The 15th century churchyard cross in what remains of the graveyard of St Mary and St Cynfarch has become, as many have, a sundial - the 16th century Reformation causing the ruin of many of these magnificent medieval wonders. Given that the date 1800 has been etched into the west face of the remaining cross shaft, we are on fairly steady ground in dating the sundial to the very end of the 18th century.
The cross is largely as it was when Elias Owen visited at the end of the 19th century. Its position is as it was - to the south of the church and six paces from the porch. The dimensions of the undecorated shaft (likely the reason for its survival) as described by Owen remain, 2ft 5in in height, octagonal and embedded into a massive base stone, resting on three hefty looking flagstones, which themselves are resting on a stone base much buried in the soil. Upon the sundial plate is the inscription, ‘E.Tavo, Chester, Fect’ and a small, wooden cross has been raised beside the gnomon.
‘When perfect the Cross must have been a massive and imposing structure.’
Elias Owen, Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd, (1886) p.107
The Cross has been often described as a preaching cross, and while this term must be ascribed with caution, it seems entirely reasonable to suggest that in its time it was used as such. Whether or not it was raised as such is a different matter, and the debate continues. We know nothing as to when the crosshead (sometimes described as a tabernacle) was removed, or where it was removed to. The crosshead was ever the primary target of Protestant iconoclasts, the most obvious representation of its Catholic past, and it is possible that it was broken up and scattered - several surviving examples of these glories still remain in North East Wales, most notably at Derwen, Trelawnyd and Tremeirchion. The cross head fixed into a southern buttress of the new church at Halkyn is a reminder of the fate of many, but leaves lingering hope that further examples are to be found hidden away. The cross at Llanfair DC has also been described a calvary cross, due to its apparent three steps to the shaft - a largely 19th century concern.
Undoubtedly, Owen is right in believing that the thrown down Cross was once an imposing presence, as many were. But it is possible, in standing before the remains in the beautiful churchyard of St Mary and St Cynfarch to see it as it was…with a little imagination.
Owen, E., Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd, Woodall, Minshull & Co. Oswestry & Wrexham, 1886
Silvester, R, & Hankinson, R, Medieval Crosses and Crossheads, CPAT Report No. 136 CPAT (2010)
Silvester, R., Welsh medieval freestanding crosses, Archaeologia Cambrensis 162 (2013)