Reaps Cross

A chapel friend and I drove over to Widdop Reservoir, from where we walked up Heptonstall Moor. There was something there I wanted to see. It was marked on the Ordnance Survey as Reaps Cross, in that old fashioned font. The moorland was bleak and barren, yet beautiful and mesmerising, as the snow clouds’ shadows crept along the hills. Lapwings and Meadow Pipits danced and chirruped, interrupting the silence. Up we tramped, until we saw the tall shaft on the moor’s top.

It is a good example of a wayside cross. These were stone crosses erected in medieval times. Old puritans and modern vandals were sometimes inclined to knock them over; this one has sustained some damage but is otherwise in pretty good shape. No-one really knows why it was erected. Was it a call to piety in a place far removed from any church or chapel? Was it a marker for pilgrims, perhaps heading to Whalley? That moor is criss-crossed with paths and ways; a post pointing the right direction would have been a welcome aid. 350 of them have survived nationally, but most are down south.

I do like the idea that this cross was a wayside reminder of God’s presence, even in this isolated place. Medieval people did not love the untamed countryside as we do; they thought forests and mountains were the abode of demons, or otherwise just wasteful, unproductive tracts of land. This lonely and desolate place, far from civilisation and the law’s protective gaze, would not have been a pleasant place for the pilgrim. Bandits and outlaws, goblins and trolls might materialise at any time. To see this reassuringly solid reminder of God’s presence and Christ’s saving work, would have been a comfort. I’m no fan of medieval pilgrimages: wealthy monasteries enriching themselves by faking miracles and promoting saint-worship. Yet for those real believers who lived before the reformation, Reaps Cross may have been an important place.

Many of life’s paths take us through deserted, empty spaces. Confusingly, there are ways going here and trackways going there, and we must choose which one, while not quite knowing where we shall end up. May we feel God’s presence as we travel life's lonely journey. May we see His markers, His tokens, His cross.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4