Cross County

Looking for ancient crosses in Lichfield, has so far lead only to hints of their existence – a one line reference in an old book here, a placename there. Nothing concrete (or should I say stone?).  So imagine how happy I was when I visited Ilam Park yesterday and found that were two thought to date back to the 10thc standing in the churchyard with a third shaft incorporated into the church wall…..

Church of the Holy Cross, Ilam, Staffs


…..and imagine how much I kicked myself when I got home and found out there was yet another stone, known as ‘The Battle Stone’, located in the grounds of Ilam Hall that I had missed!

However, as a consolation, I learnt at home that this spring near to the church is thought by some to be St Bertram’s Well (although others place this on a hillside near to the village).

St Bertram’s Well?

The Shrine of St Bertram (also known as St Bertelin or maybe Beorhthelm of Stafford) is inside the church. As you might expect, there is more than one account of St Bertram’s life. The most well known version seems to be the tragic story that he was a Mercian Prince whose wife gave birth to a child in a forest. The wife and baby were killed by wolves and St Bertram became a hermit near to Ilam, It’s thought this story might be represented on the churches font, which dates back to around the 12thc.

You can decide for yourself, if you look at this website on Romanesque sculpture, which gives a detailed description of the font, together with photos.

However, Stafford Borough Council have this version on their website, which doesn’t feature the tragic part of the legend.

The legend of St Bertelin derives from the 14th century account of him by Capgrave in his ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, retold by Dr Robert Plot in his ‘Natural History of Staffordshire’ (1686). He is reputed to have been the son of the Mercian prince, the friend and disciple of St Guthlac who, after St Guthlac’s death c 700, continued his holy vocation on the islet of Betheney now Stafford. Here, he remained until forced to retreat from the ill-will of jealous detractors, when he repaired to Ilam, in Dovedale, Derbyshire where ultimately he died. His burial place in Ilam church was once a place of pilgrimage.

His burial place still seems to be a place where people come, not just seeking out history like me, but for spiritual reasons. As you can see from the photo of the shrine, prayers (I didn’t read them) and candles are still left there.

I have found a copy of the ‘Nova Legenda Anglie’, but as my Latin only stretched to ‘Caecilius est pater’, I need a bit of time alone with google translate.  So, I’ll leave the legend of St Bertram/Bertelin there for now other than to say that it’s believed that the remains of St Bertelin’s chapel in Stafford were excavated in the 1950s and they discovered part of a 1,000 year old cross. And this one is made of wood!

Ilam, Stafford and I’ve seen references to existing crosses in Wolverhampton, Leek, Chebsey (between Eccleshall & Stafford), amongst other places. With the discovery of the ‘Battlestone’ in Ilam (the one that I missed!) in the foundations of a cottage, during a restoration in 1840, I’m still clinging to the hope that at least a fragment of one survives somewhere in Lichfield!

Sources: (Entry numbers 1038113, 1012654, 1012653,

Corpus of Romanesque Sculpture in Britain & Island (St Bertram’s Well

6 thoughts on “Cross County

  1. Kate,I think that because the Cathedral has been established for so long and was
    the focus for the growth of the City around it any Crosses would be near to it,
    The City has a number of churches but none of them would have the power of
    the main church in a very large area to raise a stone cross that would be expensive
    it would take patronage like St Cathrine crosses .


  2. I was going to ask if the absence of crosses round about was because somebody had collected them up and taken them to Ilam but having read Pat’s comment, I realise I don’t quite understand the role these crosses played. I thought that, in England, they were put up to mark centres of towns – a place to meet, maybe the meeting of roads, the place to market . . . but if that were so, you wouldn’t need lots in a small area. So – if there were several near each other because they were by a cathedral, does this mean they were places of more serious devotion than I had realised?


    • You’ll have to bear with me because I am learning as i go with this one. This description taken from the HER entry for these crosses is quite good. Maybe I should have included it in the post!
      High crosses, frequently heavily decorated, were erected in a variety of
      locations in the eighth, ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are found
      throughout northern England with a few examples further south. Surviving
      examples are of carved stone but it is known that decorated timber crosses
      were also used for similar purposes and some stone crosses display evidence of
      carpentry techniques in their creation and adornment, attesting to this
      tradition. High crosses have shafts supporting carved cross heads which may be
      either free-armed or infilled with a ‘wheel’ or disc. They may be set within
      dressed or rough stone bases called socles. The cross heads were frequently
      small, the broad cross shaft being the main feature of the cross.
      High crosses served a variety of functions, some being associated with
      established churches and monasteries and playing a role in religious services,
      some acting as cenotaphs or marking burial places, and others marking routes
      or boundaries and acting as meeting places for local communities.

      So I think that’s saying that whilst they would be found outside churches (and these crosses outside Ilam church are thought to be more or less in their original position), they could also have been found elsewhere in a community.
      Pat, funny that you mention St Catherine, there was an altar dedictaed to her at St Chad’s once, something I’ve always meant to find out a bid more about!


    • Yes thank you Joe that’s great. I got a bit excited driving through Tixall yesterday but it turns out it was an obelisk thought to date back to 1776. Still fascinating but not a cross!


  3. Pingback: Paths that Cross | Lichfield Lore

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