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St. Mary`s Ancient Cross

St. Mary's Church is thought to date from around 1250 -- but the tradition of Christian worship on the site goes back much, much further.

And the reason we know this is all down to a chance discovery in 1902, when digging work to create a new grave uncovered the top part of an Anglo-Saxon cross.

The cross, which is on display in the church, is the only example of the interlaced wheel type in the county and may date from around 920.

It is especially interesting because of its remarkable state of preservation. That could suggest it was buried within a few years of its placing -- perhaps a consequence of a Danish raid?

That much is pure speculation, of course, but we do know that the cross would have been put up at a time of great civil upheaval in the Eastern Counties. At the beginning of the 10th century the authority of the Church in East Anglia had been dealt repeated blows by Danish invasion and subsequent settlement.

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So who would have put up the cross? By careful analysis of the artistic styles of similar crosses throughout Britain it is possible to postulate the existence of travelling carvers who moved from place to place wherever they could find patronage.

The Whissonsett cross would have been the product of one of these craftsmen, who used stock designs probably committed to memory while an apprentice. The cross contains a simple interlaced design of a Scandanavian influence, which is typical of this period.

The cross could have been used as a preaching cross by monks based at nearby North Elmham, later the site of a bishopric. It could have been painted, although no trace of this survives.

The bottom sections of the cross were probably re-used during the building of the stone church during the Norman period -- good building stone would not have been wasted.

The cross design has been used as the backdrop for the Whissonsett village sign.