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The Cross that was called the Antichrist

Some accounts suggest taht Eleanor's heart burial at the Dominicans was on 15 December, but the Flores Historiarum records that on 15 of December the body, explicitly said to be dressed in full regalia and now rejoined by the King as well as many nobles and prelates, to have processed to the “Fratres Minores” – the term generally used for the Franciscans. They were situated by the North west of the city walls, roughly opposite the Old Bailey on the site of the modern Merill Lynch building. Their church, destroyed in the Second World War, is now a charming garden.


A mass was celebrated there and then the body was carried to St Pauls Cathedral, where it spent the night.

There was only one cross to memorialise the city procession – the Cheapside Cross, on London’s major venue for processions, and one of its busiest trading streets.

The Cross stood outside St Peter’s Cheapside, opposite the entrance to Wood Street(a small pice of the churchyard is visible below).


(Above - not just any Hotel Chocolat - it is the Hotel Chocolat directly opposite the Cross site)

It appears to have been made under the direction of one man, Master Michael of Canterbury. Over the period early 1291 to late 1292 he charged £226. 13s. 4d for this cross – nearly twice the traceable cost of the Waltham cross. Other than that, we know that Walter of Guisborough considered the cross (and that at Charing) to be “most beautiful” and that he described them as being made of marble, very little clue remains as to what it looked like. If its shape remained consistent after its first renovation, it would seem likely to have been hexagonal, but an octagonal shape has been suggested too. However, consistently with the theme thus far, the fragments which remain in the Museum of London bears Eleanor’s arms – the shields of England and Castile quartered with those of Leon, apparently displayed in the lower gables as were those in Northampton and Waltham (see here. )

This cross was the most scandalous of the crosses. At first it was seen just as a landmark, noted as the starting point for races under Edward III and Henry V’s victory procession in 1415 – and regilded on each major occasion. But its busy location told, and in 1441 it was reported to be in need of works, having been “by length of time decayed”. Henry VI gave the Mayor of London licence to “re-edify the same in a more beautiful manner” and a committee charged with deciding how it should be refurbished. No precise record of their decision remains, but the later depictions and descriptions of the cross, as “improved”, suggest that it had been very considerably changed and possibly entirely rebuilt. No depiction of the cross prior to this major programme remains, and therefore we simply cannot know what the original cross looked like. The best guess must be that it was a broader, more ornate version of the Waltham Cross – possibly on an octagonal plan, allowing for four statues, as at Hardingstone.


In its second incarnation the lower layer incorporated much more religious imagery – the resurrection of Christ, the Virgin Mary with the Christ child in her arms and St Edward the Confessor. But there were attacks on such “popish” images. In 1581 Stow reports that "The image of the Blessed Virgin was at that time robbed of her Son, and her arms broken by which she stayed Him on her knees; her whole body also was haled with ropes and left likely to fall." That it was seen as a notable religious totemon both sides is shown by the fact that later that year the Blessed Edmund Campion, on his way to execution, genuflected at the religious images. Following more vandalism the statues were then replaced, with less religious imagery – including a rather indelicate fountain of Diana the huntress spouting river water from her breast (really!). To my eyes it looks as if a cupola was at some point added between the main body of the monument and the cross, making it look rather more squat than the other crosses, and drawing attention to the statuary.

But it continued to have its detractors. Many considered it to be a traffic hazard and others considered it was itself a danger to the public with a rather precarious cross which threatened to fall on passers by. But as the Reformation gained ground its imagery was still regarded as objectionable, and was defaced repeatedly in the late sixteenth century. Somehow it became a lightning rod for anti Catholic and anti-royalist feeling, and it was even the subject of an active pamphlet campaign in which it was identified with the Antichrist.

There was, therefore, no way it would survive the Civil War and the Protectorate. It was pulled down on 2 May 1643 with many signs of rejoicing from the large crowd of witnesses accompanied by celebratory bells from St Peter’s church in Wood Street, songs from the City waits and volleys of musketry.


The great event was recorded in yet more pamphlets including the delightfully named “The Down-fall of Dagon, or the taking down of the Cheapside Cross”. One of these says that “a troop of horse and two companies of foot waited to guard it and at the fall of the top cross drums beat, trumpets blew, multitudes of capes were thrown in the air and with a great shout of people with joy”. Not all the witnesses rejoiced however: John Evelyn notes that “I went to London, where I saw the furious and zealous people demolish that stately cross in Cheapside”.

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