In the churchyard of St Mary’s in Derwen is what is believed to be the finest stone cross in North East Wales. It is battered and weatherworn and yet still commands respect. It is a thing of beauty, both in the now and in the realisation of the effort and faith that was poured into its creation. Elias Owen in his book, ‘Old Stone Crosses of the Vale of Clwyd’ (1886), calls it the most, ‘elaborate and perfect cross’ and evidently visited it many times. On standing before it, it is hard not to agree with him most wholeheartedly.
Thought now, to be mid to late 15th century, it was raised as a focal point for devotions to Christ, especially on certain occasions, such as Palm Sunday, the Virgin Mary at Annunciation (25th March), Visitation (2nd July), Nativity (8th September) and most importantly of all, Assumption (15th August). It was also, however, where important announcements were made to the community. Stood on the pedestal of the cross, the parish clerk would declare any news to the assembled congregation immediately after the Sunday service. This news was as much secular as otherwise, and would often be agricultural business, auctions and the like. As such, the Derwen Cross was ever an essential part of the community.
Even with the weathering of the last 500 years, it is clear how very impressive was the skill that undertook the creation of this cross. It is not a difficult thing to look upon the cross and imagine it in all its glory, and this is of no small importance since ignorance of such things can lead to lazy neglect. The cross stands some 15 feet in height, upon a single stone plinth, that on two tiers of steps. The shaft itself is octagonal and around 7 feet in height, carved from a single piece of stone, and decorated with stone heads and foliage. The head of the cross is rectangular and highly stylised, the east and west faces wider than those of the north and south. The decoration on the faces is well preserved, though Elias Owen in 1886 was disappointed in not being able to tell clearly what the decorations detailed. However, today research has shed some light on this, and we have a reasonable idea of what is shown.
On the west face is a scene from the Crucifixion, an image not unlike that of the cross head from the church of St Saeran in Llanynys, but at Derwen it is thought Christ is flanked by both the Virgin Mary and St John. The east side is thought to show the Coronation of the Virgin Mary. The south side is somewhat ambigious but current thinking suggests it might be an image of the Archangel Michael with sword and scales, judging souls on the Day of Judgement, while the north face of the cross is thought to show the figure Mary with Christ.
Again, as with St Mary’s and Rood screen and loft, the cross was saved from the vandalization of the Tudor Reformation and the Puritanical destruction by Derwen’s isolation in the Vale of Clwyd. However, while not quite as zealous in their actions as the Puritans, and risking life and limb, boys attending the school in what now is now the Church House building used to climb the cross, as you would, and it is thought, have done some damage.
It remains a wonder of devotion and a miracle of survival.
The cross is freely accessible. Parking is available to the south of the Church, behind the Church House.