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BRITARCH  April 2001

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Subject:

Re: Medieval Wayside Crosses - in Scotland

From:

Fife Archaeology Unit <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Fife Archaeology Unit <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Mon, 2 Apr 2001 19:06:32 +0100

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MEDIEVAL WAYSIDE CROSSES

I don't know about anywhere else, but in Scotland it is abundantly obvious that wayside medieval crosses where extremely numerous during the medieval period.

As a brief introduction to their widspread nature just look at any one of the numerous 19th century printed monastic Scottish cartularies - in descriptions of monastic land holdings you will commonly see parcels of rural land described by their boundaries. Typical boundaries include rivers, roads, moors and roadside crosses (they never sate whether they're stone or wood, but often mention that they were big - magna crucis (L.=great/large cross, is a common term) eg see the cartularies of Kelso or Holyrood Abbeys (Bannatye CLub: Liber St Marie de Kelcho; Liber de Sancte Crucis &c.), they include numerous references to wayside crosses in the countryside of the Scottish Borders.

Of course, it is abundantly clear that crosses had many different purposes. Some denoted the bounds within which the jurisdiction of a nominated church might offer sanctuary (eg. at Innerleithen or Holyrood at Edinburgh, but in Scotland the right of sanctuary and more so the crosses demarcating ecclesiatically recognised jurisdictions of sanctuary are rare... even if every second 19th century history book will tell you that such and such a cross denoted sanctuary rights.. in mops cases they didn't, Cowan touches on the subject in the The Medieval Chruch in Scotland).

More commonly, wayside crosses in Scotland marked travellers/pilgrims routes. Indeed, in medieval Scotland, the Church was the only institution which actively/purposefully built roads and bridges (look at just about any medieval bridge in Scotland and you will see that it was built by a religious outfit.. particularly, see the various calendared Supplications to Rome (14th/15th cents.), these have countless references to road and bridge building and make clear why they are being built, viz. to carry pilgrims/tourists/traders to ecclesiastical centres). In this same spirit, ecclesiatical organisations would often mark routes with crosses to guide pilgrims/tourists/traders.

Unfortunately, very few of these crosses (which were originally numerous) survive today. It is interesting, however, how many can be traced in existence down to the 18th or early 19th centuries, but after this time they were almost all gone.

A good example is the Monks Way in the Pentland Hills outside of Edinburgh, this well established route through the Pentland Hills to Edinburgh and over to the ferry crossings of the Forth was well marked with crosses. Indeed, evidence of them can still be traced on the ground today. The Font Stone, on top of the hill just behind the old Habbie's Howe Inn, is a stone trough well known to hill walkers. However, it is of course the socket stone for a cross and not a trough or font at all. Indeed, such medieval socket stones are relatively numerous throughout Scotland (to see how numerous, get in touch with RCAHMS in Edinburgh, or visit their website and do a seach on Canmore). ANyway, through various sources, I have been able to determine that part of the shaft and crosshead of this cross still lay ruinous, and some distance away from its socket stone by the beginning of the 19th century, although it is not clear where it is now (buried/removed/destroyed/built into a dyke somewhere close by?).


Finally, as a point of itnerest, if you wish trace crosses in another way, try place names. Many place names include the element cross, and as it appears that, in Scotland at least, the medieval Latin place name words for crosses quickly betray what type of cross is being implied: eg. crucis (L.=cross) is always used for a physical cross-shaped marker whilst forca/furcarum (L.=fork &c.) and many variants are usually restricted to describe forks/crosses in roads/trees/rivers (and incidentally, also sometimes hangman's gallows.. a result of the mdieval tendency to call a spade a spade... gallows were fork shaped, so they were often described as forks - consequently, vicus furcarum in a medieval document might mean Gallows Street (ie road to the gallowws) rather than Forked Street, so beware!).

Watch out too, as in vernacular Scots, the word cross is commonly metathesised to cors. So whilst you can easily trace place names which include cross in their names like Crossford, Crossraguel (and a million others), sometimes you will come across names like Corstophine (suburb of Edinburgh). Clearly, this is a name derived simply from a metathesised version of cross with a personal name added, in this case the name simply means "the cross of Torphin". In Scotland, place names which include the element cors (meaning cross) are extremely numerous (see any OS gazetteer). Of course, I am sure each different part of the country has its own local differences and different names for crosses, so if you search closely, I am sure place names will reveal a tremendous amount of information on the distribution of medieval crosses


Cheers


Doug



************************************************************************************************************************
The information contained in this message is confidential and is intended for the addressee only. If you have received this message in error or there are any problems please notify the originator immediately. The unauthorised use, disclosure, copying or alteration of this message is strictly forbidden. This mail and any attachments have been scanned for viruses prior to leaving the Archaeological Unit of the Fife Council Planning and Building Control Service. The Fife Council will not be liable for direct, special, indirect or consequential damages arising from the alteration of the contents of this message by a third party or as a result of any virus being passed on.

All queries should be addressed to:
 
Douglas A Speirs
Fife Archaeological 

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