Irton Cross

At Irton Churchyard in Cumbria is a large stone cross. Unlike some of the imposing, cross-shaped grave markers nearby, this one is ten feet high and ten centuries old. (It might be older, actually, but I thought the repetition of ‘ten’ sounded good). Strange symbols are carved upon it, Celtic-style patterns, maybe a vine motif. Unreadable, well-worn runes adorn its west face, their meaning unknown. The neighbouring church is only a couple of centuries old, but this cross was already elderly when the Conqueror landed.

The cross is an important symbol of Christianity and the gospel- good news- of Jesus Christ. Paul tells the Corinthians ‘we preach Christ crucified’, underlining the cross’s centrality in doctrine. Without Christ’s payment at Calvary, eternal life and sins’ forgiveness could not have been purchased for sinners. These old crosses were hopefully erected as preaching stations whereat this great old gospel could be preached to the local Saxons. I hope this was the case.

To many today, and perhaps back then, the cross was just a lucky charm, a magical symbol, a place where oaths would be witnessed by deity and retribution despatched to those who broke their word.

Sometimes crosses became meeting places, boundary markers, places of agreed appointment where betrothed couples might affirm their vows.

To others, it wa a symbol of death, a marker for some burial or cemetery. The soil of Ireton might be enriched by any number of Saxon bones in that soil, whose only gravestone was this ten-foot monolith.

For others, the cross is a gesture, a formal nod to Christianity. A symbol of a world religion, a painted logo for a battle shield, a declaration that the local lord worshipped this god over another.

I do not know why the medieval folk of Irton erected this cross; I hope it was for gospel preaching, and not the spurious reasons cited above. Yet I’ve visited many a church which smattered with crosses, even constructed to cruciform plan, but seldom is the cross of Jesus Christ actually preached.

What does the cross mean to you? If it is not the extraordinary means by which your debt was paid, your sins forgiven, God’s love and wrath dealt in equal measure- then you have missed its point. It is for you a mysterious pillar, an ancient symbol, a collection of unreadable, meaningless runes.

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 1 Corinthians 1:18