The celebrations for the Millennium saw all manner of bizarre and eclectic prehistoric, ancient and medieval forms and ornamentation reused in newly constructed memorials and monuments. For example, I’ve recently discussed a ‘prehistoric’ Millennium cairn with a time capsule at Carmel, Carmarthenshire, on this blog. Now, I wish to turn to a monument crudely inspired by Cheshire’s early medieval stone sculpture for the Millennium: the Littleton parish cross.
Situated at the junction between the Tarvin Road (A51) and Hare Lane, in Littleton parish, I’ve regularly passed by the cross in question but only stopped to examine it for the first time this week. Littleton parish website describes it as an:
… iconic cross, sporting a range of Celtic symbols… Grosvenor Stone were commissioned to make the object…The cross was cast in reconstituted red sandstone…
Its location is significant in relation to the historic landscape – situated on the main road east out of Chester – originally a Roman road. More specifically, its position was chosen to be close to ‘Vicar’s Cross’ – a medieval cross pulled down by Puritans in 1613. The present-day juxtaposition with the Chester Rugby Club sign seems apposite, at least insofar as it denotes the fact that the cross is on the approach to the historic city.
Beyond location, likewise its form – a circle-headed cross – evokes (in the broadest of terms) the stone sculpture on display in St John’s, Chester, and elsewhere in the region. The triquetra symbols in the arms of the cross do find a parallel in the Chester St John’s monuments. Such stones are broadly dated to the 10th century (the late Anglo-Saxon/Viking period) (Bailey 2010). The red sandstone similarly ensures a local aesthetic is evoked, again mirroring the St John’s stones.
However, beyond these spatial, material, formal and ornamental allusions to local early medieval stones, this crazy triquetra-obsessed ornamentation finds no precise parallels in the Cheshire Corpus (Bailey 2010). Indeed the cross resembles more a 19th-century copy of an early medieval stone monument than an early medieval stone monument! The enthusiastic use of triquetras on the sides, on the back, and at the bottom of the front and back faces, and indeed in miniature in every boss, finds no parallel.
Likewise, I’m guessing early medieval manuscripts are the inspiration for the figure-of-eight pattern repeated twice on the back. Similarly, the haloed large peacock on the front might taken from various early medieval manuscripts.
The only text is upon a separate base, with ‘Littleton P.C.’. The context of a paved approach makes no sense given the location is relatively inaccessible to foot traffic. The separation makes it appear like it is a later dedication to a pre-existing ancient monument, when of course the reality is the opposite.
In summary, we have a striking, odd and (as an early medieval archaeologist) disturbing Millennium monument, evoking the Early Middle Ages through multiple media.
Bailey, R. 2010. Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture Volume IX: Cheshire and Lancashire, London: British Academy.