A spike in Stamford

ELEANOR OF CASTILE (1241-1290) was the first wife of King Edward I. They married in 1254. The pair were devoted to each other. She even travelled to the Middle East with her husband, to the battlefields of the Crusade of 1271-1272. When she died of (possibly) a malarial disease, after having survived sixteen pregnancies, at Harby in Nottinghamshire (close to Lincoln), her husband was at her bedside for the last three days of her life.

Her body was embalmed in Lincoln, and then transported ceremoniously to Westminster Abbey – a journey that took several days. At each of the places where her corpse stopped overnight, Edward ordered memorial crosses to be erected. These became known as Eleanor Crosses. They were placed at: Lincoln, Grantham, Stamford, Geddington, Hardingstone near Northampton, Stony Stratford, Woburn, Dunstable, St Albans, Waltham, Westcheap, and Charing (now a part of central London, but originally a small hamlet close to the Thames). Of the original crosses, only significantly large remnants of three survive.

The cross at Stamford in Lincolnshire was demolished but a small fragment of it is in the local museum. Not much is certain about where the cross stood in Stamford. It is believed that it might have been destroyed between 1646 and 1660 by zealous Parliamentarians (http://stamfordlocalhistorysociety.org.uk/queen-eleanor%E2%80%99s-cross).

Currently, a tall tapering sculpture – a tall, sharp spike with a circular base – stands on the place that was most likely where the Eleanor Cross stood. It was designed by Wolfgang Buttress (born 1965) – a sculptor from Nottingham. His creation, completed in 2009 and made of local Ketton stone, incorporates the kinds of decorative motifs that might have been on the original cross. It is surrounded by a ring of benches. Both the seats and the spike are studded with circular bronze discs, each of which contains a word from a Japanese haiku, so I have read. Sadly, I did not examine the object closely enough to see them because we were close to the expiry time of our parking space.

A surprise in Stamford

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG child, I remember going with my parents to south London to visit a Spanish sculptor, who had escaped to Britain as a refugee during the Spanish Civil War. Although we only visited him once, I recall that his name was something like ‘Alberti’. That is all I can remember, and I do not believe that my parents ever spoke about him much since that visit made maybe more than 60 years ago.

Today, the 20th of May 2023, we spent a couple of hours in the Lincolnshire Town of Stamford. This attractive place has several lovely old churches, one of which is St Martins. This edifice contains a chapel filled with glorious funerary monuments of members of the Cecil family, which was of great importance during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and other Tudors.

When we were about to leave the church, I spotted a modern wood carving of the head of a man with a beard and moustache. Although it was not nearly as attractive as the Cecil monuments, I decided to examine it. I do not know why I did, but I am glad that I did.

I was surprised to discover that the carved head was created by Jose Manuel de Alberdi Elorza (1922-2008). Beneath the head there is a notice with the following words written by Alberdi:
“A kind of anti-war protest… The face at the moment just when Christ died on the cross … The deed is done. We have killed.”

The sculptor was two years younger than my mother, also a sculptor. All that I can discover about Alberdi on the Internet is that he was Basque and a refugee from the Spanish Civil War. Also, he taught sculpture at the St Martins School of Art in London from 1948 to 1958 , which is where my mother made sculptures during that time.

Although I cannot be certain, I am pretty sure that this head in Stamford was made by the Spanish sculptor we visited in South London so many years ago.