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

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Current Display: Great Clifton, Cumberland Forward button Back button

Overview
National Grid Reference of Place of Discovery
Present Location
In church
Evidence for Discovery
Found during church restoration in August 1900 acting as lintel over concealed Norman doorway (Lidbetter 1902, 108)
Church Dedication
St Luke
Present Condition
Worn and cut on face B and on lower parts of C and D; otherwise good
Description

Slab-like shaft. The single panels on all faces are bordered laterally by a roll moulding which is cabled on face D. There is a plain band forming the lower frame on face A but ornament is found below this line on faces B and D.

A (broad): The upper half of the panel is occupied by two parallel vertical rows of ornament. To the left is the rear end of a swelling ribbon beast which is being ridden by a diminutive human being. The animal's body carries a median-incised line and dissolves into an interlacing band which interlocks with another ribbon animal below before returning to cross the rider and disappear beneath its own body. The second ribbon animal has a contoured body and bites with squared jaws onto the strand extending from the animal above; it has a small scooped ear and its body dissolves below into a plait, with median-incised strands below.

To the right at the top of the panel is irregular interlace using median-incised strands. In part this resolves itself into the extensions of yet another ribbon animal whose head shape resembles the one just described; it bites the attenuated body of one of the ribbon animals which dominate the lower half of the composition.

The double-strip organization of decoration is replaced at the bottom of the shaft by zoomorphic and figural motifs which represent an expansion and extension of the ornament on the right-hand strip above. Two ribbon animals seem to be involved. One is apparently headless and is placed at the centre where a small human being sits astride it. This beast has a double median incised line down its body and is bitten by the animal described in the paragraph above. The other is a coiled and contoured ribbon animal whose body sweeps up the right border. Its head bites back towards its neck and is fanged, the upper lip is curled, and there are extensions from a lappet in the lower lip. The ear is round and hollowed and the eye is lentoid in shape. Between this beast and the left-hand ornamental strip is a fragment of plait with a profile human head above.

At the bottom of the panel is a figure with halo/hair and a flared kirtle. His facial features are incised and he is bound in contoured zoomorphic interlace linked to one of the animals above; there is a possible snake's head above the man's left ear. To the left of the man the strands of interlace appear to carry a median-incised line.

B (narrow): There are traces of contoured ribbon animals arranged in a wave-like composition in the lower half of the panel, with a beast's head set between the left-hand frame and zoomorphic curve. This head has a curled upper jaw, lentoid eye and a pigtail.

C (broad): Decoration only survives at the top of this face and seems to have been organized in a manner similar to that on face A. There are two strips of ornament. To the right is a five-strand plain plait with median-incised strands. Some of these strands represent extensions from a contoured ribbon beast below whose head seems to be of similar form to the smaller heads on face A. To the left are the interlocked bodies of two ribbon animals, one being ridden, in an arrangement identical to that in the upper right corner of face A. As on face A the head of the upper beast is lost but its body carries a median-incised line whilst the lower animal has a contoured body and a head similar to all those in the upper part of the other broad face.

D (narrow): Five-strand plain plait with median-incised strands. One of the strands develops into the swelling body of a contoured ribbon animal at the top; at the bottom of the surviving decoration there is a bifurcated strand and traces of further (zoomorphic?) ornament.

Discussion

Like Kirkby Stephen 4 this shaft was cut across beds of different coloured sandstone. No attempt, however, is made to exploit this anomaly in the ornament and it is likely, in any case, that it would have been invisible under a painted surface.

The entire carving is a powerful expression of Jellinge art. The undulating ribbon animals on face B follow the coherent patterning of classic examples of the style like the horse collars from Mammen and Søllested (Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1980, fig. 43, pl. XXXV). The swelling and somewhat incoherent arrangement of the animals on face A, however, is not easily paralleled though there are analogues for many of its details, such as the coiling beast seen again on Gosforth 4 and on Gainford, co. Durham (no. 2; Cramp 1984, pl. 60, 284).

Some of the themes and organization reflect local tastes. The arrangement of ornament in vertical strips is a popular one in the north-west whilst the snake-riding motif recurs at Gosforth and Penrith. The bound figure at the bottom of face A is most clearly paralleled on a cross-head from nearby Brigham (no. 5) whilst the neat interlace, though it has analogues in Yorkshire and the Isle of Man in the Viking period, is probably a reflex of treatments familiar in the tenth century on the north side of the Solway.

The significance of the scene on face A is difficult to determine. The lower figure recalls the bound Christ(?) on Brigham 5 and its binding may be identical to that on a wooden figure from Jelling and close to that on King Harold Bluetooth's monument (Wilson and Klindt-Jensen 1980, pls. XLVIII, L), but such parallels do not help with interpretation. The matter might be clearer if we could be certain that the feature over the head of the Great Clifton figure was intended as a halo and not hair.

Though Scandinavian mythology supplies several potential candidates for bound figures and men who struggled with snakes it is just as likely that this is a depiction of the Christian Hell – a later version of the scene on the cross from Rothbury, Northumberland (Cramp 1984, pl. 215, 1224). Here, in the words of an Anglo-Saxon poet, 'naked men strive among the serpents' (Krapp 1931, 140). If the lower figure is haloed then he could have been envisaged as a portrait of Christ triumphant. But it must be admitted that other Christian interpretations are possible (Bailey 1980, 140–2) and the original audience may well have recognized here a scene from Scandinavian mythology – whatever the sculptor's original intention.

Date
Tenth century
References
Collingwood 1897–1900b, pl. on 258; Collingwood 1899–1901, 323–4; Collingwood 1901a, 275; Lidbetter 1902, pl. facing 109; Collingwood 1906–7a, 135, fig. on 135; Collingwood 1907a, 280; Collingwood 1912a, 29; Collingwood 1915a, 178, 214; Collingwood 1923c, 249; Collingwood 1927a, 157–8, fig. 186; Kendrick 1949, 125; Fair 1950, 96; Holmqvist 1951, 12; Bailey 1974a, I, 166–75, 364, II, 140–2, pls.; Bailey 1980, 140, fig. 30; Bailey 1981, 84, 87, 90–1, pl. on 90; Lang 1982, 60; Lang 1984, 109–10; Bailey forthcoming a
Endnotes

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