Boskenna Cross, St Buryan, Cornwall

Wayside Cross:  OS Grid Reference – SW 42579 24266

Also Known as:

  1. Historic England Grade II Listed Building No. 1007955

Boskenna Cross on 1887 map

Getting Here

Travelling along the B3315 from Penzance to Lands End, the Cross is on the south side of the road at the junction with the minor road to St Buryan, past the Merry Maidens circle.

Archaeology & History

The Cross is assumed to have been carved perhaps a century after the cross in St Buryan churchyard. Its upright figure of the crucified Jesus, forward facing, wearing a knee length tunic, and with feet out at right angles is stylistically similar to the churchyard cross, which probably dated from the time of Athelstan’s charter, and which Ann Preston-Jones and Andrew Langdon state is very similar in style to crucifixions on crosses in the north of England for which a 10th or early 11th century date has been suggested.

During the mediaeval period St Buryan church was noted for its privileged sanctuary which extended beyond the church and churchyard, which privilege may have been granted by the charter of King Athelstan (924-939). Preston-Jones and Langdon (Andrew) consider that the Boskenna Cross, as well as having been a roadside way marker, may, with others ‘perhaps once have marked the sanctuary’s limits‘.

Arthur Langdon (1896), in his magnum opus on Cornish Crosses, describes this wheel-headed wayside cross:

Sketch from Langdon’s 1896 book

The only ancient part of the monument is the little cross at the top, which is mounted on a base made up of an extraordinary collection of apparently disused circular granite stones. Immediately beneath the cross is a cylindrical piece, the upper edge of which is roughly rounded off. Beneath this comes a short drum, about two inches wider than the piece above and nine inches deep. The next two stones are much wider but not so deep as the last, the bottom one consisting of the lower portion of an old cider-press, with its surrounding channel and lip !

Its roadside position.

There is a good deal to admire in the feeling which prompted this effort to once and for all preserve so ancient a relic, and the care bestowed in the erection of this curious substructure goes far to remove its incongruity.

Front — The figure of our Lord here sculptured is quite the best example in which He is represented wearing the tunic; the expanded sleeves are especially apparent, as well as the outline of the garment above the knees. The feet are very large, and turn outwards at right angles.

The Crucifixion face

Back — On the head is a cross with expanded limbs, flush with the surface of the stone. The four triangular sinkings, or recesses, which form the background are not of uniform size, the lower being considerably larger than those above, thus making the lower limb the longest. The inner portion of each sinking is raised, forming bosses in low relief.

Dimensions — Total height of the monument, 6 ft. 10 in; height of the cross, 2 ft. 4 in; width of head, 1 ft. 8 in; width of shaft, 12½ in.

The cross has had a chequered history. It is not known when it was demolished from its original position. Langdon, once more, takes up the story:

The opposite face.

Mr. J. H. Johns, landlord of the “King’s Arms”, St. Buryan, informed me of the circumstances connected with the discovery of this cross. It appears that formerly one of the angles at the intersection of these roads was so sharp and awkward for traffic that, in 1869, the local authorities decided to ease this corner by rounding off the hedge, which was then about ten feet thick. Mr. Johns’ father was one of the men employed on this work, and shortly after commencing he found the cross buried in the hedge. By the advice of His Honour Charles Dacres Bevan, County Court Judge of Cornwall, and then residing at Boskenna Mansion House, the cross was erected on the triangular piece of grass in the middle of the roads, a spot on which it is extremely likely it originally stood.

Side view from the east.

In 1941 and 1942, the Cross was demolished by road vehicles, whereupon the council removed it to its present roadside position. It was again hit by a vehicle in 1992. And in 2002 there was another incident, reported by Meyn Mamvro:

..In February the top of the cross was found lying by the roadside. It is not known whether this was the result of deliberate vandalism or a road traffic accident, but local village witch Cassandra Latham acted quickly in alerting Cornwall Archaeological Unit, who took it away for repair and restoration…

The report on the restoration notes that the pedestal was hit by a vehicle on 27th February, and it was likely the impact caused the Cross head to fall off. The Cross was restored during June and July 2002, when the opportunity was taken to move the pedestal away from the road, 2m south east of its former position.

References:

  1. Langdon, Arthur G., Old Cornish Crosses, Truro, Joseph Pollard, 1896.
  2. Langdon, Andrew, Stone Crosses in West Penwith, The Federation of Old Cornwall Societies, 1997.
  3. Preston-Jones, Ann & Langdon, Andrew, St Buryan Crosses, Cornish Archaeology, No 36, 1997.
  4. Meyn Mamvro, No 49, Autumn 2002, p. 4
  5. Preston-Jones, Ann, Boskenna Cross St Buryan Cornwall, Restoration – Cornwall Archaeological Unit, Truro, November 2002
  6. De’Mazzinghi, Thomas John, Sanctuaries, Stafford, Halden & Son, 1887 (A general introduction)

© Paul T. Hornby 2018

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