NLM4667: Inscribed lead cross pendant

Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme
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Unique ID: NLM4667

Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Awaiting validation Find awaiting validation

Lead absolution cross. The cross is complete and the terminal of the lower arm is pierced. Both sides of the cross are inscribed, however it is very worn in places. I am extremely grateful to Dr John Higgett at Edinburgh University for the following identification. The small size of the object accounts for the rather rough-looking lettering. On the right-hand face (if the hole is seen as the bottom) it looks as if there may have been the names of the evangelists. In the upper arm there might be the letters:


Below the break there seem to be the bottoms of letters, perhaps angular C, V and a form of S with a vertical stem. An S with a vertical stem could derive from Insular minuscule scripts. There is an example on the 10th- to 11th-century Brussels Cross. Or possibly it is a runic S. That would give:
Below that we seem to have:
The text then continues vertically with the feet pointing to the left.

This is followed by one or perhaps two letters. It is reasonable to reconstruct MAT[/H/]EV[/S/], MARCVS and IOANNE[/S/]. The character that has been transcribed as 7 is perhaps the 7-like symbol for Old English /and/ or Latin /et/ (found in a right-angled form, for example, on the Brussels Cross). Otherwise, this letter may have been T (part of ET?).
The evangelist that is missing from the script is Luke. It is likely that we would be looking for LVCAS in the right-hand arm of the cross, however the surface is too damaged for anything to be certain in the photograph.
The left-hand arm has a form that I take to be the 'Constantinian' form of the /chi/-/rho/ monogram of the first two letters of Christ's name in Greek. The /chi/ (X) is clear, as is the vertical of /rho/ (P). The bowl of the /rho/ is formed of two short straight lines. The indistinct forms beneath the /chi/ are probably meant to be the /alpha/ and /omega/ that are often found accompanying this monogram.
The other side of the cross is more problematic since it is difficult to make out anything on the upper arm. There seem to be two horizontal lines of writing going across the cross-arms, although it is unclear if they read continuously. On the left the horizontal would probably be the bottom of angular C, E or M. Then there is an uncertain letter, which is followed by a probable N.

On the right there is what looks like IX. The 'X' might perhaps be runic: g in Anglo-Saxon runes (or perhaps a in Danish runes). In the next line we may have [/T/]ER followed by a gap.
The inscription again turns to a vertical layout on the stem of the cross. The first character is uncertain and all that can be seen is a diagonal stroke (or an inclined vertical). After that there seems to be an angular R, an I, what is probably a reversed N and another I.
It is unclear what this means.

Alternatively but less probably, reading from the 'bottom' upwards, perhaps I[/N/]RI, which in the later Middle Ages and more recent times is often used to stand for /Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum/. How often the abbreviation is found in the early Middle Ages though is uncertain.
It is hard to judge the script from what must be extremely small letters scratched onto the lead. The letters seem mainly to be capitals. The A with a head-bar but no cross bar can be found in a number of Anglo-Saxon inscriptions. I have already mentioned the possible use of an S derived from a minuscule script. Again there are parallels in Anglo-Saxon inscriptions. The T in MAT looks like an angular version of the minuscule letter. Such mixed capitals are common in Anglo-Saxon inscriptions both in Latin and in Old English. It is possible but not certain that one or two runic characters were mixed in with the capitals. Again parallels can be found in Anglo-Saxon inscriptions.

The 'Constantinian' /chi/-/rho/ monogram is surprising and perhaps derives from the use of the monogram in charters. Regarding the date of the object, the lettering probably dates from the middle to later Anglo-Saxon period. It is possible that it is not English but the lettering could certainly be pre-Conquest English. The question of which way up it was to be viewed may be interesting. If suspended from the hole and worn around the neck of a living (or dead) person the text would be upside-down for the rest of the world but the right way up for the wearer. Lead crosses were sometimes used in the late pre-Conquest period and later in tombs to identify corpses, but it is possible that instead this was an amulet of some kind. Inscribed pieces of lead (not crosses) have been in Anglo-Saxon contexts in recent years at Flixborough and Kirkdale.

Usually inscribed lead crosses were laid on the breast of the deceased as a form of absolution. This practice became more common in the second half of the eleventh century. Bury St. Edmunds has produced the largest number of these crosses dating from the 12th century. A series of plain poorly made crosses, possibly from 14th century plague pits, is known from the London Greyfriars (Cherry, J. Finds Research Group Datasheet 2 - 'Some Ecclesiastical and Monastic Finds')


Checked following Sophie Catley. Classification amended: '..or Morturary'. Dating completed (unamended). Drawing ref. added.

Class: Absolution or Mortuary

Subsequent actions

Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder


Broad period: MEDIEVAL
Period from: MEDIEVAL
Period to: MEDIEVAL
Date from: AD 1200
Date to: AD 1540

Dimensions and weight

Quantity: 1
Length: 42.1 mm
Width: 25.2 mm
Thickness: 2 mm
Weight: 6.67 g

Discovery dates

Date(s) of discovery: Wednesday 16th June 1999

Personal details

Found by: This information is restricted for your login.
Recorded by: Ms Marina Elwes
Identified by: Dr Adam Daubney
Secondary identifier: Dr John Higgett

Other reference numbers

Other reference: NLM2197

Materials and construction

Primary material: Lead
Manufacture method: Cast

Spatial metadata

Region: East Midlands (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Lincolnshire (County)
District: South Kesteven (District)

Spatial coordinates

Grid reference source: From a paper map
Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.

Discovery metadata

Method of discovery: Metal detector
General landuse: Cultivated land
Specific landuse: Operations to a depth greater than 0.25m

References cited

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Timeline of associated dates

Audit data

Recording Institution: NLM
Created: 18 years ago
Updated: About one year ago

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