Eleanor Cross

Photograph of the Queen Eleanor Cross by Bridget Peet
Photograph of the Queen Eleanor Cross by Bridget Peet

The Eleanor Cross, standing at the top of London Road near the south-west corner of Delapre Park, is one of only three remaining stone crosses that marked the route of the funeral cortege of Queen Eleanor of Castile in 1290.

Queen Eleanor died in Harby near Lincoln on 28 November 1290. Her body was embalmed at Lincoln Cathedral and then carried back to Westminster Abbey in London. The journey took around 12 days and reached Hardingstone on 9 December, where the cortege rested overnight at Delapre Abbey.

After her funeral, her grieving husband, King Edward I, had a stone cross erected at every overnight resting place in her memory. Only three remain largely intact: at Geddington near Kettering, at Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire, and here in Delapre.

The Eleanor Cross took three years to complete and was finished in 1294. The stone masons were John of Battle and William of Ireland, who was the official royal sculptor. The cross is octagonal in shape with three tiers. The lowest tier features carved books, which once had painted instructions, the second tier has statues of the Eleanor, and it was originally topped possibly by a cross, though this has been lost for hundreds of years.

The Records of the Borough  of Northampton (published 1898) include a reference to a raised walkway running from South Bridge to the Eleanor Cross in the 16th century.

The cross has been repaired and restored a number of times, including in 1762, 1840 and 1884. An article in the Gentleman's Magazine (p 124) describes the cross as it was in 1765 and work carried out to it in 1712 and 1713.

The 1765 edition of the Gentleman's Magazine (p, 124) (The Gentleman's Magazine Library, edited by George Laurence Gomme, English Topography, Part VIII, edited by FA Milne, published London 1896) includes the following description of the Eleanor Cross:

"The ascent to it is by eight steps, each about 1 foot broad, and 9 inches high; and it is divided into three stories or towers, the first of an octagonal form, each side being four feet wide, and 14 feet in height. On the south and east sides are the arms of the county of Ponthieu in Picardy, viz three bendlets within a bordure, and in another escutcheon those of the kingdom of Castile and Leon, viz Quarterly, first, A castle triple towered; second, A lion rampant; the third as the second, and the fourth as the first. On the north side, in two separate shields, are the arms of Castile and Leon, as above, and of England, viz. Three lions passant-guardant; on each side of these, and on the west side just below the arms, in high relief, is a book, open and lying on a kind of desk. On the north-east side, in two escutcheons, are the arms of England, and those of the county of Ponthieu. The arms on the west, south-west, south-east and north-west sides, are entirely obliterated. The second story, of a like shape with te former is 12 feet in height. In every other side, with a niche, is a female figure, crowned, about 6 feet high (which are still in very good condition), with a canopy over its head, supported by two Gothic pillars, crowned with pinnacles. The upper tower is 8 feet in height, and has only four sides, facing the four cardinal points of the compass. On each of these sides is a sundial put up in 1712. The top is mounted with a cross, which faces the north and south point, three feet in height, and added when the whole was repaired by the order of the Bench of Justices in 1713. On the western side of the lower story, and fronting the road, are the royal arms of Great Britain, carved in stone, with the garter, and crowned with the sword and sceptre in saltire behind the shield, and Queen Anne's motto, viz 'Semper eadem,' under it; there is also a pair of wings conjoined under the shield, to which they form mantling."

The Gentleman's Magazine Library, edited by George Laurence Gomme, English Topography, Part VIII, edited by FA Milne, pub London 1896

To mark the restoration, the Bench of Justices also added a table of white marble with a Latin inscription.

When the sundials were first drawn, they each had a motto. On the east: Ab Ortu Solis; on the south: Laudatur Dominus"; on the west, "Usque ad Occasum"; and on the north: "Amen. MDCCXII". According to the Gentleman's Magazine, it appears that the mottoes were omitted when the dials were repainted in 1762.

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