Marske – A flowery cross, a greenish man and a wandering font

I was passing St. Mark’s Church in Marske and noticed that the door was open, I’d been wanting to have a look at the Norman font for a while so walked in. I was met by a very nice lady who showed me around the church.

The first thing that caught my eye was this beautiful foliated cross. This style of cross is quite rare, the information board states that it is only one of four known to exist in England. The lady told me that the cross was found buried in the sand dunes in 1901. She said that it marked the route of a corpse road along the beach from Redcar to St. Germain’s graveyard.

The information board tells of how in 1570 Archbishop Grindal ordered that all such crosses should be destroyed. Archbishop Grindal was a puritan and as the newly appointed Archbishop of York he would no doubt have wanted to stamp out the superstitious practices of the Northern Roman Catholics. It was his influence that probably led to the loss of many of our moorland crosses. However, it seems that this lovely cross escaped destruction.

Reading through the antiquarian accounts of Marske, there is mention of a cross being erected in the centre of Marske during the 17th century. It was raised when nearby Guisborough was depopulated by the plague and the market moved to Marske. There is no record of what happened to the cross.

In 1874, a time before the cross had been re-discovered, the Antiquarian J.C. Atkinson wrote ‘that the cross itself dates or dated from a much earlier period’, he was right, this cross, if it was the one mentioned, is thought to date from 1230.

The lady asked me if I’d like to see the Green Man, ‘he’s in the kitchen’. We went in and there he was, mounted into the wall.

The carving was came from the ruined church of St. Germain. I guess that the lack of foliage means that he is not strictly a Green Man, he’s lovely and probably formed a capital in the old church. A number of our local Romanesque churches have capitals with carved spiral motifs including Great Ayton, Kirklevington and Egglescliffe. The spiral is also repeated on the font.

The font is a massive block carved with different patterns on all four sides. Rita Wood describes it as ‘slabby’ and lacking the elegance of the local group of early 12th century fonts. The size of the font may give some indication of the size of the church that predated the ruined St Germain’s church.

The font itself has had a bit of a chequered past. Prior to the nineteenth century it was used as a cattle trough in a local farmyard. It was then rescued and placed into the garden of the parsonage where it was used as a planter. It was finally moved into the church where it been returned to its original purpose, a baptismal font.

Sources

The History of Cleveland. Rev. J. Graves. 1808

The History & Antiquities of Cleveland. J. Walker Ord. 1846

History of Cleveland Ancient & Modern. Rev. J. C. Atkinson. 1874

Romanesque Yorkshire. Rita Wood. 2012