Everything has a beginning, a middle and an end. The Tamar river in many senses marks the beginning of Cornwall and of course we all know where to find the End.
It is the village of Lanivet, not far from Bodmin, that marks the middle. You see this little place’s claim to fame is that it is meant to be the geographical centre of the county of Cornwall.
And in the centre of the village that is in the centre of Cornwall is of course the parish church.
And in the centre of the graveyard, in the centre of the village, that is in the centre of Cornwall, there is an ancient cross which historically is meant to mark the exact point that is the middle of Cornwall.
But not only that, according to Historic England this wonderful 10th century wheel-headed cross is also the most highly decorated in Cornwall. Some of it’s intricate features are found nowhere else in this region and are unique to this particular cross alone. The carvings may be fading now but there can be no doubt of how special this piece of stone was to the people who first carved it so many moons ago.
At first glance there seems just a pleasing jumble of patterns and shapes. Strips and dots, lines and crosses. But look closer and the figure in the middle panel that pops out at you. Who is this rather bandy-legged chap I hear you ask? The answer is nobody knows and just to add a little more confusion into the mix, although it isn’t really clear from my photograph or from Blight’s lovely illustration, our long-legged friend also has a tail!
According to Andrew Langdon in his book on the Crosses of Mid Cornwall the carved man has some kind of Pagan associations but alternatively Historic England suggests that we are looking at an unidentified ancient saint (with a tail . . .?)
I have had a little dig and there are a few global myths about humans with tails of various descriptions. The Manticore, the Campe, the Cecrops and perhaps my personal favourite the Satyrs: a tribe of nature spirits with the body of men, pug noses, asses ears and horses tails. But none of this mixed bag of freaky-looking creatures quite fit our funny little man’s description.
Historic England, as I mentioned, does have another theory however, they suggest that the ‘tail’ is in fact a string with a key hanging at the end. There are several Saints that are
represented holding keys but probably the most popular is Saint Peter was said to who carry the Keys to Heaven with him.
Whatever you think, tailed-man or Saintly key-holder, this cross is a lovely piece of our history. It stands about 9′ high (2.933m) with another 1′ below the surface and is splendidly decorated on all four sides. Sadly the wheel head has been badly damaged at some point but that doesn’t detract from it’s beauty.
Experts think that at one time there were as many as 12,000 of these crosses all across the English countryside, now less than 2000 remain.
I feel that they are another precious piece of our past to treasure and marvel at whatever your religious beliefs may be.
Oh and I will finish with just a word of advice, don’t put man with tail into Google images! Not for the faint hearted!
For another story about Cornish Crosses try: Three Forgotten Crosses