Reading the Gosforth Cross

Reading the Gosforth Cross

A lesson plan inspired by the Gosforth Cross in Cumbria.

Key Stage:

Upper KS2 History and RE National Curriculum:


These two lessons can be used at anytime; during a unit on the Vikings, or as a one-off mini topic at the end of a unit on the Anglo- Saxons, or in conjunction with RE lessons about Easter.

Classroom Activity - Session 1

1.1 Arrange the class in groups and give out the A4 sheets of ramsundStone.pdf

Task them to devise the outline of a story that would explain what is happening in the picture. They can map their idea as a storyboard or bullet point summary. Download ramsundStone.pdf
Classroom Activity - Session 1 cont.

Classroom Activity - Session 1 cont.

Explain that the same character might occur in more than one place in the picture.

[If they ask what the rune writing says, you can tell them it is of no help to understanding the story - it just says that a nearby bridge was built to celebrate a dead Viking (it translates as 'Sigridr, Alrikr's mother, Ormr's daughter made this bridge for the soul of Holmgirr, father of Sigrodr, her husband’).]

You may wish to ask them if they can identify the objects immediately to the right of the decapitated chap at the bottom left hand corner (hammer, bellows, anvil and tongs).

After around thirty minutes, ask the groups to feed back their results and get the pupils to identify the most important similarities and differences between their ideas.

Classroom Activity - Session 1 cont.

1.2 Either hand out the Sigurd.pdf sheets for the groups to read or tell the story yourself.

Keen readers may detect that attempts have been made to introduce humour into this simplified version of the story. By all means expunge them if you wish, though in defence, the original Sagas make use of humour quite often. (An abridged version of the original saga in a scholarly translation is available below as the downloadable SigurdVolsungaSaga.pdf.)

If you have not used the Sigurd.pdf sheets, check the pupils understand how the story relates to the various details on the sheet. Download Sigurd.pdf
Classroom Activity - Session 1 cont.

Classroom Activity - Session 1 cont.

1.3 Discuss any plot similarities the pupils can make between the Sigurd tale and Tolkien’s fiction (dwarves, dragon, treasure, special sword, talking birds, super-horse, shape-changers).

Explain, if they don’t already know, that Tolkien’s day-job was as a Professor studying north european medieval literature such as the Sagas.

Ask why they think the same sort of fantasy stories that entertained the Vikings are still popular today.

Tell them that next lesson they will be studying a much more complicated and impressive carving on the finest Viking Age sculpture in England.

Classroom Activity - Session 2

2.1 Arrange the class in groups and give out the A4 sheets of GCparker1917.jpg.

This is probably the best drawing made of the Gosforth Cross; after it was cleaned for the V&A cast to be made, but before the latest century of wind and rain had weathered it.

Explain that they are repeating the same exercise as in the previous lesson, but this time with a more detailed saga with different elements of the story cropping up all over the 1050 year old 4.2 metre high cross.

You could tell them that the trickster god Loki reappears in this tale.

After around forty minutes, the groups report back and hear each other’s storylines. Download GCparker1917.jpg

Classroom Activity - Session 2 cont.

2.2 Explain that the most amazing thing about the cross is that it can be read as not just illustrating the sagas, then play them the Richard Cobden Primary version of the film Gosforth CrossV&A.mp4

Classroom Activity - Session 2 cont.

2.3 Explain that another version of the script was made for Gosforth CE Primary. They are to watch that, and make a note of any extra details in this slightly longer version. Play GosforthCrossCumbria.mp4

2.4 Discuss the extra details and check they understand the explanation offered for why Vikings and Saxons seem to have lived at peace in this part of England.

Film produced in collaboration with the Leverhulme Trust 'Impact of Diasporas' research programme at the University of Leicester.

Development Activity:

Study the HaltonCross.pdf. images and identify the part of the Sigurd story shown here that is not depicted in the Swedish stone the pupils saw in the first session.

Download the HaltonCross.pdf

Baldr seems invulnerable, but has one secret weakness: what other examples can the pupils give of this plot theme in other stories? (Samson, Achilles, Superman) why has it been such a popular device?

As an alternative to session 2, after 2.1 give the pupils the ChristianSources.pdf and Ragnarokr.pdf sheets and ask them to identify the images on the cross that could be read as illustrating both Christian and Saga stories.

Download the ChristianSources.pdf
Download the Ragnarokr.pdf

Learning Objectives:

Pupils should be taught about the Viking and Anglo-Saxon struggle for the Kingdom of England to the time of Edward the Confessor. Pupils will gain an insight into Viking culture through studying two of the most important saga stories.   They will learn to 'read' non-written primary sources and relate them to simplified translations of Snorri Sturlusun's versions of the Eddas.   Pupils will gain an insight into the way religions can assimilate existing beliefs as they spread to new areas. They will reinforce knowledge of Christian beliefs about the crucifixion.

Research, Notes and Links:

Weblinks: Other resources on the Vikings

Download the ChristianSources.pdf
Download the Ragnarokr.pdf
Download the SigurdVolsungaSaga.pdf

Image bank and teachers notes Vikings_life_legend.pdf created for the British Museum's exhibition, Viking Life and Legend exhibition

Film Credit: The videos in this resource were produced in collaboration with the Leverhulme Trust 'Impact of Diasporas' research programme at the University of Leicester.

Culture Street is always careful to only link to appropriate pages but is not responsible for the content of external websites.