The Manx Crosses

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How important are the Manx crosses as part of the Island’s heritage?

The Manx Crosses are one of the greatest legacies of early Christian faith and Viking settlement and conversion on the Isle of Man. Numbering over two hundred grave-markers, memorials and altar-fronts, they are mostly carved in local stone, the decoration of which ranges from simple incised crosses to complex interlace and depictions of Christian and Scandinavian themes.  A large number are marked with inscriptions using Ogham, Roman and Runic scripts. The early medieval crosses and carved stones comprise objects of extraordinary diversity and international cultural interest.  Ranging from simple grave-markers to intricately decorated memorials, they share cultural affinities with the surrounding British islands and Scandinavia, and were carved during a pivotal period in the Island’s history.

Where do the Manx crosses sit in terms of priority for MNH in addressing the issues of their care and presentation?

The current Trustees have inherited from their predecessors a legacy of involvement in the Crosses which goes back well over a century. P.M.C. Kermode, later to become the first Director of the Manx Museum, began researching the crosses in the 1880s.  During the first few years of the 20th century he made life-sized drawings of all of the known Manx crosses, while in 1906, he and the Trustees together with local arts and crafts architect Armitage Rigby and Maughold Church, completed a cross house on behalf of the Parish to protect its monuments.  In 1907 Kermode published “Manx Crosses”; which remains, to this day, one of the most important publications on Manx archaeology.

In the last ten years MNH has taken a careful step by step approach to this issue to revisit every aspect of the crosses. The approach has been evidence-based and transparent, involving key stakeholders, and making information freely publicly available. New technologies such as 3D laser scanning have been used and as much information as possibly shared online. MNH has:

  • Commissioned and completed a Desk Based Assessment of all available information on the crosses to establish a baseline for the extent of collective knowledge and understanding – much of which has been made publicly available through the iMuseum.
  • Completed and published a Statement of Significance, which evaluates, characterises and quantifies the significance of the crosses (in accordance with established international protocols) to the Isle of Man and their relative significance internationally. This has been discussed with local stakeholders.
  • Conducted a detailed risk assessment, by site, of all the crosses in order to prioritise and characterise the risks. This was followed by a detailed physical assessment of condition of each individual cross.
  • Commissioned and completed a Statement of Significance of the Armitage Rigby Maughold Cross Shelter
  • Funded an Options Appraisal for a replacement Cross House at Maughold. MNH worked with PCC to develop a brief for appraisal and to facilitate the process to be managed by PCC.
  • Funded and supported the publication of Manx Crosses: A Handbook of Stone Sculpture by Sir David Wilson, published in 2018. Manx Crosses: A Handbook of Stone Sculpture 500 – 1040 in the Isle of Man by Sir David Wilson
  • Supported the research and preparation of the definitive catalogue of runic inscriptions on the Manx Crosses, by an international academic team led by Professor Michael Barnes, The Runic Inscriptions of the Isle of Man published in 2019 by the Viking Society for Northern Research.
  • Commissioned a 3D digital survey of all the Crosses to provide baseline information for future condition monitoring. Digital models have also been made publically accessible online. View them on iMuseum

The issue of the unsuitability of the Maughold Cross Shelter has been known for many years, why is it taking so long to do something about it?

The crosses in the existing Cross House within the boundaries of Maughold Church are under the guardianship of MNH and have been assessed as being amongst the most at risk of loss or damage.  MNH is committed to improving the care and presentation of the Manx crosses across the Island and supporting island-wide care of Manx crosses including new facilities at Maughold. MNH does not own the crosses in the Manx Churches but actively works with the community to fulfil its “Guardianship” role.

The number of stones at Maughold, their general condition and exposure puts them at the top of the conservation agenda for MNH. MNH has funded an Options Appraisal study in partnership with the Church which recommended a new facility outside the churchyard.

The next step is to prepare outline design options for the agreed preferred site and negotiate with the landowner to arrive at an in principle agreement over the use of the land. Discussions will also need to take place with the PCC, Diocese and MNH to agree which body (or partnership) ultimately has beneficial ownership and how a new facility may be operated and maintained.  Other stakeholders such as the Department for Enterprise and the Visit Agency will be important.

This process has raised the possibility that the development of a new cross shelter alone might be a missed opportunity as it would have no other facilities for visitors. The nearby Parish Hall is increasingly unfit for purpose and costly to run. The PCC have confirmed that a simple suite of facilities (kitchen, accessible toilet, flexible space) adjoining the cross shelter could provide very welcome facilities for visitors and the community. Whilst it would impact the cost it would increase sustainability and opportunities to support tourism and the wider role of the church.

What plans does MNH have to ensure the suitable care and presentation of the Manx crosses in the future?

Manx National Heritage recognises the need to improve the care of Manx Crosses across the Island.  We are already working to do this with a number of parish churches and parishioners, most recently in Andreas, Malew, Lonan and St. John’s.  Lots of work has been ongoing in respect of improvement to the care and presentation of the Manx crosses around the Island.  Work has already been completed at Malew Church and work continues at Kirk Michael, Andreas, Lonan Old Church and St. John’s. Some of this work has been funded by MNH.

How quickly are the crosses decaying?

We do not have any evidence to suggest that the rate of decay is rapid. This was the principal reason for documenting them by 3D scanning so that we could monitor their condition scientifically and based on evidence. An initial comparison between new 3D scans of one of the Maughold crosses and a mould taken from it in 1905, showed no discernible losses. Further such studies are planned.

We fully accept that the Maughold Crosses are at risk from damage caused by taking rubbings, vandalism or even theft.

Is it OK to make rubbings of the crosses?

No, unfortunately, as the carved detail is shallow and extremely fragile, taking rubbings or impressions (moulds) of the crosses results in small losses.  These can have a big impact of the legibility of inscriptions and clarity of the carving. Alternatives to taking impressions from the crosses themselves are possible.

Are bird droppings harmful to the crosses?

Yes. Bird droppings contain harmful chemicals that may promote the decay of some of the stones. The droppings also contain organic matter that encourages the growth of algae, fungi and lichens that can also cause physical and chemical damage. Note that crosses should only ever be cleaned after consulting the Conservation staff of Manx National Heritage.

Is it legally permissible to clean the crosses?

No. MNH is the legal Guardian of the crosses and they should not be cleaned without our consent and after consulting the Conservation staff of Manx National Heritage.

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