- Museum number
Fragment of tapered limestone cross-shaft, rectangular in section and carved in low relief on all sides. There is damage on all surfaces. Two apparently secondary features are: on the face (c), an upward-angled, drilled hole above the mid-point, now filled by a wooden plug; and on the top, a tapering rectangular pit, lined with mortar. A thin layer, of concrete adheres to the base. The faces are decorated as follows:
(a) Below, an arch decorated with pierced (?) pellets between two roll mouldings, enclosing a grooved interlace pattern. Above, an interlaced medallion scroll with grooved stems growing from a stepped base, terminating below in long triangular grape clusters, and above in small grape clusters and a banded ovoid pod.
(b) Below, an arch decorated as before, enclosing a tree motif with median stem of two elongated 'trumpet' calices, terminating at the top in a triangular grape cluster. From the calices of the main stem emerge side-shoots forming volutes enclosing arrow-shaped leaves with scooped centres and scrolled tips. The volutes and upper side-shoots terminate in six-leaved leaf-flowers formed of veined, pointed leaves, alternating with three pellets around a single central pellet. Above, an interlace pattern of grooved strands.
(c) Below, an arch decorated as before enclosing an interlace pattern of grooved strands. Above, a grooved acanthus scroll emerges from a ribbed calyx, and forms two volutes, the stems terminate in large composite arrangements of foliage seated in ribbed cups. This consists of cusped tendrils with scooped centres, a motif ultimately derived from late Roman pelta patterns (Kendrick 1932, 1937), alternating with ribbed or chevron-patterned lobes. Single plain lobes or cusped tendrils occur at the junction of scroll and side-shoots, the latter terminating in oval leaves with scooped centres and (bottom left) leaf flowers.
(d) Below, an arch decorated with chevron pattern between two roll mouldings, enclosing grooved interlace; there is evidence of a much abraded berry cluster and two long triangular grape clusters or leaves. Above, a grooved interlace pattern. All ornaments are carved in low relief within fields defined by roll mouldings of the vertical edges, which show some evidence at the base of pellet decoration.
- Production date
Height: 67 centimetres
Width: 26 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- Webster et al 1984
Without doubt, this cross-shaft is “by far the most elaborate and well preserved carving of plant scrolls from Wessex.” (Cramp 1975, 189-91; Drinkwater 1960, 82-7). The intricacies of detail are complimented by the ingenuity of the overall design. The decoration is arranged so that opposite sides of the shaft are balanced (a)-(c), (b)-(d). Furthermore, the two types of ornament used in the upper and lower fields, interlace patterns and foliage, not only alternate vertically, but are also so ordered as to produce a syncopated series of designs which follow a zigzag rhythm as one moves round the shaft, with no single design repeated.
Many of the details are typical of southern or West Mercian carving of the ninth and tenth centuries. The surface enrichment of foliage and arches with cross-banded or chevron designs are forms characteristic of the ribbon animal group of carvings (Gloucester, Colerne and Steventon; Kendrick, T.D. 1938, ‘Anglo-Saxon Art to 900 AD’, London, PLS LXXXII, LXXXIII and XCVIII: 1), and in foliage decoration at Britford and Acton Beauchamp (ibid, PLS LXXVI and LXXX: 3), while pellet decoration occurs in the West Midlands at Cropthorne (ibid. PL.LXXX: 1) and Gloucester (Heighway, C. et al. 1980, Excavations at Gloucester, Fifth Interim Report, St Oswald’s Priory, Gloucester 1977-8, ‘Antiquaries Journal’ 60, PL. XXIa). The larger foliate designs reflect a similar background.
The combination of a scroll or tree motif and a stepped base seen on face (a) is found at Kelston and Gloucester; but these have neither the long triangular grape clusters nor the well-ordered configuration of stems. Closer in feeling to the East Stour vine is the inhabited vine scroll on a ninth-century cross-shaft fragment from St Oswald's Priory, Gloucester (Cramp 1975, 225). This shaft, and another from Gloucester, have small arrow-shaped leaves with scrolled tips analogous to those on the East Stour (b) and (c) faces (Cramp 1975, 191).
At the bifurcation of the vine-scroll stems on face (a) panelled trumpet calices are used as bindings for the diverging strands, essentially the same type as those on the face (b). This motif, which has its roots in classical and sub-classical ornament, is found in a variety of ninth and tenth-century Anglo-Saxon artefacts (Cramp 1975, 189-91; Hinton, D., Keene, S. and Qualman, K. 1981, The Winchester Reliquary, ‘Medieval Archaeology’ 25, 54-9, 68) and in stone carving at Acton Beauchamp, Britford and Barnack (Cramp, R. 1972, Tradition and Innovation in English Stone of the Tenth to Eleventh Centuries, ‘Kolloquium über spätantike und frühmittelalterliche Skulptur’ III ed. V. Milojcic, Mainz, 141-4; ibid. 1975, 192). The foliage of the tree motif on face (b) reflects ninth-century examples, such as those at Gloucester; similarly, the leaf-flowers find comparisons in ninth-century painting (British Library MS Royal I.E.VI, f.4a, Alexander, J.J.G. 1978, ‘Insular Manuscripts 6th to 9th century’ (A Survey of Manuscripts Illustrated in the British Isles, vol. 1), London, no. 32) and in sculpture on the edge decoration of the Lechmere stone (Cramp 1975, PL. XIX).
Particularly striking is the upper decoration of face (c). The acanthus scroll, although found in Carolingian art, is rare in southern England. Early examples in the Vespasian Psalter (Alexander 1978, PL. 146), the ninth-century carved scrolls at Britford and on a late ninth-century round shaft from Priors Barton, Winchester (Kendrick 1938, 191-2, PL. LXXXV; Tweddle, D. 1983, Anglo-Saxon Sculpture in South-East England before c. 950, ‘Studies in Medieval Sculpture’ ed. F. Thompson (Soc. Of Ant. Occas. Papers new series 3) London, 30) outline the background for the East Stour example, though in none of these does an undulating scroll enclose large 'floral' forms. A particularly close comparison may be drawn with the eighth-century carved wooden panels from the al-Aqca Mosque in Jerusalem, although there the scroll is a vine; like East Stour, each of the two volutes encloses large floral forms composed of leaves seated in a semicircular, ribbed cup (Golvin, L. 1971, ‘Essai sur l’architecture religeuse musulmane’ II, Paris, PL. 27.6). This comparison was first recognised by Miss K. Galbraith, who is thanked for allowing its publication here. The ensemble is so similar as to suggest the possibility of some direct model, probably transmitted through portable artefacts. If so, the foliate elements have been re-cast in an Anglo-Saxon style with alternating peltate tendrils and lobed leaves similar to those at the top of the tree motif on the back of the Alfred Jewel (Oxford, Ashmolean Museum, 1836.371; cat. 13). Semicircular cups, angled tendrils and lobed leaves are all known from ninth-century works but are more typical of the early tenth (e.g. the Alfred Jewel, The Sherbourne Pontifical, held in the Bibliothèque nationale, Paris, MS lat. 943 (cat. 34) Bede’s Lives of St Cuthbert, held by Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, MS 183 (cat. 6)). These analogies suggest that the shaft may be considered as an early tenth-century carving which employs a number of motifs current in the southern English and West Mercian repertoire during the ninth and early tenth centuries.
The shaft was clearly part of a larger monument. If the village of East Stour was its original provenance, it cannot be associated with an important monastic settlement, unless it is through the Abbey of Shaftesbury, who owned the manor before the Conquest (V.C.H. Dorset, 1968, ‘A History of the County of Dorset’ vol. III, Oxford, iii, 83). A function as a memorial or less probably a preaching cross remains the most plausible suggestion (Hinton 1977, 85) and may be reflected in the symbols of Christian Redemption and the promise of Eternal Life inherent in the decoration.
Bibliography: Drinkwater, N. 1960, A Pre-Conquest Cross-Shaft formerly at East Stour, Dorset, ‘Archaeological Journal’ 67, 82-7; Cramp, R. 1975, Anglo-Saxon Sculpture of the Reform Period, ‘Tenth Century Studies’, ed. D. Parsons, London and Chichester, 189-91; Hinton, D.A. 1977, ‘Alfred’s Kingdom, Wessex and the South 800-1500’, London, 85; R.C.H.M. Dorset IV- North Dorset (HMSO 1972), ‘An Inventory of Historical Monuments in the County of Dorset: Volume IV, North Dorset’ Royal Commission for Historical Monuments (England), London, 16.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2018 - 2019 8 Jun - 20 Jan, Ottawa, Canadian Museum of History, Medieval Europe
2017 11 Jul – 22 Oct, Spain, CaixaForum Zaragoza, Medieval Europe.
2017 9 Mar – 18 Jun, Spain, CaixaForum Barcelona, Medieval Europe,
2016 - 2017 19 Oct – 5 Feb, Spain, CaixaForum Madrid, Medieval Europe,
2015 - 2016 11 Dec- 10 Apr, Australia, Brisbane, Queensland Museum, Medieval Europe, power and legacy.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Discovered in 1939 during the demolition of a chimney-breast in a house. Subsequently at Hatch Beauchamp, Somerset, then Halse, Somerset, where it was used as a garden ornament, and Trebles Holford, Somerset. Purchased by the British Museum in 1969.
- Britain, Europe and Prehistory
- Registration number