Eleanor cross

Eleanor cross

The Eleanor crosses were 12 lavishly decorated stone monuments, of which three survive intact, in a line down part of the east of England. King Edward I had the crosses erected between 1291 and 1294 in memory of his wife Eleanor of Castile, marking the nightly resting-places along the route taken by her body as it was taken to London. Several artists worked on the crosses, as the "Expense Rolls" of the Crown show, with some of the work being divided between the main figures, sent from London, and the framework, made locally. William of Ireland was apparently the leading sculptor of figures. [ [http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=73kNAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA228&lpg=PA228&dq=%22william+of+ireland%22&source=web&ots=Eu-0SjgSmI&sig=09TTs8oa1WZsh2H83lolESgLU4g&hl=en#PPA224,M1 Journal of the British Archaeological Association] Rev CH Hartshorne, 1863,p. 224]


The procession

Upon her death in 1290 at Harby, near the city of Lincoln, her body was carried to the Gilbertine priory of St Catherine in the south of Lincoln where she was embalmed. Her viscera were sent for burial in the Angel Choir of Lincoln Cathedral, where they still rest. Her body was then sent to London, taking 12 days to reach Westminster Abbey. The crosses were erected at the places where her funeral procession stopped overnight.

At Westminster she was buried at the feet of her father-in-law King Henry III. Her heart travelled with the body and was buried in the abbey church at Blackfriars.

Reasons for construction

A similar event had taken place in France for the body of King Louis IX in 1271 (although his were as a manifesto for canonization, unlike in Eleanor's case) and Edward had probably seen similar memorial crosses in France and elsewhere in Europe during his travels. They were at least in part intended as cenotaphs to provoke prayers for her soul from passers-by and pilgrims [Chronicle of St Albans]

The twelve places

The only three crosses still standing are those at Waltham Cross, Northampton, and Geddington, though remnants of the lost ones can also be seen.


The only remaining piece of the St Catherine's cross is in Lincoln Castle.


No part survives.


Only a small marble fragment, a carved rose, excavated by William Stukeley survives [ [http://www.stamfordmercury.co.uk/letters/Overwhelming-evidence-on-site-of.3242452.jp Stamford Mercury "Overwhelming evidence on site of Eleanor cross"] ] and is preserved in the town's museum. [http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/stamfordmuseum]


Still standing, it is said to be the best-preserved of the three survivors. It seems to be unique among the surviving crosses in having a triangular plan, and a taller and more slender profile with a lower tier entirely covered with diapering, instead of an arch-and-gable motif with tracery that appears on both the others; and canopied statues surmounted by a slender hexagonal pinnacle. [ [http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/server/show/ConProperty.57 English Heritage page on Geddington's Cross] ]

Hardingstone, Northampton

The Northampton cross is still standing at the edge of Delapré Abbey; the King stayed at nearby Northampton Castle. This cross was begun in 1291 by John of Battle. He worked with William of Ireland to carve the statues: William was paid £3 6s. 8d. per figure.

The cross is octagonal in shape and set upon some steps - the present ones are replacements. It is built in three tiers and originally had a crowning terminal - possibly a cross. It is not known when this became lost. [The Buildings of England - Northamptonshire. N Pevsner (Second edition). ISBN 0-300-09632-1] A local anecdote says that it was knocked off by a low flying aircraft from a nearby airfield in WWII.

The Cross is referred to in Daniel Defoe's a "Tour through the whole island of Great Britain", where he reports on the Great Fire of Northampton in 1675, "...a townsman being at Queen's Cross upon a hill on the south side of the town, about two miles (3 km) off, saw the fire at one end of the town then newly begun, and that before he could get to the town it was burning at the remotest end, opposite where he first saw it."

Its bottom tier features open books. These probably included painted inscriptions of her biography and of prayers for her soul to be said by viewers, now lost.

Stony Stratford

This cross stood at the lower end of the town, towards the river Ouse on Watling Street (now the High Street), although its exact location is hotly debated. It is said to have been of a tall elegant design (perhaps similar to that at Geddington) but was destroyed during the Civil War by the Parliamentarians. The base survived that for some time, but any trace has vanished. This commemorative plaque on the wall of 157 High Street is all that is now visible:

:Near this spot stood the Cross erected by King Edward the I to mark the place in Stony Stratford where the body of Queen Eleanor rested on its way from Harby in Nottinghamshire to Westminster Abbey in 1290 [ [http://www.mkheritage.co.uk/mkm/stonystratford/docs/eleanor.html Stony Stratford's Eleanor Cross] ]


Work on the cross started in 1292, later than most of the others. A great part of the work was done by Ralph de Chichester. No part survives.


The shopping precinct in High Street North contains a modern statue of the queen. [http://www.galaxy.bedfordshire.gov.uk/webingres/bedfordshire/vlib/0.digitised_resources/dunstable_digitisation_history_eleanor_cross.htm Bedfordshire website link]

St Albans

A cross was erected at a cost of £100 in the Market Place. It stood for many years in front of the fifteenth century Clock Tower in the High Street (opposite the Waxhouse Gateway entrance to the Abbey), and was demolished in the early eighteenth century due to neglect, and replaced by the town pump. A fountain was erected in its stead in 1874, which was subsequently relocated to Victoria Place.

Waltham (now Waltham Cross)

Still standing, although its original statues of Eleanor were removed in the 1980s to protect them from urban pollution. It was the result of cooperation between an architect and a sculptor – Roger of Crundale and Alexander of Abingdon respectively. [ [http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/stories/sadrei_eleanorcross.html Waltham image] ]

Westcheap (now Cheapside)

Fragments are held by the Museum of London, and surviving drawings enable an accurate reconstruction to be established.

The Cheapside Cross was demolished in May 1643 under an ordinance from the parliamentary Committee for the Demolition of Monuments of Superstition and Idolatry, led by Sir Robert Harley. The cross was the third incarnation of the monument, which had been reconstructed and refurbished several times in the preceding three centuries, in which time it had enjoyed the protection of various monarchs and the Mayor and Corporation of London.

Matters came to a head during the years running up to the English Civil War, when the cross was seen to encompass the doctrinal debates of the period. To puritanical reformers, it was identified with 'Dagon', the ancient god of the Philistines and was seen as the embodiment of Royal Catholic tradition. At least one riot was fought in its shadow as opponents of the cross descended upon it to pull it down and supporters rallied to stop them.

After Charles I had fled London to raise an army at the start of the Civil War, the destruction of the cross was almost the first order of business for Harley's commission. Though less well known than the Charing Cross, the downfall of the Cheapside Cross is one of the most interesting and arguably important examples of iconoclasm in English history.

Charing (now Charing Cross)

The cross at Charing Cross, in what was then the Royal Mews, was the most expensive, built of marble and the result of cooperation between an architect and a sculptor, Master Alexander of Abingdon and the senior royal mason Richard of Crundale respectively.

Charing is the subject of the romantic etymology of "chère reine" (dear queen), but the name probably comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "cerring", a bend, as it stands on the outside of a 90-degree bend in the River Thames (see Charing in Kent). The original cross stood at the top of Whitehall on the south side of Trafalgar Square, but was destroyed in 1647 and replaced by an equestrian statue of Charles I in 1675. This point in Trafalgar Square is regarded as the official centre of London in legislation and when measuring distances from London. [ [http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2005/08/15/charingcross_feature.shtml Where Is The Centre Of London?] BBC]

A replacement cross was erected in 1865 in front of Charing Cross railway station, a few hundred metres to the east along the Strand. It is not a faithful replica, being more ornate than the original. It stands convert|70|ft|m|abbr=on high and was commissioned by the South Eastern Railway Company for their newly-opened Charing Cross Hotel (now the Thistle Charing Cross, now rebranded as a Guoman). The new cross was designed by the architect of the hotel, E.M.Barry, who is best known for his work on Covent Garden. It was constructed by Thomas Earp of Lambeth from Portland stone, Mansfield stone (a fine sandstone) and Aberdeen granite. [ [http://www.networkrail.co.uk/aspx/795.aspx Charing Cross] Network Rail]

Fragments of the medieval structure are held in the Museum of London and surviving drawings of the original enable an accurate virtual reconstruction.

Replicas and imitations

During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries several replica Eleanor Crosses were erected, including at Ilam, Staffordshire, Walkden, Lancashire, Sledmere, East Riding of Yorkshire, and Queensbury, London. The Ilam cross was built in 1840 by Jesse Watts Russell of Ilam Hall to commemorate his wife. [ [http://www.thornber.net/staffs/html/ilam.html Ilam photograph] ] The Market Cross in Glastonbury resembles an Eleanor cross.


External links

* [http://www.biffvernon.freeserve.co.uk/eleanor.htm A link to a short article with images describing the likely circumstances surrounding the transfer of Queen Eleanor's body to Westminster]
* [http://www.artandarchitecture.org.uk/stories/sadrei_eleanorcross.html Art & Architecture article on the Eleanor Crosses]
* [http://www.paradoxplace.com/Photo%20Pages/UK/Britain_South_and_West/Waltham/Waltham_Cross.htm Adrian Fletcher's Paradoxplace – Waltham Cross Page]
* [http://www.lincolnshire.gov.uk/stamfordmuseum Stamford Museum - a friendly local history museum, view a fragment of Stamford's Eleanor Cross]

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