Anglian runes and Saxon letters feature heavily in the carvings of this free-standing cross of red sandstone. One of the largest surviving pieces of Anglo-Saxon sculpture, it was erected in the early 700s in Ruthwell – then part of the Kingdom of Northumbria. Figures carved on the front and back of the cross depict scenes of the life of Christ from the New Testament.
Both faces of the Ruthwell Cross are divided into 10 panels. The front features scenes such as the miracle of Christ healing the blind, and the Crucifixion. The back includes St Paul and St Anthony breaking the loaf of bread in the desert, and the flight into Egypt.
Writing on the front and back of the cross includes short passages from the books of Luke and John. Among those on the front are Saxon capitals that translate as: ‘In the beginning was the word’.
Vine scrolls dotted with birds and beasts eating fruit cover the sides of the cross shaft. There is also a runic inscription that means: ‘Christ was on the cross. Yet / the brave came there from afar / to their lord.’ This comes from the Anglo-Saxon poem of the ‘Holy Rood’.
Broken up in the early 1640s, the Ruthwell Cross was rebuilt in 1887 and put in its present position inside the church.