and slab-sectioned name-stones (nos. 20–2) seem to have been contemporary in the earliest Anglian phase, so it is unlikely that a stylistic development from one type to the other will ever emerge. At a later stage it is often difficult to determine whether certain slabs were laid flat or erected; no. 28 is carved on both faces.


The earliest grave-covers are found at Hackness (no. 2, and perhaps also 3), and at Kirkdale (nos. 7–8; Ills. 558–67). The present impost at Hackness (no. 3; Ills. 471–3) has been severely modified to accommodate it to its present role, but its dimensions tally well with both Kirkdale slabs, so it too may originally have been a grave-cover. The surviving decoration is confined to the narrow edge and much is lost, but enough remains to indicate a late seventh- or early eighth-century date for what may have been the flat lid or side of a composite box shrine (Thomas 1971, 148–59). The same possibilities apply to the two Kirkdale slabs. The earlier of these (no. 7) bears a superimposed cross surrounded by plant-scroll. The recess for a setting at the centre of the cross-head, like Lastingham 4 (Ill. 582), implies the involvement of metalworkers in the production of a prestigious monument; this was more likely a shrine than a simple tomb-cover, because the size and shape are not those of a coffin lid. The second Kirkdale slab, no. 8, is later Anglian, with interlace pattern covering its top surface. Its narrow edges carry pendant tassels which show the whole ornamental scheme to be a skeuomorph of a pall or textile drape, again suggesting that the slab came from a box shrine, and stood well above ground level.

A more modest grave-marker from Hackness (no. 2; Ill. 467), could have been recumbent. Its reuse has prevented any reconstruction of its original size and form, but it remains something of a rarity for this area. Indeed, its stone probably comes from Aislaby, near Whitby.

The slab tradition, then, was established in the monasteries of the eastern parts of the county and was linked to the composite shrines. At York there are no early grave-covers but there is a large group of Anglo-Scandinavian slabs, largely from the York Minster cemetery (see Chap. 8).

FREE STANDING CROSSES (G.I., p. xiv, and figs. 1–3)


The ratio of width to depth in sections of cross-shafts in this area may be controlled by the nature of the bedding of the freestone, or, in York, by the ashlar robbed from Roman sites. Early shafts from the Minster, for example, no. 25 (Ills. 103–6), are too fragmentary to convey a sense of their original form, but there seems to be a connection with the tapering stelae, which in one sense might be considered as a type of shaft (see above). Later York shafts, from the ninth century, can be either square or slab-like, for example, St Mary Bishophill Junior 1 and St Leonard's Place 2. As in the case of the grave-markers, the two forms of section do not appear to imply any chronological distinction.

In the eastern hinterland the shaft forms are more varied, possibly dictated by the sedimentary geology of their stone source. Both limestone and sandstone shafts tend to be slab-like, which naturally affects the design of the monumental panels. The Anglian shafts, such as Hackness 1 and Nunburnholme 1, are squarish, but a small early ninth-century group (Kirby Misperton 1, Hovingham 3, and Levisham 3) consists of shouldered, slab-sectioned shafts. This form is usually considered very late in other parts of Northumbria (for example, Whalley, Lancashire) but the ornament of the Ryedale pieces can only be early or, less probably, extremely conservative. Their distribution is fairly local. Round shafts of the Anglian period, like that at Masham, North Riding, do not occur in this region, though later derivative forms appear in the Anglo-Scandinavian period (see Chap. 8).


It is unfortunate that York Minster has yielded only a single cross-arm (no. 10), despite the number of shafts from the site. The earliest heads are at Lastingham, where both the large and the small cross-arms (nos. 3–5) are of type D9, a well known form throughout the late eighth and early ninth centuries in Northumbria as a whole. Indeed there seems to be no evidence of local types of cross-head in the pre-Viking period. The Wharram Percy fragment (no. 1) is equally small scale, compared with Lastingham 4–5. In York, a tendency to place a large ring within the crossing is a mark of early work, but the shape is not particularly distinctive: for example, The Mount 1, Unknown Provenance 3, and, in the county, Hunmanby 2.

At Londesborough 1 and Sherburn 8 type E10 is represented, though on different scales and with totally different ornament. It is difficult to see any stylistic connection between the surviving pieces. The problem is made worse by much poor quality work, such as Hawnby 1, Kirkdale 3, and Lowthorpe 1, which all appear to be late work preserving earlier cross forms.


The earliest churches of York and its hinterland to the east remain elusive, the earliest surviving buildings dating mostly from the eleventh century. There is literary evidence for seventh-century churches in York, both derelict and refurbished, associated with the baptism of Edwin and the energies of Wilfrid (see Chap. 2), but so far, no archaeological evidence for what must have been substantial and impressive buildings has come to light (Melmore 1954; Harrison 1960). In a sense, the stelae already discussed could be termed fittings, since they were probably erected within a porticus, but their disposition in relation to graves or shrines therein can only be conjectural (see above, and Chap. 3). Architectural fragments are unknown from York, except for the two very plain pieces from St Mary Bishophill Junior (no. 9), which may be parts of a screen contemporary with the eleventh-century tower of the church. On the other hand, their decoration and form offer the most meagre evidence and they could easily be from a former grave-cover, or even robbed from a Roman building (Wenham et al. 1987, 117–18).

In the Anglian ecclesiastical centres to the east of the city the sculptural evidence for early stone fittings is richer. Bede refers to a church dedicated to the Virgin at Lastingham being rebuilt in stone (Bede 1969, iii , 23, 288), and embellished door-frames seem to have been added later in the eighth or early ninth centuries. Nos. 7–8 (Ills. 601–9) are clearly architectural pieces: one a jamb with a rebate, carrying a delicate plant-scroll, the other possibly a lintel with interlace and bold pellets. Perhaps earlier than these is the gable finial (no. 9; Ills. 610–13). Bede's description of the initial phase of the Lastingham monastery emphasizes its cultural connections with Lindisfarne (Bede 1969, iii , 23, 288), and so, through Aidan, with the Ionan and Irish monastic tradition. The curved finial fragment closely resembles Irish types (Harbison 1970, 54–6, figs. 18–20); despite its restrained ornament, its form belongs to the tradition of Irish oratories. Neither is it alone in Northumbria; two other finials have been discovered recently, an unpublished example from Lythe, near Whitby, North Riding, and one from Heysham in Lancashire (Andrews 1978, 2).

Lastingham has also produced parts of a stone chair or bench with a zoomorphic head (no. 10; Ills. 614–17, 623–6; Lang 1983, pl. LXXV, c–d). It is in the tradition of the Bernician seats, its form (one vertical edge, another inclined) resembling Bamburgh 1 (Cramp 1984, i , 162–3, fig. 18, ii , pl. 158, 812–17). The head is akin to one from Monkwearmouth (no. 16) (ibid., i , 130, ii , pl. 124, 673–6) though its section is more slab-like. It is very close to the depiction of chair pommels on David's throne in the Durham Cassiodorus (Durham MS B II 30, fol. 81v; Ill. 917), even to the shape of the eye, and to the thrones in the Evangelist portraits in the Lichfield Gospels (Henry 1965, pl. F, fig. 103). The tradition of such zoomorphic panels lingered well into the Anglo-Scandinavian period, as Old Malton 1 testifies in its depiction of such a chair (Ill. 732). The rebate slots on the sides of the Lastingham piece suggest that it was a vertical panel with extensions both to left and right, though it was also clearly intended to be seen from behind. A more complete chair survives at Beverley Minster, much more resembling the Hexham throne and both termed 'frith stools'. The Beverley chair has a composite construction but lacks any decorative carving (Ills. 885–7).

From Kirkbymoorside (no. 6; Ills. 536–41) a crisp interlace fragment could have served as a furnishing or a hefty string-course. Gwenda Adcock (1974, i , 120–4), has suggested that it is part of a lectern, like Jarrow 22, co. Durham (Cramp 1984, i , 115–17, fig. 16, ii , pls. 99–100; pl. 101, 535), though a reconstruction presents difficulties. The broad, flat strands of its interlace point to an early ninth-century date, and this would raise problems of postulating a stone church there, if it be a string-course. The base of a baluster shaft at Hackness (no. 5; Ills. 878–81) may represent an architectural detail from an early church belonging to a Bernician type, such as those at Monkwearmouth (ibid., i , 23–5, figs. 6–8), though it is of clumsier workmanship, and may equally well be of later date. At Hackness the impost (no. 3) has late seventh- or early eighth-century animal ornament but a later architectural context (Brown 1925, 204–5, fig. 80), and it may originally have served as a grave-cover before its reuse in the arch (see above). There are no satisfactory parallels for it within Northumbria.

Decorative wall plaques found in secondary locations above west doors of churches survive at Middleton (no. 9; Ill. 694) and Hovingham (no. 4; Ill. 484). The latter is crudely cut but Middleton possesses a finely carved cross with a marigold centre, very much in the manner of the eighth-century Lastingham 4 (Ill. 582). Its present context in the eleventh-century tower has obscured its original function: perhaps it served as the centre of an altar frontal.

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