Minchinhampton Cross-slabs


The existence of a church at Minchinhampton can be traced back to at least the time of the Domesday book of 1086, however much of the Norman church was swept away with the 1842 rebuilding of the church, and the earliest surviving fabric is the 14th century tower, crossing and transepts. Aside from the building fabric there are several medieval survivals -the effigies of the Ansleys, a floor tile bearing their coat of arms, and fragments of wall painting; often overlooked however are a small group of medieval memorials known as cross-slabs.

'Cross-slab' is a fairly broad term used to describe a memorial, usually carved from a single piece of stone, and whose principle decoration includes a cross. Cross-slabs were sometimes used as the lids of stone coffins, or could be set in the floor like ledger stones, others were raised above floor level as more visible monuments. They would have been a common sight in medieval churches, much as ledgers and memorials are now, and would have marked the graves of the wealthy or important: merchants, priests and lords. They were used both inside and outside of churches and predate the better known brasses and ledgers that replaced them.

Cross-slabs are known from across England, and there are many examples in Gloucestershire churches, although they are only a tiny fraction of the number there would have once been. There are five cross-slabs in Holy Trinity: two are set in the south wall of the west end of the church, another lies -broken- outside the chancel's east wall, and another has been placed, upside down, against the cemetery wall to the east of the chancel. A final cross-slab can be just made out -with the aid of a powerful torch and good eyesight- reused high up in the stone vault of the Lady Chapel (east side, northernmost bay).

The cross-slabs probably all date to around the 12th to 13th century and as such are the earliest surviving elements within the church. Apart from the slab re-used in the Lady Chapel vaulting, all these slabs were probably disturbed during the 1842 rebuilding of the church, as related on brass plaques fixed to one slab which records that it was found inside a demolished wall. That the slabs were saved, and not broken up for rubble or use as lintels or sills is a fortunate survival. That there were originally many more cross-slabs is almost certain -others are known to have been taken from the church, one cross-slab is built into a building in the town, whilst a cross-slab currently in Stonehouse Court apparently originates from Holy Trinity, although local legend has it as a memorial to Cromwell's horse!

Cross-slabs are a relatively rare survival of medieval memorials and the Minchinhampton group is among the larger groups in Gloucestershire. Less well-known than ornate effigies and tombs, cross-slabs have their own charm, and as part of the wide range of memorials they provide a tangible link to past parishioners.

The Gloucestershire Cross-slab survey is recording all surviving cross-slabs across the county, there is a blog at http://gloscross-slabs.blogspot.co.uk

Chiz Harward