At the Slingsby Local history weekend in March 2011, Dr Aleks McLain from York University gave a short illustrated talk on Medieval Cross slabs in the North of England. Cross slabs are ancient grave covers or memorials marked with crosses, some dating back to Celtic times. Slingsby Church has a number, mostly embedded in the church walls at the base of the tower, taken from the original church before it was rebuilt. The largest and most important though is to be found inside the church alongside the gravestone and effigy of the Wyvill Knight. It is not clear whose grave it marks. Some think it may be Sir John Fons, a 16th Century rector of all Saints, but there is no definite evidence for this and the slab itself, which is in two parts, dates from much earlier, probably the 13th Century.
In his 1905 book Slingsby and Slingsby Castle, Arthur St Clair Brooke, the then Rector of Slingsby describes this ancient slab in some detail and says ‘…When the church was being rebuilt a skeleton was found underneath the slab enclosed in a stone coffin, also a massive gold ring having a death’s head and cross bones in solid gold set in white enamel in the middle with blue enamel at the sides . A portion of the white enamel crumbled away on being exposed to the air. The ring was not re-interred, but given to Lord Lanerton for the museum at Castle Howard but where it is now no one seems to know…..’
Parts of the large cross slab have now deteriorated through dampness and LEADER funding for Small Scale Heritage Enhancements has enabled us to put in a special lead tray to protect the stone from rising damp and to carry out limestone shelter coating to protect the damaged surfaces from further damage. To do this, it was necessary to lift the slab. Underneath it a high quality medieval stone coffin was found, with a few remaining bones in it bearing out Mr Brooke’s account. The cross slab is now restored in its original position, thanks to Burrows Davies, Stonemasons. Next time you are in the church please take a look at it. It is undoubtedly about the oldest known item on view in Slingsby.
The PCC has plans to make more of the rest of this area of the church with information for visitors, for register signings at weddings and for those who would like a quiet area for contemplation at other times.
MM, Slingsby, Nov 2011.