The Cross of Cropthorne
Cropthorne is a village in Worcestershire with origins going back to the Neolithic era, and at its heart is the church of St Michael. While the building itself is early Medieval there was a church here long before that, as evidenced by the shaft of an Anglo-Saxon cross stationed at it's entrance. This monolith suffered decapitation at the hands of marauding Puritans in common with many other such crosses in the area, but unlike the others its cross is still here – inside the church.
This exquisite Anglo-Saxon cross was hidden for safekeeping in the very wall of the church itself and rediscovered during renovations in the 1800s, and even within the confines of the building it is now protected by a perspex case. It features the kind of beautiful carvings you would expect from the Anglo-Saxon era but with added features unique for its age. Noble beasts and birds adorn the cross arms but vines and leaves surround them, unusual for the era, then on the outer edges of the arms we see the square spirals of Greek style fretwork, again very peculiar for such a work of art.
The cross was probably carved and erected in honour of King Offa of Mercia in 800, a couple of years after his death by the prior of Worcester as Offa had presented the village and lands to him some years earlier. It is an astounding piece of sculpture and while the perspex case surrounding it does spoil photography somewhat it's a small price to pay to preserve such an important part of the heritage of Worcestershire.
Elsewhere in the church, another discovery was made from a slightly later time in history. A Medieval mural, dating from the 1300s, was found under layers of whitewash and while barely any of its details are clear it has been assumed to show St Christopher arriving at his hermitage. Located above the huge Norman vaulted columns it does give us a glance into an earlier age, when churches were often brightly painted and adorned with murals and pictures.
Two remarkable memorials from the 1600s are sited closer to the chancel, with both of them created for the same family. The recumbent gentleman dressed in armour of the day is Francis Dingley, a wealthy landowner of the area, who was killed in 1624 while fighting a duel at the age of 74 ! He also fathered an incredible 19 children with his wife Elizabeth whose effigy lies peacefully next to his. Next to them is their grandson Sir Edward Dingley and his wife Mary, they kneel devoutly in prayer facing each other, both clad entirely in black.
While I was alone inside the church some baubles repeatedly fell from the Christmas tree then a table leg seemed to scrape over the floor of its own accord, make of that what you will! While I've never heard of St Michaels being any kind of paranormal “hotspot” some of the other buildings in Cropthorne do have various phantoms associated with them, including a “grey lady” at Holland House. Perhaps she'd popped in ?
If you like these posts you'll like my book The Mystery Of Mercia, available at this link -
Saint Michael's Church, Cropthorne
The Anglo-Saxon cross inside the church
Detail of the cross showing an exotic bird
Detail of the cross showing a rampant griffin
The old cross shaft outside the church, the base is a later structure
Greek style square spirals adorn the edges of the cross
Francis Dingley lies in armour next to his wife, perhaps in honour of the manner of his death