St Cross Church

The church of St Cross

The noble church of St Cross, built for these poor brethren, is a majestic place. It was set up when our English builders were forming their own ideas, when the pure round arch was becoming pointed, the windows were becoming more important, and the walls less massive. The great piers on which the arches rest in the nave are farther round than they are high, and rest on bases with four sculptures at the corners, each group of four making a series, such as the Cycle of Man. Everywhere the work is magnificent; we see the Norman merging into the English style with all its changes, to the eve of the greatest change of all in the 15th century. Every style of Norman ornament is found in this most lovely place and the rich carving of the arches, doorways, windows, and the rib of the vaulting# is an unusual and captivating picture. The church is 125 feet long and 115 feet wide at the transepts. The windows are Norman and Transitional in the nave and choir aisles, and later in the clerestory. In the nave of three bays the work is Norman and English too, in the string course we can see where the Norman craftsmen ended and the English craftsmen took it up, a bunch of grapes marking the change. We see also the mark of the change at the Reformation, for the old roodloft was cut away with a saw and the ends of the timbers are left. The rich and intricate moulding round the windows and the vaulting is Norman; so is the massive font of Purbeck marble which came from the old Church of St Faith.

The windows in the north transept are very interesting, and one of them is set askew to allow the sunlight to fall on a Madonna niched in a pillar; the glass through which the light falls is 14th century. The best glass at St Cross is in the oldest part of the church, the four windows of the triforium in the chancel. There is an ancient portrait of St Gregory in a window of the clerestory showing him with his bishop's staff. The glass is 15th century, and has fine figures of St Catherine, St Swithun, St John, and a lovely Madonna. There is some modern glass from the Powell workshops, showing the Wise Men, Christ in Majesty, and the Crucifixion.

The lady chapel is rich in beauty, with carved ribs on the vaulted ceiling and running round a lovely window. The roof is remarkable and has zigzag moulding by the Normans. The chapel has two handsome Tudor screens, Elizabethan altar rails, and a piscina with a little central column and two canopies. Near the altar are fragments of a painting of the martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury, and above the altar is a triptych by Jan de Mabuse painted about 1500 and bought for 20. It shows the Nativity, with a monk offering the Child a pear, and has two panels of St Barbara with a book and St Catherine with a wheel. Standing by the altar is Cardinal Beaufort's chair, and there are two 14th century stalls on which have been carved dolphins putting out very long tongues.

In the War Memorial chapel at St Cross is what is probably the first memorial set up in England to the men who never came back; it was erected a month before the Armistice, and is a lovely bronze of St George by Sir George Frampton. The oak reredos of the chapel is by Sir Thomas Jackson, the window is by Powell and has a very fine figure of Fortitude. There is much stone canopy work, and in the roof is a remarkable oak and acorn boss of the 12th century. In the chancel, dividing it from the choir aisle, is a mediaeval stone screen entirely filling a great arch, and on the chancel and chapel walls are three or four pieces from a screen of 1529 carved with quaint fancies and little figures. There is an extraordinary bird un- known to zoology on the lectern, having an eagle's body with a parrot's head, webbed feet, and terrible talons. It is very old, and the story is that it was to have been destroyed long ago, but was cut up by a man so cleverly that he was able to put it together again. The choir-stalls have finely carved canopies, and the stalls themselves are scarred all over with the initials and patterns cut by the choristers.

Among other notable possessions of the church is a solid gold chalice with a diamond cross, a massive altar-stone which has been rescued from a ditch, a lovely fragment of the old reredos, a brass of John Campeden who did the wonderful series of corbels in the tower, two other brasses showing Richard Harward, a 15th century warden, and Thomas Lawne, a rector of Mottisfont who died in 1518, patches of wall-paintings fading away, chevron carving round a window with 64 little birds in the spacing, a serpent forming an arch above a door, and two wooden crosses from France.