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Thor's Cross Slab

Period: Early Medieval

NGR Easting: 244965

NGR Northing: 501190

Description: This cross was apparently found during the demolition of the old church in 1869. Each face has an equal-limbed cross within a ring; the spaces between the limbs within the ring are pierced. Square panels above and below the ring suggest an extension of the vertical limbs. The rest of the slab depicts various beasts and figures interpreted as gods, giants and men on panels separated by crushed key-fret, spirals and interlaces. It has been interpreted as carrying several scenes from Norse mythology, but not all experts agree.

On one face above the circle is a pair of cockerels: these may be a Christian symbol of the Resurrection, but are also reminiscent of ‘Gold-comb’, who proclaimed the dawn of Ragnarök, the last battle between the gods and monsters of the world. In the panels beneath the cross are two groups of figures centred around stags, which at first sight might be interpreted as hunting scenes. On the left, a deer is surrounded by two hounds and two human figures, one of whom holds a spear. To the right, two hounds and a third creature again surround a deer and a single male figure is depicted nearby carrying what appears to be a bag. Separated from these scenes by panels of interlace, two further dog-like animals are shown near the bottom of the face. The face is edged with a twisted, cable-like border which terminates below the right arm of the cross in a serpent’s head.

The scene on the right has been interpreted as showing Thor carrying an ox-head which he intends as bait for the great sea-serpent Jormungand, shown next to him. The other figures are more problematic; hunting scenes appear on several of the Manx crosses, so it is open to question whether there is a precise mythological allusion in the presence of the stags and dog-like creatures.

On the other face above the circle a bordered panel of crushed key-fret is carved, either side of which is a small dog-headed figure. Below the circle to the left is a male figure wearing two criss-crossed belts. He looks away from a coiled serpent, against which his right arm is raised; a tiny human figure reaches up to touch his foot. Below him a second figure stands with legs spread on a domed object and arms akimbo. The remainder of the panel below is filled with interlace.

One interpretation, as with the other side of the slab, draws on Ragnarök, the fabled final conflict between gods and monsters. The figure wrestling with the serpent can be seen as Thor fighting Jormungand, his head turned away to avoid the serpent’s foul breath. The little figure has been identified as Thor’s young son, Magni, who on one occasion saves his father by lifting the fallen body of a giant off his throat. The figure below has been interpreted as the giant Rungni, who in yet another fight with Thor stands on his shield having heard that the god is about to attack him from below. The various scenes are from disparate myths, however, and it is difficult to sustain a narrative that would link them together. The supposed depiction of Thor without his trusty hammer is another reason for doubt.

The panel to the right shows a very worn male figure apparently resting on a spear. Another scene further down the cross shows three male figures seemingly trampled by a four-legged animal. It has been suggested that the badly worn figure is Odin, and that the other scene shows the death of Swanhild, trampled by deer; again, these interpretations have been criticised.

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Site & Monument Type: cross

Category: National Monuments Record: Statutory Ancient Monuments

Site ID number: Manx Cross 124

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