ENGLISH MORTUARY CROSS, 14th CENTURY
Lead, just under 5/8” height. Thick, with the cross beam below center to allow for the suspension cord hole in the top of the vertical beam. Made for burial with plague victims of the first great plague of 1348-49. Known variously as Pestilence, the Great Mortality, the Great Plague, or the Black Death, it was a bubonic plague that was brought by sea from France. It killed a quarter of the population of London in two years, creating a shortage of burial space and manpower to perform the burials. Over the centuries, many English churchyards have been cleared of old burials to make space for new (the closer to the church entrance the burial, the greater the chance for eternal happiness) and these crosses are occasionally encountered. See the attached images from the Science Museum, London, and four related examples of 1348, from Grey Friars Monastery, Newgate Street, London (Wellcome Library, London).