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Stone Crosses of Ireland

H
igh Crosses or Celtic Crosses as they are also known, are found throughout Ireland on old monastic sites. These High Crosses are, along with the Book of Kells and the Book of Durrow, Irelands biggest contribution to Western European Art of the middle ages. Some were probably used as meeting points for religious ceremonies and others were used to mark boundaries. The earliest crosses in Ireland were made of wood and metal and probably much smaller than the great stone monuments we see today. It was generally accepted that the Western Ossory group of High Crosses were amongst the earliest examples of stone crosses to be found in Ireland, because their design imitates the wood and metal crosses before them, but a recent study of them suggests they may not be 8th century but possibly mid 9th century. These crosses are found within a few miles of each other at Kilkieran, Kilree, Killamery and the finest examples at Ahenny. The majority of scriptural crosses are also believed to have been erected around the 9th century and there are several local groupings, the North Leinster group includes, Kells, Monasterboice and Duleek, the Midlands group includes, Clonmacnois and Durrow and another distinct group of Granite High crosses are those of the Barrow valley including Castledermot, Graiguenamanagh, Moone and Ullard  are found throughout Ireland on old monastic sites. 

 

Freestanding, monumental crosses (sometimes up to 17 feet high) are associated with many of the early medieval monasteries of Ireland. Remnants of more than 200 of these so-called high crosses remain, often with several at the same site, although repetition of design was apparently avoided. Some are relatively plain; others are decorated with abstract ornament (Celtic interlace and spirals, geometric patterns, inhabited vines, and entangled figures). The most sophisticated have panels with figural sculpture on Christian themes. 

Monasterboice is located approx 35 miles north of Dublin.    

The cemetery of the Monastery of Monasterboice and the west side of the Muiredach cross

The Monastery of Monasterboice, founded by St. Buithe mac Bronach (died 521) in the late 5th century, was a prosperous center of learning in later centuries (10th and 11th). Its round tower, with books and treasures, was burned in the early 12th century and by 1122 the monastery community probably ended, even though Monasterboice continued to be a secular parish.

Perhaps as many as six high crosses existed at this site. The so-called Muiredach Cross (south cross) and West cross still stand, almost undamaged, and a third cross, the North cross survives in part.

South Cross

                       North Cross       
Unfinished cross at Kells Co. Meath.

                                                                                                                                         A High Cross depicting a bishop wearing a mitre and carrying a crosier           A High Cross with the crucified Christ, not a crucifixion scene, and decorative abstract motifs.

 

 

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