Volume II: Cumberland, Westmorland and Lancashire-North-of-the-Sands

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Current Display: Urswick 01, Lancashire Forward button Back button

Overview
National Grid Reference of Place of Discovery
Present Location
South aisle of church, inside
Evidence for Discovery
Found in April 1911, acting as lintel to easternmost window of south wall of nave (Collingwood 1911b, 462)
Church Dedication
St Michael
Present Condition
Broken and somewhat worn
Description

Part of a flat-band moulding survives on the edges of the shaft.

Inscriptions The central panel of face A contains a runic inscription, (a), which was intended to fill the framed panel on that face. The rune-master miscalculated. The five lines of runes, the last smaller and more cramped than the other four, fail to complete the text, which over-runs into three of the quadrants of the relief cross in the panel beneath. A second runic inscription, (b), the end of which is lost, runs across the two figures in the lowest panel:

(a) +tunwiniset?

?ftertoroYOG

tred?beku

n?fterhisb

?urn?gebid?s?

rs || au

|| l?

(b) lyl?i || sw[o

==R.I.P.

A (broad): Subdivided into three areas by the roll moulding which encloses the runic inscription (a). (i) A changing pattern separated by short glides. The central registers are a unit of pattern C knots above a unit of pattern D. The lower terminal register is composed of closed circuit pattern D with long loops interspersed with U-bends. The form of the fragmentary uppermost register is uncertain, but may also have involved closed circuit pattern D with long loops. The strands are flat and widely spaced, and the loops are malformed. (ii) A runic inscription (a). (iii) Two frontal figures with heads turned to face each other, a shafted cross, type A1, in between them. The figure on the left extends his arm across the shaft of the cross and in front of the body of the figure on the right. The hand is carefully carved and has a prominent raised thumb. His profile face is simply conveyed by incisions. He has a back-pointed eye, lightly marked mouth, scrolled ear and his pointed chin appears to be clean shaven. His hair is long and combed back behind his ear. He wears a curious tight-fitting garment with a sort of ?polo? neck. A curving line from under his elbow suggests that there would be an overgarment. The figure on the right appears to lean away from the figure with extended hand. His features and dress are very similar to the left-hand figure, save that he has a tip-tilted nose and there is an incised scroll near his left shoulder.

B (narrow): The upper and lower portions of this face have been chipped away, but in the centre the surviving flat-band moulding encloses a double twist pattern in which two fine rounded strands and two wide flat strands alternately enclose and fill each loop (G.I., fig. 26 bi).

C (broad): This face is very worn and mutilated, and part of the panel and moulding is cut away on the right. It is possible that there was a double moulding on the right, but the inner could possibly be part of the plant which flows from top to bottom of the face.

The organization of the scroll conforms to no consistent type. It appears to sprout from a single stem at the base, which seems to emerge from an urn or pot, rather than a root. The stem divides to form a diamond-shaped medallion constructed from two loose tendrils terminating in short triangular leaves. Enclosed embryo-like in the volute is a small profile creature with a rounded head and pointed jaws. The back hip is pear-shaped, and it appears to have a tail. The plant-trail then divides again: one stem shoots straight up, throwing off a small side tendril and leaf at the base; the other bends to enclose another elongated profile creature, the curve of whose body follows the line of the plant stem. It has a rounded head, long beak-like jaws and a flowing tail. Its legs are bent towards each other in the same position as those of the creature below. Sprouting from the stem below its tail is a shoot terminating in a large round bud. Beside its head are the feet of a human figure which intrudes from the volute above.

At this point, the plant changes from a wavering trail to a bush-scroll, the central stem dividing the two figures. The one on the left seems to be a male profile figure facing right. He wears a knee-length tunic and extends his right hand. The details of his face are difficult to decipher, but he has long flowing hair falling on to his shoulders. Above his head, the branch terminates in a short triangular leaf. The figure on the right is frontal and seems to be female, although the lower part of her figure is obliterated so that it is difficult to be sure. Her hair is parted in the middle and falls either side of her face to her shoulders. Her features are lightly incised and her eyes are round.

Above are two bird-like creatures. The one on the left is almost worn away, but the wing or tail is decipherable. The one on the right is rather clearer. One leg seems to be reaching towards a leaf or berry and its beak is turned towards this. Both birds are depicted in a curious pendent position. Above the head of the one on the right there is an inward-curving strand terminating in a short triangular leaf.

D (narrow): Broken away and dressed smooth.

Discussion

Inscriptions Inscription (a) forms two lines of rough alliterative verse:

Tunwini set? ?fter ToroYOGtred?

bekun ?fter his b?urn?. Gebid?s ?er saul?

(Translation: ?Tunwine put up (sc. ?this?) cross in memory of his lord (son?) Torhtred. Pray for the (i.e. ?his?) soul?).

Inscription (b) is the maker?s signature: Lyl **?is wo[ –, the last word to be completed with some form of the verb **worht?. (Translation: ?Lyl made this . . .?.)

For dating there are three significant features which, however, do not point in the same direction. In favour of a quite early date are, first, the early quality of the unstressed, final vowels in Tunwini and ** set?, Torohtred?, b?urn?, saul? (though in contrast ?fter (twice) has -er not -?r); and second, the unusual fracture diphthong in b?urn?. Against this the -s ending of the imperative gebid?s may suggest a later date. On the whole the Urswick inscriptions look happiest in the eighth or ninth centuries, though it must be stressed that we know little of the precise development of north-western Old English.

==R.I.P.

This cross poses many problems both iconographically and stylistically. The phonology of the inscription has suggested a date in the eighth or ninth centuries but the ornament suggests a date in the later section of that bracket. It is true that there is little to compare it with in Cumbria (see Introduction, p. 00) and it is difficult to decide how many of the idiosyncrasies of the piece are to be explained by lack of comparable material from the region and how much by the incompetence of the artist. The cross is one of only a small group – which includes Alnmouth, Northumberland (Cramp 1984, 161, pl. 157, 810) and Kirkheaton, Yorkshire (Collingwood 1927a, fig. 67) – where the carver signed his work. Collingwood noted, ?True it is that the worse the artist the bolder his signature? (ibid., 54). The name of the carver and the language and script attest that he was English, but save to note that this is the only inscription which defines the relationship of the donor and subject of the memorial as ?baeurnae? there is little that can be learnt from it.

In the interlace panel on face A the wide spacing of the flat strands and even the type is very similar to Waberthwaite 2, and such widely spaced strands seem to occur late in the pre-Viking period. The twist pattern on face B is unusual in sculpture, although it occurs on a late Anglian shaft from Leeds (Collingwood 1915a, 210, fig. b). It can also be found in metalwork on the bindings of the Brunswick Casket (Kendrick 1938, pl. LXX, 2).

The iconography of the inhabited scroll is difficult to assess. It is the most complete of the western group comprising also Dacre 1, Hoddom, Dumfriesshire, (Ill. 677) and Diddlebury, Cheshire, which have paired human figures as inhabitants in the scroll. (A mid ninth-century cross from Sandbach, Cheshire, has a ladder-like composition of humans and animals divided by a leafless scroll (Kendrick 1938, pls. XCIV–V).) By the appearance of the scroll, in which a root or urn may be deciphered at the base, and what seems to be terminal fronds on the top, we must have most of the scene. This means that the humans are centrally placed. The fact that the organization of the scroll changes from a trail to a bush or tree to provide a central stem on either side of which the humans stand may be because that scene reflects the iconography of Adam and Eve, who could, as the first man and woman, be taken as representatives of their race. The rather reptilian creatures below could well recall serpents which often appear in this scene under the heels of Adam and Eve.

Bailey (1974a, i, 45–6) suggests that the representation here may be of the ascent of the great cosmic tree which is both cross and ladder to heaven. The birds would then represent the souls of the blessed, and perhaps their rather strange appearance could be explained in the light of their heavenly role; man would then be below, and the creatures of the deep below that, forming the well attested ?great chain of Being?. This is an attractive idea. However, the carving is so inept that it is difficult to read too much into details. The strangely reptilian heads of the quadrupeds below, together with their posture and the shape of their hip joints, could be derived from the type of Northumbrian beasts on the corners of the Franks casket (Webster 1982, figs. 1–4) and they may be paralleled also in the Lothian Psalter, fol. 27, dated to around the middle of the eighth century (Alexander 1978, 57–8 ill. 148).2

Perhaps the closest type to these creatures in the sculpture of the region is the creature on the upper surface of the cross-base from Brigham (no. 9). The reptilian and elongated creatures on the sides of the Brigham socket are also worthy of mention here since in such details as the double outlines of their bodies or the scrolls on their joints, they too are comparable with Insular metalwork or manuscripts. The Brigham piece is seen by Bailey as of the Viking period, and this supports the late date assigned to this cross.

The other figural scene is less unusual in the sculpture of the north-west. Two figures standing on either side of a cross are also found at Kirby Wharfe in Yorkshire (Collingwood 1927a, fig. 107), at Lancaster (ibid., fig. 128), and at Burton in Kendal (no. 1). In all these pieces, the left-hand figure seems to extend his hand towards the cross, and all the figures are undoubtedly haloed. The interpretation of them as Mary and John and the empty cross is therefore plausible. At Urswick, however, both figures are male, seemingly without haloes, and appear to be involved in dialogue. The inscription is not explanatory of the scene unless the scene is taken to be Christ welcoming in the dead man to the next world. In that case the dress of Christ and the other figure stands oddly outside the main tradition. It seems possible that we have here some narrative of a saint?s life or a conversion scene. The high ?ruff? at the neck of both figures could be some form of secular dress as is found on the base of face A at Bewcastle (no. 1), or a stone from St Mary Bishophill Senior, York (Collingwood 1927a, fig. 147). From the mid ninth century onwards Northumbrian carvers seem to choose Classical dress even for biblical figures (Cramp 1982, 17–18). It is therefore only if one considers that this cross is before that date that the significance of the dress must be explained.

The style of figural carving is the same on faces A and C. Such simple profile heads are known on Pictish slabs and on the Franks casket but are uncommon on Northumbrian stone carving. The head type with scrolled ear and tip-tilted nose is perhaps best paralleled in Insular manuscripts such as the Book of Kells (fols. 68v, 97v, 202v (Henry 1967, pls. 68, 121)) or the Turin Gospels (fol. 129 (Alexander 1978, ill. 278)). Moreover, the spiralled joint seen on the right-hand figure on face A is also found on Irish engraved slabs such as Duvillaun, co. Mayo (Henry 1965, pl. 51). Most of the idiosyncratic features of this piece could best be explained as deriving from the traditions of Hiberno-Saxon manuscripts.

Date
Ninth century
References
Collingwood 1911b, pl. facing 462, fig. on 464; Collingwood 1915a, 158, 210; Collingwood 1915c, 290; Collingwood 1918, 48, fig. 28; Kermode 1916, 58; Collingwood 1918, 48, fig. 28; Kermode 1920–5, 335–6; Brown 1921, 215, 270; Collingwood 1924a, 288; Postlethwaite 1924, 280; Collingwood 1926a, 48; Collingwood 1927a, 36, 53–4, 63, 126, 149, fig. 66; Olsen 1930; Dickins 1932, 16, 19; Ross 1933, 152; Arntz 1938, 88–9; Dahl 1938, 12–14, 46, 122, 157; Kendrick 1941b, 18; Wrenn 1943, 21; Kendrick 1949, 65; Fair 1950, 92; Derolez 1954, xxi; Page 1958, 149; Elliott 1959, 86; Campbell 1959, 117, 276; Page 1959b, 385, 388, 398–9, 402, 404; Page 1960, 52–7; Marquardt 1961, 133; Page 1961, 70; Page 1962a, 489; Page 1962b, 900; Page 1964, 73, 87, n.; Musset 1965, 194, 376–7; Hill 1966, 134, 137; Okasha 1968, 250; Pevsner 1967, 253; Page 1973, 30, 37, 48, 59–60, 134–5, 140–1, 144–5, 153–6, 159, 219–21, fig. 30; Bailey 1974a, i, 24, 26, 41, 43–6, ii, 237–9, pls.; Okasha 1976, 201–2; O'Sullivan 1980, 282, 291, 303–7

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