Holy Cross Day Part II – The Exaltation of the Cross

Morley, Derbyshire, originally uploaded by Vitrearum.

I have been reminded that in medieval calendars the Invention of the Holy Cross, the discovery of the True Cross by St Helena, was commemorated in May the 4th. It is only in the modern calendars of the church that it has been united with the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross on the 14th of September. The feast of the Exaltation commemorates the liberation of the True Cross from the hands of the Persians in the seventh century. In 614 the Persians stole the True Cross from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and it was only recovered in 628 by the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. When he recovered it he took it initially to Byzantium returning it to Jerusalem triumphantly in 629.

This all reminds me that in the church of St Matthew in Morley in Derbyshire, is a fascinating window commemorating both the Invention and the Exaltation of the True Cross. I illustrate here two panels from the half of the window that refers to the Exaltation of the Cross. The one above shows the cross being adored by the people of Jerusalem after its return to the city. In the panel directly below we see the Emperor Heraclius attempting to enter Jerusalem with the cross but finding his way blocked. The Golden Legend fills in the details of this part of the story:

‘Now Heraclius carried the sacred cross back to Jerusalem … mounted on his royal palftey and arrayed in Imperial regalia, intending to enter the city by the gate through which Christ had passed on his way to Crucifixion. But suddenly the stones of the gateway fell down and locked together, forming an unbroken wall’ (W. G. Ryan, The Golden Legend, vol. 2, p. 169).

Morley, Derbyshire

Incidentally this window, dating from the 1480s, has a rather interesting history. It originally formed part of the cloister glazing of the neighbouring Premonstratensian Abbey at Dale. It was removed to Morley in the 1540s with four other windows from the cloister. In fact the north chancel aisle at Morley, its stonework, glass and timber were all salvaged from one of the cloister walks.

Morley, Derbyshire
Cloister transplant at Morley, Derbyshire.

Morley, Derbyshire
Inside the cloister transplant, the north chancel aisle at Morley. The Holy Cross window is the easterly window in the north wall.

3 thoughts on “Holy Cross Day Part II – The Exaltation of the Cross

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  1. Interesting convention to represent the Eastern Emperor in a triple tiara, apparently with a crescent on top. Confused imagery. The windows and tracery are a fascinating survival. In the mid-50’s, when I was v. young, I visited Dale Abbey with relatives who lived nearby. Close by the E window was a sizable pile of archaeological debris, consisting almost entirely of broken glazed tiles, presumably from the church floor. They were mainly pictorial – animal and human heads, perhaps mid to late 13th c. I would guess with the benefit of hindsight. In the 50’s they were discarded as unwanted. I picked out a few examples and kept them for several years and then, to my current regret, traded them.It would literally have been possible at that time to salvage sufficient tile to furnish a “medieval” bathroom!


  2. How wonderful Roger a medieval salvage pile and what a shame you let the tiles go. If I remember there were a couple of excavations of the site in the 1930s by Howard Colvin, which presumably explains the pile debris. I’m told there is still a shed on the site containing some sculpture and worked stones.


  3. I was there on Christmas Day 1955. Hard to imagine that the spoil heap had been there for about 20 years. But Dale was far more isolated back then. We cycled to get there. Nowadays, the discard heap wouldn’t have lasted five minutes, would it? But nowadays, one hopes, the tiles would not have been thrown away in the first place.The Morley windows are particularly evocative in view of how little survives of the abbey.


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