At 17.5 feet high it is the second tallest high cross in Ireland, and also one of the best preserved of its kind, writes Chris Lawlor
The high crosses of Celtic Ireland are famed far and wide for their fine stonemasonry work. It has been suggested that the round arms around the junction of the vertical and horizontal pieces on Celtic crosses are a throwback to pre-Christian solar pagan rituals, with the arms representing the sun.
However, the circular design may simply have been round buttresses to strengthen the stone crosses, many of which were tall and slim in their execution. Many, such as the crosses at Clonmacnoise, County Offaly and Monasterboice, County Louth, are intricately carved and show scenes from the bible, which the monks used to illustrate bible stories to an illiterate laity.
One of the most impressive and best-preserved examples of a monastic high cross in Ireland, can be found in the village of Moone in south Kildare. This granite cross is nearly eighteen feet tall and was known in the past as St Colmcille’s Cross.
St Colmcille was a father of the early Irish Church and is associated primarily with his last foundation on the Scottish island of Iona, but traditionally he also established many monasteries in Ireland, including the one at Moone. The image of the crucified Christ adorns one side of the head and animal carvings and geometric designs, including intricate interlacing, decorate the shaft.
Below the slim shaft, the base of the cross widens out and is divided into panelled sections on all sides.
The north face shows Saints Paul and Anthony, the temptation of St Anthony and a monster from the Book of the Apocalypse; the south side portrays the three children in the fiery furnace, the flight into Egypt and the miracle of the loaves and fishes; the east side contains panels showing Adam and Eve, the sacrifice of Isaac and Daniel in the lions’ den; the west side depicts the crucifixion and the twelve apostles.
The carving is on this cross hugely impressive and the detail is very fine. Stonemasons such as those who worked on the Moone high cross were skilled sculptors, and they decorated their crosses with circular and cruciform designs and patterns similar to those carved on rocks in pre-Christian Ireland, as far back as the Bronze Age.
Continue reading in this week’s Ireland’s Own