Visitors to Crosthwaite Church who are at all interested in archaeology will be glad to know that they can now find on the external walls of that church a record of bygone days, and bygone religious usage, which renders it unique amongst all the churches in England. (p. 109)
The uniqueness lies in the fact that it retains incised upon its outside walls twelve consecration crosses—cross-pattée in circle—whose diameter is 4¾ inches smaller than is usually the case. The idea of the consecration crosses was originally baptismal, that is to say, just as the body of the human being was looked upon as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and was consecrated to God in baptism by the use of the cross, so the Church was looked upon as the body within which was enshrined the spirit of the living God; and this body, dedicated to the uses of the Holy Spirit, needed also to be consecrated by the use of the cross in a similar manner. That, at any rate, was the idea of the early Gallican Church. (pp. 109-110)
Later there was fused with this highly symbolic rite another consecration ceremonial, which came from Rome, and consisted of the enclosing of the saint’s relics within the altar of the new church. The altar was then marked with consecration crosses in memory of the more ancient practice of imperial Rome, of building churches over altars that enshrined a martyr’s grave. (p. 110)
Both forms of service, the consecration of the altar and of the walls of the church by crosses, chrism and prayer, became prefixed to the celebration of the Eucharist, and formed the long consecration rite of the mediaeval pontificals. This anointing with oil of the walls of the church where consecration crosses had been engraved is made known to us first in the English pontifical of Egbert, Archbishop of York, A.D. 732-766. (p. 110)
But the English as opposed to the Gallican use was not content with consecration crosses within, but added twelve outside the building. The anointing with chrism of these outside walls on the consecration day is not mentioned until the pontifical of Archbishop Robert of Winchester, written at the end of the tenth century. With the exception of Archbishop Robert’s pontifical, there appears to have been no ordering before the eleventh century of the anointing of any of the outside walls; but from the end of the eleventh century the English pontificals order external as well as internal anointings, and in each case the anointing is to be in twelve places, probably in memory of the twelve Apostles. Where, as is sometimes the case, a thirteenth consecration cross has been found, and is of the same date, that cross was probably placed there in memory of the patron saint. (pp. 110-111)….
At Crosthwaite an additional liturgical interest attaches to the outside crosses, because they seem to prove that even under the Maryan reaction, when Roman opinion was strong and many old books had been destroyed, the Bishop who consecrated the church still adhered to the English in preference to the Continental rite, for there can be no question that these consecration crosses were placed upon window jambs that were inserted in fourteenth century walls at the last important building of the church in the first or second year of Queen Mary, 1553-4. (pp. 113-114)….
One other thing should be noted about the consecration crosses on the outside walls. They are twelve in number, and instead of being, as was usually the case, placed three on each of the four walls, north, south, east and west, they are placed six on the south wall, and six on the northern wall. The fact that, though they are engraven on the left jambs of the northern wall, they are not all at the same height is probably to be accounted for by the fact that the mason chose for his purpose the finest grained and hardest stone, or the stone of the largest size for so important a mark of consecration. (p. 114)
Up to the year 1915 we had believed that Crosthwaite Church only preserved these consecration crosses on the outside, viz. on the south wall, and one consecration cross in the interior. But my friend Mr. F. C. Eeles, a well-known Scottish antiquarian, a Rhind Lecturer in Archaeology, who had been working for the Scottish Royal Commission on Ancient Monuments, and was much interested in the history of bells, coming to visit the parish in order to inspect one of the oldest bells in Cumberland—a thirteenth century bell, with a black letter inscription, that used to hang in the parish room gable, and is now enshrined and saved from weathering in the old church—read a short paper which I had written for the Westmoreland and Cumberland Archaeological Society in 1914; and at once, from his knowledge of the fact that the English use was to have twelve consecration crosses on the outside, began carefully to inspect the jambs of the windows on the north wall. He found a slight indication of the arc of a circle projecting beyond the roughcast, and discovered the whole circle. I begged that he would continue his search, and in a few days he had recovered for us five other crosses that are now visible. (pp. 114-115)
He then set to work to search for the twelve consecration crosses, which he knew must have originally existed within the church, according to the Roman or Continental use, and was rewarded by discovering, hidden sometimes under as much as 4 inches of plaster placed there by Gilbert Scott in 1844, seven more, each on the left side of a window. Those on the south side, four in number, are cut upon a stone space on the left or east side of the three windows, east of the south doorway. There can be no doubt that two others originally were carved in similar positions on the spaces of the other windows, but they probably disappeared when the stonework of these windows was refaced by Gilbert Scott’s directions in 1844. (pp. 115-116)
On the north side of the church four were discovered all upon the surface of the wall touching the splay, and close to the lefthand side of the windows. (p. 116)….
However much we may deplore the fact that they were ever covered up by Gilbert Scott, and had been lost entirely to us all these years, we probably owe to this fact that the colour of these black lines is still visible. (p. 116)
We were rejoicing in the finding of the twenty-one consecration crosses when, by sheer accident, a twenty-second was discovered by the churchwarden, who happened to be looking at a buttress, which had lately been unstripped of its ivy, at the east end of the church, and which had been rebuilt in 1812. The light chanced to be particularly favourable for observation, and he saw thereon the remains of the twenty-second consecration cross. It was quite clear that this had been carved upon the stone of an earlier church, which had been cast out and used for rebuilding; and we gather therefrom that although the twelve crosses on the south and north walls are all of them evidently of the same date and belonged to the Maryan consecration, this cross at the east end must be the record of an earlier consecration. Whether of the Norman Church or of the later Catholic Church we cannot say. (pp. 116-117)
As we look upon the twelve consecration crosses, we may call up to mind the very interesting ceremony which took place, probably in the year 1554. Then, after a solemn celebration of the Holy Eucharist, which was always the important feature of church consecration, Bishop Aldrich, with his attendant priests, having predetermined sturdily to consecrate with the English and not with the Roman use, went from cross to cross, the people following after, and solemnly anointed the crosses one by one with prayer and thanks to Almighty God that the church, with its completed tower and its Maryan windows, was now a fair, fit temple for the indwelling of the Spirit of God—that Spirit which, so long ago as 553, had impelled Kentigern to set up his cross in the thwaite, and to call the men of the fellside who had relapsed into paganism, back to the faith of Christ crucified. (pp. 117-118)
(Past and Present at the English Lakes, pp. 109-118)