On a cold, darkening winter’s afternoon, in a little country churchyard less than 100 years ago, the churchwarden and the gravedigger sadly collected their tools and prepared to bury their rector. However their spades struck something hard and unyielding.
What they found was a medieval stone cross shaft with the distinct carving of a warrior bearing a shield in his left hand and a long sword or seax in his right hand across his abdomen.
They eventually managed to raise it and it still stands today in the churchyard close to where it was found, on a modern plinth.
The current elderly churchwarden remembers his father telling him when he was a young child about his discovery. Someone had told him it was a 9th or 10th century Viking carving, but when I look carefully at it and compare with the Repton stone, below (courtesy of the Derby Museum) which depicts King Aethelbald, 8th century Christian king of Mercia, who is buried in the crypt at Repton church, it seems to me to replicate this very closely. Of course, Repton was the great centre of the reintroduction of Christianity into the midlands in the mid 7th century through the baptism of the Mercian royal family of Peada, an ancestor of Aethelbald. So Aethelbald would have had a strong connection to the Christian communities of this region of Mercia. It begins to figure …
Could this be an Anglo-Saxon cross shaft with Aethelbald’s image right here in our little village churchyard?
The top of the cross has never been found. I wonder whether it would be the typical celtic-style early Christian early Anglo-Saxon cross and circle?
We can’t dig the churchyard for the remains of the cross top because of the many graves there. But what an intriguing mystery! Is this Aethelbald?