Yesterday I went to visit the village of Ripley, near Harrogate, in north Yorkshire. The village is dominated by Ripley Castle which has been the home of the Ingilby family for the last 700 years. One of the earliest members of the family, Thomas Ingilby, was knighted by Edward III after saving him from an attack by a wild boar whilst they were out hunting and the boar became the family’s emblem.
In the churchyard of All Saints I came across this unusual medieval cross base which is thought to be the only surviving example of a Weeping Cross in the country. The exact age of the cross in unknown, but it is certainly as old as the church which was built in the 14th century and may have originally been connected with an earlier chapel, known as the Sinking Chapel.
The stones on the top fill what was originally the base for a cross which has been lost. It may originally have been a crucifix and removed at the time of the Reformation. The eight recesses around the base were for kneeling penitents – not perhaps their knees as has sometimes been suggested but more likely for their heads as they knelt on the ground.
The name ‘Weeping Cross’ seems to imply that it was a place of grief, remorse or repentance. It is thought that it may have connections with the festival of Corpus Christi, though public penance for the atonement of sins was fairly common in the middle ages.