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Tyne and Wear HER(12215): Whitburn Parish Church, Anglo-Saxon grave slab - Details

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S Tyneside

Whitburn Parish Church, Anglo-Saxon grave slab



Religious Ritual and Funerary

Grave Marker

Grave Slab

Early Medieval


Located inside the church tower, on the first floor. Inserted by the 1868 restorers as a lintel over the southern single splayed window. The slab is barely bonded into the medieval masonry and is clearly secondary to the C13 fabric. First recorded by Peter Ryder in 1993. 1.24m long x 42 cm wide and 12cm deep. Bears a relief-carved design of a cross with expanded arms, flanked by a series of three similar animals (lions?) on the left, and several figures, possibly a hunting scene, on the right. Ryder (1994) states that although the formal series of animals has some Pre-Conquest parallels, the most likely date would appear to be early C12. It has no parallel in County Durham {1}. Clive Hart of Tyne and Wear Museums disagrees with this date because splayed cross arms with wedge-shaped arms, which is what Peter Ryder believes this cross had before it was broken, can be recognised in Anglo-Saxon sculptures at Easington (Corpus 1A), Billingham (15 A/B) and Haughton-le-Skerne (11A). Hart suggests that a fourth lion may have been lost from the slab, or perhaps the figure of the Biblical Daniel. The lions are similar to those on cross slab No. 2 at Meigle in Strathmore. The nearest sculptured parallels may be the cross shaft at Sockburn (Corpus 4A and 7C) and at Brompton (Durham Cathedral, cathedral no. LVI). Hart describes the hunting scene on the Whitburn slab as depicting a menagerie of wild beasts, a standing hunter and a mounted figure, who may have a spear in his hand. This echoes the Book of Psalms (Psalm 16, verse 10, Psalm 21, verse 11 and Psalm 34 verse 7) where the spear expresses danger and a hope of deliverance. Vestiges of sculptures of human figures and beasts once adorned the string-course on the western porch of Monkwearmouth monastery. Hart suggests a date of around AD 1000 and states that this raises the question of the possibility of a late Anglo-Saxon church on or near to the site of the present church {2}.




Peter Ryder, 1994, Some Further Medieval Cross Slabs in County Durham, Durham Archaeological Journal, Vol. 10, p. 50-51; The Arbeia Society, 2004, The Coast from South Shields to Whitburn - Archaeology and History, pp. 12-13

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