The 8th-century St Martin’s cross, Iona, is a rare instance of an in situ early medieval high cross, and one of the most influential Insular Christian monuments ever created. It is frequently considered to have been influential in the development of circle-headed high crosses around the Hiberno-British archipelago during the 8th-10th centuries.

It also has enjoyed a replicated afterlife as a template for mortuary monuments raised over graves of the very late 19th and early 20th centuries AD. I’ve not been on the lookout for them to be honest, but I do recall seeing them at other churches as a transnational prototype ‘Celtic’ cross deployed in a range of cemeteries. However, I was particularly struck by a monument I recently saw at St James’ churchyard, Ince (Cheshire) because of the exactitude of the replication and the subject it commemorates.

IMG_2254The monument is a uni-facial scaled-down replica of St Martin’s cross, even the short three-steps at the top of the tapering base of the Ince gravestone resemble the Iona monument.

The side chosen for ornamentation is fitting: the prominent west face of St Martin’s cross has figural art, including the sacrifice of Abraham and Daniel in the lions’ den. These are omitted at Ince which instead has a carved eastern face mimicking the east face of the original monument. This is apposite since the monument faces east at the head (west end) of the grave. There are three roundels with snake and boss ornament at Ince in a comparable fashion to the original.

IMG_2256The subject is the incumbent’s wife followed rapidly by her husband:

IN LOVING MEMORY OF

ELIZABETH UPPERTON

WIFE OF THE REVD. CHARLES STUART UPPERTON

BORN 11TH APRIL 1829, DIED 21ST SEPTEMBER 1916

ALSO OF THE ABOVE NAMED

CHARLES STUART UPPERTON

BORN 5TH FEB 1829, DIED 5TH DECEMBER 1916

HON. CANON OF CHESTER.

AND FOR 19 YEARS VICAR OF THIS PARISH

UNTIL GOD’S GRACIOUS MERCY AND PROTECTION

WE COMMIT TO YOU

 

This is the tallest monument in the churchyard, coinciding with the Great War, and evoking one of the most famous monuments in Insular Christendom.

Without exploring further the history of this family and their origins, the precise choice of the Ionan monument must remain obscure. I would note, however, that their son’s military career and premature death are commemorated through a memorial plaque lies in Chester Cathedral. However, it does serve as a modest corrective to the assumption that replicated 19th and early 20th-century St Martin’s copies are simply abstractions: this is a relatively close rendition of the east-face of St Martin’s Cross, adapted for a grave context. Moreover, it cannot be reduced to a nationalist or romantic context, but a specific expression of faith linked to the early British past and the conversion of the isles.

As Mark Hall argues (2013: 400): ‘there is much to learn about the later remediation and reinvention of these stones/sculptures’. Monuments such as this are a part of the extended biography of St Martin’s Cross as well as significant monuments in churchyards in their own right. His own discussion of the Irish High Cross in Greyfriar’s cemetery, Perth, commemorating Captain John Fisken Halket and raised in 1875 (Hall 2015: 196), identifies a military connection to this adaptive replication linked to his regiment. Yet clearly the Ince example reminds us of the importance of diocesan and broader faith-based citations to place and past articulated through the choice of cross for replication on a grave monument.

References

Hall, M. 2013. Re-making, re-mediating and re-myhopoesis: the sculpted stone cross in popular cinema, in J. Hawkes (ed.) Making Histories: Proceedings of the Sixth International Conference on Insular Art. York 2011, Donington: Shaun Tyas, pp. 399-415.

Hall, M. 2015. Lifeways in stone: memories and matter-reality in early medieval sculpture from Scotland, in H. Williams, J. Kirton and M. Gondek (eds) Early Medieval Stone Monuments: Materiality, Biography, Landscape, Woodbridge: Boydell, pp. 182-215