Volume III | Chapter 8 | Anglo-Scandinavian-Period FormsNext Back to catalogue index
by James Lang


Grave-covers (G.I., pp. xiv, xxi, fig. 4, a, g)

Grave-covers in the region covered by this volume are chiefly products of the York Metropolitan School (see Chap. 10 and Lang 1978b) with a superimposed cross or ridge dividing the top into panels crammed with animal ornament (for example, Minster 35–8; Ills. 148, 152, 158–9). They share similar dimensions, which may result from their source as building blocks from the Roman headquarters on the site of the Minster (see above, Chaps. II, VII). They are almost mass-produced, not only for the Minster graveyard but for other city parishes, such as St Denys 1 (Ill. 206), or St Mary Bishophill Junior 6 (Ill. 238). One was even exported to Gainford (no. 20), in the Tees valley, co. Durham (Cramp 1984, i , 86–7, ii , pl. 69, 343–6).

The Minster slabs were reused in the eleventh century and even cut down into vertical elements (Ill. 417; Lang 1978b, 151). Their original disposition over the grave is therefore unknown, but their length suggests that upright end-stones, or even shafts, may have been used in conjunction with them. This was certainly eleventh-century usage and, in the case of hogbacks, tenth-century too (Lang 1984a, 96–7). The custom may have been determined by the limiting factor of the dimensions of the Roman blocks.

The York form of grave-cover does not seem to have been copied in the Ridings to any extent. Sherburn 9 is in the series but its ornament reaches to other sources than York (Ill. 791), whilst Stonegrave 7 (Ill. 861) has a layout reflecting the illustrative panels of the local shafts, such as Middleton 1. The same horizontal application of shaft design is seen on Levisham 5 (Ill. 648), whose single zoomorphic panel relates to the Ryedale dragon crosses rather than to the York Metropolitan School.

There appears to have been a break in the sequence of slabs after the mid tenth century, so that older ones were re-employed, or very simple forms with a cross were used. York Minster 41 was made for an eleventh-century child's grave and eschews animal ornament but retains the cross (Ill. 171). The form continues even if the taste for ornament shifts. The Wharram Percy slabs, nos. 2–4 (Ills. 883–5), are in this late class as well as York, Parliament Street 2 (Ills. 357–60), which may have stood erect, for it is carved on both faces in the Manx convention, but plainer.

There is a small number of coped grave-covers with low vertical sides and a shallow pitch. It is likely that many of the York examples, especially the large St Denys 2 (Ills. 209–13), were reused Roman sarcophagus lids, which abound in the city and have the same profile. Some were, perhaps, unmodified, like York Minster 44 (Ills. 182–5). The interlaced coped stones from St Mary Castlegate (no. 5; Ill. 316) and Sinnington (no. 15; Ills. 819–20) are probably from the same hand. The cutting and patterns are more characteristic of Anglian work, though perhaps a survival into the tenth century. Their superimposed crosses, if early, may have influenced York Minster (no. 43; Ill. 176), whose roof slopes are panelled.

Hogbacks (G.I., p. xxi, figs. 5–7)

Anglian shrine tombs of the Mercian kind, like Hedda's stone at Peterborough (Kendrick 1938, pl. LXX, 1; Cramp 1977, 214, fig. 57), are unknown in this area. Oswaldkirk 2 (Ills. 745–7) may perhaps be seen as a poor-quality reflex, but it is the fully-developed hogback which dominates the country districts in the Anglo-Scandinavian period. This class of house-shaped monument had its origins in the Allertonshire area of the North Riding (Lang 1984a, 87) and it is confined to the Viking settlement areas of Northern England. Whilst many hogbacks have the shape and even architectural detail of boat-shaped vernacular houses of the period, they are not direct skeuomorphs of buildings. Neither do they evolve naturally from solid Anglian shrine tombs, which are not present even in the north of the county or in Cumbria. Some are related to house-shrines in metalwork, described in literary sources (ibid., 90–7) and it is most likely that the hogback is a secular response to the impressive saints' shrines common in Western Europe.

The typology of hogback forms (G.I., figs. 5–7; Lang 1984a, 97–103) depends greatly on local workshop fashions; those which belong to the earliest types in Allertonshire, North Riding, have substantial three-dimensional end beasts which have a naturalistic aspect. In eastern Yorkshire the hogbacks are of the dragonesque variety (G.I. xxi, fig. 5e), whose beasts are heavily stylized (ibid., 99, 108). The heads of Sinnington 14, Pickering 4, Ellerburn 9, and Barmston 1 (Ills. 817–18, 760–1 and 763, 438–9 and 441, 423–6), all have that type's florid treatment, with Barmston having lost all echoes of architectural detail on its flat upper surface. This group is a baroque development of the Allertonshire hogbacks across the moors to the north.

Oswaldkirk 1, Kirkdale 9, and St Mary Bishophill Junior 7 (Ills. 741–4, 553, 241–5), belong to the scroll type (G.I., xxi, fig. h), whose distribution is very wide: from Derbyshire to Cumberland (ibid., 101). Collingwood considered this type to be late Anglian and an initial venture into the hogback form, but later recognized Viking-age motifs in the Penrith examples (1923, 117). Those Cumbrian hogbacks, as well as the York one, have very thin sections with almost vertical sides, which may be a result of geological bedding. Helmsley 1 is, in form, a debased development (Ills. 478–82), but most Ryedale expressions of the hogback are lower and broader in section.

The York Minster hogbacks, nos. 46–7 (Ills. 187–90, 195–9), are idiosyncratic. The section of the illustrative one resembles that of another at Bedale, North Riding (Lang 1984a, 116, no. 2), both reflecting the profile of the York coped grave-covers.

Hogbacks were a short-lived form of monument, probably confined to the period of the Viking kingdom of York. Hence it is a form which does not evolve into the latest pre-Conquest period.

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


The Anglo-Scandinavian shafts from York, such as the Minster series (for example, nos. 2–4), are nearly square in section with the slightest of tapers. Some of the less ambitious monuments, like the Plait and Pellet Group in York (see Chap. 10), must have been stumpy, and the distinction between shaft and grave-marker is slim. In the eastern hinterland the shaft forms are more varied. Rectangular-sectioned shafts tend to be slab-like, for example, the Middleton and Kirkbymoorside groups, and this is undoubtedly dictated by the sedimentary geology of their stone source.

Round or columnar shafts are rare: the example at Ellerburn (no. 4; Ill. 431) is restrained by comparison with Masham, North Riding (Collingwood 1927, 7, fig. 13). More common are round-shaft derivatives, a type generated in the Anglian period and found frequently in the north Midlands and Cumbria (Bailey and Cramp 1988, 30–1). Recent discoveries in Eastern Yorkshire demonstrate a wider range for the type than hitherto appreciated. There are two basic forms. One has an encircling band midway up the shaft which is plain below and decorated on four rectangular faces above: for example, Middleton 3 (Ills. 682–5). The other has a pendant swag at mid-point which again separates an upper ornamental section from a plain lower one, like Hovingham 1 (Ills. 486–9). The classic example of the latter is the Gosforth Cross in Cumberland (Bailey and Cramp 1988, 100–4). Ellerburn 5 is closely related to that monument and to a similar swag fragment from Gilling West, North Riding (Collingwood 1907, 322, figs. j-m on 323), even in its choice of animal ornament. The section of the upper half is square and that of the lower cylindrical. Hovingham 1 has a similar swag but the lower section may have been more rectangular, like Middleton 3, which could be by the same hand. The latter, like Ellerburn 4, has the raised encircling band rather than the swag and therefore shows that the two versions of the round-shaft derivative were concurrent. Debased forms, where the swag is an incised motif rather than a three-dimensional feature, can occur: for example, at Sherburn (no. 1; Ill. 762). The square shafts, Lastingham 1 (Ills. 574–7) and Sherburn 4 (Ills. 772–5), have lost their round-shaft derivative form but preserve it in their ornamental scheme, for the encircling cables have pendant knots representing Van Dycks, a feature of the North Midlands monuments of this class (see, for example, Leek, Staffordshire (Kendrick 1949, 68–76, pl. XLIV)). They may derive from metal appliqu{**}s attached to wooden poles (forming either crosses or croziers) in the manner of the Irish crozier shrines. There may be skeuomorphic evidence in this type of wooden and metal crosses (Lang 1986, 247–9, fig. 1).

In the Viking period the recumbent slabs were augmented with end stones, some of them cut-down shafts: for example, York Minster no. 31 (Ills. 129–32). In some cases, in the eleventh century, the slabs themselves were reused in a cut-down form, like Minster 36 (Ills. 152–6; Lang 1978b, 152). As a result of this, two later end stones with outward facing animal heads were designed (Minster nos. 32–3; Ills. 133–41), but they are an isolated phenomenon. Perhaps crosses were used in conjunction with slabs in the manner of the Penrith 'Giant's Grave', though evidence is slight except for chocking stones at the ends of graves.

Cross-heads (Fig. 6)

In the Anglo-Scandinavian period the free-armed cross-head persisted: two of type 11 (though one has a ring), survive from St Mary Castlegate, York (nos. 2–3; Ills. 297–305, 308). In the Ridings, small-scale versions of type 11 are common, their circular arm-pits being the result of drilling or boring rather than cutting. The Middleton group is a typical example; Ellerburn, Kirby Grindalythe, and Sinnington all produce it, demonstrating its wide range.

Some tenth-century crosses have hammer-headed upper arms (G.I., fig. 2, type A5): Middleton 3 and an unprovenanced one from York (no. 5) represent the type (Ills. 682, 394), but it is not a common form. Neither are the billets in the arm-pits which occur at Amotherby 2, Kirkdale 1, and Middleton 3, which may be a simple means of reinforcing the function of the cross (Ills. 421, 546, 683).

The ring-heads are much more numerous and distinctive. This type of cross-head is ubiquitous in the Irish Sea province: on the Isle of Man in a low relief version on the cross-slabs of both pre-Viking and Viking periods; in the Western Isles and Ireland as three-dimensional standing crosses. Iona may well have been the source of the latter variety (Bailey 1978, 178). Its presence in Yorkshire implies contact with those western areas, and in the light of the political axis between York and Dublin in the first half of the tenth century (see Chap. 2), Ireland would seem to be the best candidate for its immediate source. It has been asserted too that the ring-head implies a terminus a quo from Ragnald's initiation of the York-Dublin axis, and that colonial Viking contact with the Celtic west is responsible for the introduction of such stylistic elements into the region (Collingwood 1908, 142; Bailey 1978, 178). Perhaps the Irish nature of the iconography of the Crucifixion on the region's cross-heads is a similar manifestation of early tenth-century Norse-Irish work. The head of the Castledermot south cross, co. Kildare (Ill. 912) provides useful comparisons for eastern Yorkshire crosses.

There is a Ryedale type of cross-head, in which the ring is cut from a square block originally and has a surmounting crest (Fig. 6). It is typical of the Middleton/Kirkbymoorside/Levisham atelier, where type 11 crosses are given this ring. Its distribution is restricted to that corner of Ryedale: for example, Middleton 1–2, and Levisham 4 (Ills. 670, 676, 639). Whilst its origins are undoubtedly Irish, the treatment is very distinctive and controlled by the narrowness of the naturally available slabs of rock. The lateral arms do not protrude very far beyond the line of the shaft.

More truly circular are the two crosses with bosses, North Frodingham 1, and York, St Mary Bishophill Junior 3 (Ills. 695–8, 228–31). The placing of bosses on the line of the ring as well as at the centre is typical of Ionan and some Irish crosses, yet this pure Celtic form is accompanied by local Anglo-Scandinavian animal ornament, on one a beast-chain and on the other, a 'Ryedale dragon' (see Chap. 9). Both this pair and the stepped ring group must have been produced during the years of the York-Dublin axis in the first half of the tenth century.

Stonegrave 1 (Ills. 833–6), distinctive in so many other ways, has an odd cross-head for the area: type 8 with a slender ring. Despite this, the form of the cross has more in common with late Anglian monuments further west in Northumbria, such as Gargrave, West Riding (Firby and Lang 1981, 23–5). The same mixture of Anglian and Celtic elements can be seen in the St Mary Castlegate ring-head (no. 3), discussed above.

Cruder carvings adopt wedge-shaped arms, for example, at Kirby Grindalythe 4, and Ellerburn 8, both with Crucifixions in the Irish position (Ills. 503, 437), the former having a plate-head, like Old Malton 2 (Ills. 737–40). Here we are dealing with lack of expertise rather than style.

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