The Eleanor Crosses - memorials to a lost queen

Living History

The Eleanor Crosses - memorials to a lost queen

The name 'Charing Cross' in London derives from a medieval monument that was erected there to mark the loss of an English queen. The symbol was a medieval expression of love and grief, and in fact is one of 12 such crosses that commemorated Eleanor of Castile, the wife of King Edward I.

In 1290, King Edward I’s wife Eleanor of Castile died on the way north to meet him at the age of 48. 

As the King returned to London with the body of his beloved Queen, he gave orders that a memorial cross be erected in her memory at every overnight stop on the mournful way back..

There were 12 crosses in total, each different, and the work was not completed until 1294.

 The original crosses were erected in Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St. Albans, Waltham, Cheapside, and the best known and most elaborate one of all, at Charing, then a little village near Westminster and nowadays named after the cross.

What is there now is in fact a 19th-century replica, replacing that destroyed in 1647. In fact, it and most of the other originals, were victims of the English Civil War.

Today only those crosses at Geddington and Hardingstone near Northampton and Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire still remain. The Eleanor Cross in the village of Geddington (pictured), just off the A43 between Corby and Kettering, is original and maintained by English Heritage. The cross is situated off the main road by the church and close to the pretty 12th-century bridge and ford over the River Ise.

The London cross, now sometimes unnoticed amongst the taxis on the station forecourt, is a Victorian version, and is more ornate than the original, featuring eight statues of Eleanor with kneeling angels at her feet. Eleanor and Edward are buried together in Westminster Abbey.

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