The Palm Sunday Cross

Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

Quite a number of medieval stone crosses survive in our churchyards, when I say survive, very few are as complete as the fifteenth century example at Ampney Crucis in Gloucestershire which I show above. Usually all you find is a base and the stump of a shaft. Often people tell you that they were erected as a communal memorial for all those buried in the churchyards who had no monument. Well perhaps, but evidence seems to suggest that they served a liturgical as well as a commemorative function as stational crosses during outdoor processions, notably on Palm Sunday. One Palm Sunday it was customary for the people to gather at the cross while the clergy brought the blessed sacrament out of church in a shrine set on poles. The Passion narrative from Matthew’s Gospel would be read at the cross, no doubt using the steps as a primitive ambo. Then the blessed sacrament would be carried in procession in a full circuit around the church, the clergy and people following. When they got to the main entrance of the church, the clerks carrying the sacrament would stop and raise the shrine above their heads. The people would enter the church under the shrine. The sacrament would then be taken back into church. The whole event was a symbolic recreation of Christ’s entry into Jerusalem.

Anyway more in that glorious account of late medieval religion which is A. Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars (Yale, 1992), pp. 23-27.

Here’s a woodcut of a medieval procession of the Blessed Sacrament, just to give you a sense of what I have described:
Corpus Christi

Also few more details of the head of the remarkable Ampney Crucis cross. One side has a figure of Our Lady holding the infant Jesus:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

The other side has a representation of the Crucifixion, flanked by the usual images of Our Lady and St John:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

One of the narrow sides has a figure of St Lawrence and the other a figure wearing armour, perhaps representations of the donor who paid for the cross? Anyway the armour of the figure dates the cross to the first two decades of the fifteenth century:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

Lastly the exterior of the church itself:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

And some of the glorious fourteenth century wallpaintings in the north transept:
Ampney Crucis, Gloucestershire

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