Inside Bolton Parish Church (St Peter’s), just behind the front desk is a large Viking Age cross. It’s wonderful that this monument is so prominently displayed, but a big desk does obscure a large part of the front of this tall free standing cross. A good view of its full height and further detail can be gleaned from standing at the side of the desk, and looking at the cross side- on. At first glance the cross looks as though it has managed to retain its full height, although it has been broken over the years and then restored. It was discovered under the tower in 1866, when the new church was being built to replace the old one. In 1890 it was reassembled into its present form. The cross head has a circular central boss with a hole in, and there are further bosses on the arms of the cross. One of the lower panels has two linked Staffordshire knots. The cross is thought to date to the Viking period of the tenth to eleventh century. It is closely related in design to one of the crosses at Whalley churchyard. (To view this cross click on the link – it’s the second picture on the page.) A third related cross, the “headless cross”, can be seen at Anderton (at least the base of it can. The top part is in the Harris Museum, Preston !).
In the ‘museum corner’ at the back of the church is a second Viking age cross head. This is a badly damaged ring-headed cross, meaning its arms would have been linked by a thinner stone ring. Part of the ring is still intact. This style was popular in Ireland, where the Norse Vikings had settled. The date is similar to the larger cross detailed above.
A possible cross shaft is also in the museum corner. It is cylindrical, not like the others in the region at all. Cylindrical shafts are more often found in the Cheshire area, and if it is a genuine cross shaft then a similar Viking age date would be appropriate.
The final piece of sculpture is the intriguingly named “Adam and Eve Stone”. This crudely carved large flat stone shows what could be Adam and Eve, with the apple between their faces. Adam seems to be missing a hand. It could be his hand on the floor between them, possibly from the biblical text concerning cutting off the hand that has sinned. Dating this work is tricky, the interpretation sign states it is “pre-Norman”, which again would put it in the Saxon/Viking period.
The museum corner also contains three Tudor misericords (carved choir seats). Two of these show the motifs of Andrew and Agnes Barton of Smithills Hall (see here). His is an acorn and two oak leaves while hers shows the Eagle and Child motif of the Derby family. The third misericord is of an angel holding a shield . There is also an impressive medieval stone coffin inside the entrance to the church.
Opening Times: St Peter’s is open to visitors around the times of its services- Tuesday, Wednesday 12 noon- 1.15pm; Thursday 11.30am-12.45 pm; Sunday 8.00 am, 10.30 am, 6.30 pm. The staff are happy for visitors to look at the artifacts, even during a service.
Parking: There is ample parking outside the church on the road, with a small parking meter charge
Corpus of Anglo-Saxon Stone Sculpture, Volume IX, Cheshire and Lancashire, Richard N. Bailey, 2010, British Academy, Oxford University Press
The Old Parish Churches of Lancashire, Mike Salter, 2005, Folly Publications