Welcome to the blog of the Gloucestershire cross-slab survey. Cross-slabs are a class of medieval stone grave markers which are decorated with a cross motif; they are most commonly found at churches and monastic sites, although some are held in museums. The survey aims to record all surviving medieval cross-slabs across Gloucestershire, compile a gazetteer database, and publish a corpus of Gloucestershire cross-slabs.

Monday, 29 December 2014

Medieval cross-slabs in Gloucestershire

This project will be recording medieval cross-slabs in Gloucestershire, cross-slabs are a relatively overlooked class of medieval funerary monument compared to the better known and often more magnificent effigy slabs and tombs, but what exactly are cross-slabs? Cross-slabs are essentially characterised by a central cross motif, although there is considerable variety in their style and decoration, and there is overlap with other types of monument.

Cross-slab with chalice from St Mary Edgeworth

Cross-slabs are usually formed from rectangular slabs of stone with the principal cross decoration on the top face -which may be flat or coped. The cross motif may be relatively simple, or be a complex ‘bracelet’ cross with fleur-de-lys terminals, the cross is often shown surmounting a shaft, sometimes with a stepped Calvary. In addition to the cross design there are sometimes further motifs such as shears, chalices, keys and swords which may relate to the buried individual’s occupation or status. The design can be incised or in bas relief or with an inlay of another colour. As a rule there are not names or inscriptions on the slabs, but there are exceptions!

Cross-slab from St John Baptist, Cirencester

The decoration and style of cross design varies and changes over time, and can be dated by reference to wider changes in architectural style, as well as from the location –e.g. a slab reset in the base of a 14th century arcade must be earlier. Some designs appear to be copies of earlier designs, often crudely carved by masons possibly centuries later. As the number of recorded slabs increases we will be able to refine the dating of the slabs, as well as better understand the evolution and geographical spread of different styles and designs.

The slabs were usually placed flat (recumbent) and may have been placed over the specific burial, however there is often a chamfered border or roll moulding around the slab which indicates they were not set flush to the floor of the church but slightly raised. Half-size slabs also existed, although some may have been head or foot stones. 

Relatively few if any cross-slabs will be in their original position - frequently they have been moved at least once. When churches were enlarged or modified cross-slabs were often disturbed; sometimes they were reused –either face up or face-down- in the new build, and were a convenient size and shape for reuse as lintels and sills. Cross slabs were also often disturbed by Victorian renovation works, and may be reset within the church in order to display the decoration often they are set in the floor, the porch, or set up against the church walls. Other cross-slabs have been found during excavations within churches. Cross-slabs are vulnerable to damage –if reset in floors they can be slowly worn away, if set up outside then they are eroded by the elements and lichen, if they are loose then they are at risk of being damaged, or discarded.

Cross-slab reset in window, St Mary Edgeworth

Recording work has concentrated on the north-east of England where gazetteers have been made of cross-slabs in several counties. In Gloucestershire recording work has been less systematic –cross-slabs are sometimes mentioned in the relevant entry in the Buildings of England series (Pevsner), but detailed recording has seldom been carried out. It is hoped that the project will record all surviving Gloucestershire cross-slabs and generate a county corpus.

For more information on cross-slabs and useful bibliography see https://sites.google.com/site/crossslabs/what-is  

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