Although in the city of Bristol, the church of St Mary Redcliffe lies within the ceremonial county of Gloucestershire and along with other Bristol churches will be included in this survey of Gloucestershire cross-slabs.
St Mary's must be one of the most beautiful parish churches in England with both Decorated and Perpendicular elements, and contains a number of ornate memorials including some to the Bristol merchants who paid for much of the building work. Less well known is the small number of medieval cross-slabs which can still be found in the church despite the renovations of the 19th century which involved the relaying of much of the floor, and presumably the loss or burial of many memorial and cross-slabs. RW Paul illustrated cross-slabs from St Mary's in his 1882 work 'An account of some of the Incised and Sepulchral slabs of North West Somersetshire', however two of these slabs had been lost by the 20th century when Frank Greenhill listed eight extant cross-slabs within the church. Greenhill noted that three of these slabs had been lost before a return visit in 1948.
Brian and Moira Gittos visited St Mary's in 1985 to record a group of broken slabs lying in the churchyard, however by the time they returned to make a detailed record many of the cross-slabs had been broken up and thrown in a skip -including that of 14th century carpenter John Rowberwe (fortunately recorded by Paul and Greenhill); the surviving slabs are presumably those now sited in the north west chapel.
A brief visit to the church located six cross-slabs, four of which could be securely identified from Greenhill's notes. The slabs are a varied grouping and include examples of a few of the different styles, types and settings of cross-slab found in the area.
|Slab with expanded arm cross and leaf decoration|
Four damaged slabs are located in the north-west chapel, where they have been fixed against the south wall: an expanded arm cross with leaf decoration; an ornate relief-carved bracelet cross with foliate terminals and branches; a simple expanded-arm cross and an inscription in Lombardic script around the chamfered edges and a badly damaged cross-slab which appears to have had a relief carving of a face above a simple cross botonny.
|Two cross-slabs in the north-west chapel, ornate foliate cross and simple cross with Lombardic script inscription|
A fine early 14th century cross-slab lies beneath a sepulchral arch in the south aisle, it is decorated with a cross terminating in fleur de lis set within a quatrefoil. The stem is decorated with a fleur de lis beneath the quatrefoil and also terminates in a fleur de lis. A side branch on the right of the stem bears a small shield with a merchant's seal or mark containing a cross-crosslet. There is a Latin inscription in Lombardic script on the right chamfered edge of the slab 'HIE IACET JOHANNES BABBECAR....'. According to Rylands the slab was found buried near the base of the tower when it was strengthened.
|Cross-slab of Johannes Babbecar, merchant|
At the west end of the nave, set in the floor, is a slab with a cross fleury and an almost completely obliterated marginal inscription in Gothic minuscule script. In the floor of the south trancept is a large early 16th century slab decorated with a cross fleury and a marginal inscription in Latin. The slab has been appropriated with an inscription for Lucas Stitch, 1716, inscribed across the lower part of the slab.
A future visit will attempt to locate any further cross-slabs and take a full record of all the cross-slabs and their inscriptions. The loss of several cross-slabs from St Mary's underlines the fragility and vulnerability of these monuments, and the need to make a definitive record.