Unexpected early English sculpture

Here’s something slightly lighter of tone for the holiday period, which I will then follow, honestly, with the Barcelona thesis examination I’ve been mentioning for so long, just so that we can move on. But right now, here’s something I did just before that trip to Barcelona, which was to go to Halifax. I live quite near Halifax now, and had already visited a couple of times, but hadn’t really got further than the Piece Hall, which can, you may imagine, detain one for a while.

Inside the courtyard of the Piece Hall, Halifax

Inside the courtyard of the Piece Hall, on a different occasion, photograph by your humble author. All following photographs, however, are by Rebecca Darley, because on this occasion your humble author didn’t think to bring his camera! Thankyou, Rebecca…

This time, however, we went to the minster, and were not quite expecting what we found. To be fair, the staff on duty at the minster didn’t quite expect us, either. This was just after Gentleman Jack had first screened, you see, and since the woman behind the nickname, Anne Lister, was buried at the minster, the staff were all primed with leaflets about their newly-celebrity inmate and sad explanations about how the actual grave location was unknown and so on. And then came we, who politely declined the leaflets and headed straight for these.

The Ilkley Crosses in Halifax Minster, photo by Rebecca Darley

The Ilkley Crosses

This is perhaps unfair on the actual building, which is fifteenth-century for the most part, with fragments of a 1274 church and apparently one remnant of an earlier Anglo-Norman church in it. These we did not find all of, or know to seek them, and I must go back for another go at some point. It also has, to judge from the place’s website, a really rather splendid ceiling somewhere, which I don’t remember noticing and which neither of us apparently photographed. Other than mortuary fixtures, this is the only interior shot we have between us.

View down the nave of Halifax Minster, by Rebecca Darley

View down the nave, where the ceiling is different

But instead, with limited time, we hovered like heritage vultures around the oldest things visible, of which almost all are those three cross-shafts, the so-called Ilkley Crosses. These are probably actually four, as the cross-head on the tallest one may well not belong to it.

Reverse of the Middleton Hall cross-shaft in Halifax Minster

Reverse of the Middleton Lodge cross-shaft

All three are first properly recorded standing outside the minster in the 1870s, then being relocated there from various points in the churchyard. Their provenances before that are unclear, except that the tall one had been found at Middleton Lodge not long before; its new head came up in the River Wharfe in 1884. In the 1970s the crosses were moved inside for protection from increasingly-acid rain, and here they now stand.

Carved holy figure on one of the Ilkley Crosses in Halifax Minster

Carved holy figure on the smallest of the Crosses

The smaller two shafts are probably the older, with the minster signage placing the above one in the eighth century and the other two in the ninth, the tallest being the later. But since this must all be art-historical dating, there being no proper context for any of them, these are not precise figures.

Animals or zoomorphs on the second-smallest of the Ilkley Crosses, Halifax Minster

Animals or zoomorphs on the second-smallest of the Crosses

Vine-scroll on the second-smallest of the Ilkley Crosses, Halifax Minster

Vine-scroll on the same Cross

Interlaced zoomorphs on the smallest of the Ilkley Crosses, Halfax Minster

Interlaced zoomorphs on the same Cross

There are also three lumps of stonework that is technically older, being reused from the Roman fort that apparently once stood here before the churches.

Roman inscription on stonework rescued from the 1274 church which preceded Halifax Minster

Roman inscription on stonework rescued from the 1274 church which preceded the Minster

This is evident from the inscription on this stone, but what they more recently come from is probably the 1274 church, and they are also carved with new work from then. So are these Roman or medieval stones? The temporality of stone is, after all, kind of complex.

Figure with cropping shears on re-used Roman stone on display in Halifax Minster

Figure with cropping shears on another fragment

Tools and implements on re-used Roman stone on display in Halifax Minster

Tools and implements on the third re-used stone

I, however, am going no deeper than that right now. May these bits and pieces of carving from various medieval stages of the future-now-present West Yorkshire herald a happy New Year for you all and I’ll see you in 2023, which is after all really not very far away!

All details in this post about the minster’s chronology are from ‘Over 900 Years of History’ in Halifax Minster , last modified 23rd July 2020 as of 31st December 2022, and about the stonework are from signage in the cathedral itself. I’m sure there is something more in-depth one could go and read about both these things but I’m afraid I didn’t look…

4 responses to “Unexpected early English sculpture

  1. Intriguing. Many thanks for your post.

  2. Do you know the Ruthwell Cross? Splendid thing.

    When I was young you had to knock on a cottage door to ask Mrs to lend you the key to get in and see the cross. I dare say things might be more formal now.

  3. More formal?

    “The Ruthwell Cross is free to visit and is situated in Ruthwell Parish Church. The key can be collected from the Parish Church Manse, please call 0131 558 9326 to ensure access.”

    Yup: now the cottage is specified on the internet. Hurray!

    • Thanks for that bit of digging. I’ve never seen it, but have always intended to on some run northwards or back from one. It hadn’t occurred to me the church might not be open! And yet it should have done, because that happened quite enough on my lockdown tour of Scotland. But I figured it was the lockdown, not just the protocol…

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