High Crosses

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  • Clonmacnoise

Celtic high crosses are standing crosses carved from stone. A feature of Celtic high crosses is that the cross is combined with a circle. Another feature is the carved images and patterns which are found on the crosses. These carvings depict stories from the Bible or the lives of saints. They were a way to spread Christianity at a time when not everybody could read and write.

High crosses are found all over Ireland. Good examples can be found at Monasterboice in Co. Louth and at Clonmacnoise. The cross at Monasterboice, pictured here, is one of the best-preserved high crosses in existence in Ireland today.

High Crosses at Clonmacnoise

There are three high crosses at Clonmacnoise. The Cross of the Scriptures and the South Cross are in very good condition. Only the shaft and base of the North Cross remain. During the 1990s, the original crosses were taken down and moved indoors in order to preserve them. Replicas now stand where the originals used to be, and the originals are housed in the interpretative centre at Clonmacnoise.

The Cross of the Scriptures dates from around the year 900. It is one of the finest and well-preserved High Crosses remaining today. It is 4 metres (13 feet) high.

Scenes from the Bible are carved into the stone on all sides, including the arrest, betrayal and Crucifixion of Christ and the Last Judgment.

The South Cross is slightly smaller than the Cross of the Scriptures. Its carvings mainly consist of the abstract patterns typical of Celtic art.

What remains of the North Cross is also covered in abstract patterns, with some human and animal figures. Both of these crosses date from the early ninth century.