Facilities and features
WALTERSTONE CHURCHYARD CROSS
On your way in to the Church, look out for a stone pillar with steps at its base outside.
This is a Churchyard Cross and it is a Scheduled Monument (Grade 2*). It is believed to date from the 15th or early 16th century which would mean that it is at least 500 years old!
The cross stands to the south of the porch and we think this is its original position. What we see today is the rectangular stepped base, a socket stone to hold the shaft and part of the shaft, all carved in sandstone. Notice that the socket stone is square at its base but octagonal (eight sided) at the top. The shaft is also octagonal.
WHAT IS A CHURCHYARD CROSS?
Standing crosses outside churches and in other public places were common in mediaeval times. Churchyard crosses served as stations (stopping places) for outdoor processions, for example on Palm Sunday. It is also thought that they were a sign that the churchyard was consecrated ground and may have served as a memorial for everyone who had been buried there.
More than 12,000 standing crosses existed throughout England at one time. However, many of them have not survived - less than 2,000 mediaeval standing crosses, with or without cross-heads, are now thought to exist. Although it is missing its cross-head, Walterstone’s cross is considered to be a good example of a mediaeval standing cross as the socket and shaft have survived and it stands in or close to its original position in the centre of the churchyard, unlike many other crosses which have been moved or reconstructed.
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE CROSS-HEAD?
No-one knows what was originally on top of the shaft, when it was broken or why, or where the missing pieces have gone.
We know that many cross-heads were destroyed during the 16th and 17th centuries. The first wave started after the Reformation when Protestant reformers split from the Roman Catholic Church and encouraged the removal of religious images including statues and carvings. In the 17th century, a second wave began during and after the Civil War, under Oliver Cromwell. In 1643 a law was passed requiring the taking down and destruction of ‘all crucifixes, crosses and all images and pictures of any one or more persons of the Trinity or of the Virgin Mary, and all other images of saints or superstitious inscriptions’ along with many other features found in and outside churches at that time.
The destruction of crosses usually meant knocking off the head and damaging the shaft. Often the heads were broken up but sometimes they were hidden or buried. In a few places, original cross-heads have been found and replaced. Cross-heads which have survived are of different shapes, usually either two or four sided with carved figures of Christ on the cross, the Virgin and Child, and other figures under a canopy or roof. It’s possible that the cross -head here in Walterstone looked like cross heads surviving in other churches in Herefordshire [Tyberton and Putley]. Or it may have been a plain cross.
Who knows, the original cross-head may turn up one day. They have been found buried in or around churches, in gardens or incorporated into the walls of churches or houses.
TAKING CARE OF THE CROSS
Recently, the stone steps had fallen into disrepair and the monument was included on the Historic England Heritage at Risk Register. Thanks to the support of the Hereford Diocese, expertise and funding from Historic England and additional funding from the Herefordshire Historic Churches Trust, the steps were repaired in 2014 by Simon Hudson Stonemasons, based in Hereford Cathedral Close. Look out for the mason’s yard next time you visit the Cathedral.