Yesterday I took the short trip to the village of Checkley in Staffordshire, just outside of Stoke on Trent. I visited St Mary’s and All Saints’ Church to investigate the Anglo Scandinavian cross fragments in the churchyard. It took me a full circumference of the church to locate them, but they are situated around 5m from the south porch on the left.
There are three in total, standing around 5ft tall, aligned in ascending order of size and complexity in their engravings. I would think the crosses are around 1,300 years old or possibly even more. They clearly pre-date the church, parts of which date to 12th century Norman times and is in itself quintessentially beautiful (I have heard it described as one of the best 1,000 churches in England).
The largest and best preserved appears to show 3 figures on both sides. They are said to be three Christian Bishops who lost their lives in a battle between Danes and Saxons nearby Deadman’s Green, which is said to have got its name because of the battle. It could be that the crosses mark the place where the Bishops were slain in battle but I would suggest it is more likely that it was a preaching area. I have read that it is possible St Bertelin, the hermit of Stafford, gave religious instruction here. Various accounts state these are in situ in their original location although I find this to be quite unlikely that they are in their exact position.
As I stood there on a crisp but sunny January morning imagining the people who once spent days and weeks carving the figures into the rock and many more stood next to them praying or in some form of ancient ceremony I found them absolutely fascinating, almost otherworldly.
Date of visit – 12th January 2020