Two substantial fragments of Anglo-Saxon stone depicting Christ on the Cross - dating back to the 10th century - have been discovered in the garden at St James’ rectory.
One of the fragments was discovered, by chance, during routine maintenance work undertaken by the church staff.
The second fragment was subsequently found during a more detailed search undertaken by the church verger, Christopher Marshall, who says he knew immediately that he was looking at something “important and exciting”.
Experts, Professor David Stocker and Mr Paul Everson, have identified the fragments as part of a pre-Conquest tenth century standing cross.
The stone cross is the earliest Christian artefact yet found in Louth, and it provides a tangible link between the present medieval church and documentary references to an eighth and ninth century Anglo-Saxon monastery, and a tenth century shrine of St Herefrith in the town.
The Louth monastery was important enough for one of its abbots, Æthelheard, to be made the Archbishop of Canterbury by Offa, the King of Mercia, in 792 AD.
St. Herefrith is believed to have been an Anglo-Saxon Bishop of Lindsey who died a martyr’s death when the monastery was attacked and destroyed by the Viking raiders.
A shrine was erected later to house his remains and it became a place of pilgrimage - offering proof that Louth was indeed a very important centre of Christianity at an early date.
For the church community in Louth, this find has been a source of immense happiness.
Reverend Nick Brown, the Rector of St James, said: “It is truly inspiring to find an object that may have been a focus for devotion and prayer many centuries ago here in Louth.
“We have discovered a visible link with the early centuries of the Christian community of which we are a living part.”
Chris Marshall, the verger, added: “The Louth Cross was erected at a very important time in the development of Louth and the early church.
“It gives me tremendous pleasure to know that I was instrumental in finding it and I look forward to it being on display for future generations to see.”
Conservation work will begin in the summer, and the fragments of the cross will be displayed later this year in St. James’s Church, Louth, for public to see.