Early Christian Ireland part 5 The Development of Stone CrossesSixth Century – Twelfth Century
Entrance stone Standing stone Turoe stone Castlestrange stone Stone Carving so far
Standing stones were a very significant part of Pre-Christian Ireland and many can still be seen dotted around the country. The tradition continued with the use of Christian symbols on rough standing stones. Carving was applied only to the surface, possibly because of an early fear in pre-Christian Ireland that carving the stone itself might interfere with the ‘spirit’ of the stone.
A large number of cross-inscribed pillars are to be found along the west coast and on some of the Islands, which are difficult to date but thought to be early. There is quite a variety in the design of these engraved crosses, but a Greek cross in a circle is the most common.
Early Christian 6th – 8th Cross inscribed Stone slabs Duvillaun Slab, Co. Mayo Reask Pillar, Co. Kerry Aiglish Pillar, Co. Kerry Duvillaun Slab Reask Pillar Co. Kerry Aiglish Pilar Co. Kerry FRONT BACK
Carved Crosses 7th Century Carndonagh cross, Co. Donegal Fahan Mura Slab, Co Donegal
High Crosses 8th Century High cross at Ahenny, Co. Tipperary
Crosses of Scripture 9th Century Cross of Moone, Co. Kildare Cross of Muireach, Co. Louth
11th and 12th Century Crosses Dysart O Dea cross, Co Clare Kilfenora cross, Co. Clare
There are about 300 crosses in Ireland which are over 1,000 years old. The early stone crosses were carved on flat stone slabs or pillars Before stone crosses were made early crosses were made from wood Most of the big crosses were carved out of one big rock around the year 1100. This was the time of the Vikings and theNormans Most of them show stories from the Bible carved on the rock. People would gather around the crosses to listen to monks explain about the life of Jesus. Most people could not read. These later crosses are called High Crosses The art on the High Crosses is like that on gold ornaments also made by the monks An early cross can be seen at Fairy Hill in Bray and another at Fassaroe. There used to be an old church near Fairy Hill and the monks were buried at Fairy Hill. It was called Fairy Hill because the local people used to say that they could hear bells ringing in the graveyard and they thought it was the fairies. The monk who built this church was Saran. He had trained as a monk with Kevin in Glendalough. The road by the church was called Bóthar Cill Saran and in English this is called Killarney Road. The base of a High Cross was found at Oldcourt, in Bray
A Greek cross is found on the reverse face of the Duvillaun slab, Co. Mayo A rare early representation of the crucifixion is engraved on the front.
The early Christian site at Reask near the end of the Dingle Peninsula is marked with this tall pillar bearing a cross in a circle that is supported on a stand of Celtic spiral ornament that may have had an iron prototype. The stone may have been set up for pilgrims to pray at some twelve hundred years ago.
From the windswept Dingle Peninsula in Cty. Kerry, Ireland, this simple yet powerful testament to Christianity includes the inscription, "DNE", Domine meaning Lord. If it is looked at in the landscape in which it was carved, one notices that the upper portion of the monument mirrors the horizon line, indicating an attempt to merge the monument with the surrounding landscape Reask Pillar Cross
A Maltese cross on the Reask pillar, Co. Kerry is supported by lines and spirals of decoration. Here we see evidence of the celtic influence on the early Christian period, the spirals were used consistently throughout the Stone age, Bronze age and Iron age. Their Christian missionary travels to Europe and the East is evident in their use of the Maltese cross.
St. Patrick's Cross The ancient Irish cross from Carndonagh, Co. Donegal. Shows Christ in Majesty and pilgrims beneath interlace woven as the Tree of Life. The knotwork was traditionally a protection device and is similar to the St. Brigid's crosses woven out of rushes. Patrick is one of the patron saints of Ireland. A native Briton, he was captured and served as a slave in the western part of Ireland. After his escape from slavery, he returned to his native Britain, returning to Ireland after being told in a dream to return and preach Chrisitianity to the Irish. This is the first free-standing cross. Where the stone itself is cut into the shape of the cross.
The Fahan Mura Slab One of the first free-standing stone crosses. Found near-by the Carndonagh cross, Co. Donegal. The stone itself is cut into the shape of the cross. The cross shape is formed by the little shoulders, in place of arms. It bears the only early inscription of Greek in Ireland. This cross is carved with broad ribbon interlace similar that found in the Book of Durrow. This is also dated to the seventh century.
What is a high cross? At its simplest, the high cross is a standing cross with a circle. At its most complex, it involves a stepped base, a shingled roof or an elaborate capstone, carved pictoral scenes, and other ornaments. A ringed cross silhouetted against the sky has come to characterize Ireland, hence the ringed cross is often called an "Irish cross." However, the ringed cross motif is shared with other Celtic nations such as Scotland, so the ringed cross may more properly be termed the "Celtic cross."
Artistic elements and their origins Artistic motifs of gravestones at Clonmacnois base stepped base boss volute ring roof capstone IHS motif radial motif ringed cross motif
The "IHS motif," the "radial motif," and the "ringed cross motif" are three elements often occurring together. These three elements characterize the modern gravestones (of the past few centuries), and all of the other elements can be seen throughout the entire 1400-year sequence. “IHS”
The "IHS motif" is simply the letters "IHS," often super-imposed on each other to assume the form of a single icon or emblem. "IHS" is an abbreviation for "in hocs sign," which is in turn the abbreviated version of "in hocs “IHS”
Latin, translated to mean "in this sign, thou shalt conquer." Other accounts identify "IHS" as representing the words "In His Service.“ Yet another important note is that it might represent the first three letters of the name "Jesus" in the Greek alphabet. What was the significance of the "IHS" insignia for the Clonmacnois gravestones, and why is it so closely associated with the motifs of a radial display and a ringed cross? “IHS”
The phrase "in hocs sign vinces" (or "in this sign, thou shalt conquer") is traced back to AD 312. Constantine reportedly saw this phrase in the sky along with a cross of light over the sun. So the "sign" is "a cross over the sun." In this case, the "cross" may more accurately be called a "Chi-Rho emblem," associated with the development of the Christian "cross" cult. Immediately after this spiritual encounter, Constantine met great success at the Battle at the Milvian Bridge. This event marked Constantine's complete conversion to Christianity. During his post-war celebrations, Constantine ordered the Chi-Rho monogram to be placed on his battle standard and decorated with a victor's laurel wreath. The result was reportedly a replica of what Constantine saw in his vision, and it is thought to be the protoype of the ringed cross. “IHS”
The "radial" motif associated with the "IHS" motif sometimes explicitly depicts the sun's rays, emanating out from the "IHS" insignia. In other instances, the representation of the sun's radiance is not as obvious. In any case, though, the "radial" motif (just like the "IHS" motif) can be traced to the Constantine legend. The same can be said for the "ringed cross" motif (as well as for the high cross itself). “IHS”
The Constantine story explains the origins of the ringed cross, but it does not explain why the ringed cross gained such prevalence in Ireland. The ringed cross also was popular in Scotland, perhaps for similar reasons. Christianity was brought to both of these places around the same time and via the same methods. Also, both Ireland and Scotland shared a common Celtic culture prior to Christianity. “IHS”
The Constantine story is an example of the triumph of the Christian faith, thought to appeal to the pagan Celtic people's taste for folklore relating to magic and warfare. The Constantine story would therefore have been an important part of a Christian missionary's repertoire when converting the Irish people to the Christian religion. Under these circumstances, the ringed cross and the IHS motif understandably became key elements in Irish Christian art. The same case can be made for Scotland. Although this story about Constantine and the "IHS" insignia may sound convincing, it must be considered critically. Certainly, other viewpoints exist. “IHS”
For example, origins of the "IHS" symbol might be traced to the fact that these letters are the first three letters of the name "Jesus" in the Greek alphabet. Whatever perspective is adopted to explain the origins of the "IHS" insignia, the plausibility of the story must be examined, and also the likelihood of this explanation rather than others must be considered. At present, no single perspective can be proven correct beyond reasonable doubt. “IHS”
"Roofs" (and to a lesser extent "capstones") have been interpreted as a reference to gravestones as "houses" for the dead. Unfortunately, little other material evidence suggests that these structures were perceived as "houses."
A "boss" is sometimes classified as a "skeuomorph," meaning that it artistically represents something whose utilitarian function has been lost in its present structural form. In this case, the "boss" element represents the head of a nail which would be necessary if the cross were made of wood. Reportedly, ringed crosses were commonly made of wood in the past, although none of them have survived archaeologically. Wood does not preserve well, especially after many centuries. Decorated nail heads added artistic value to a functional aspect of a wooden ringed cross. This form was retained stylistically with stone crosses, despite the loss of the functional value.
A "base" or a "stepped base" serves a very practical functional purpose to support the large gravestone. A possible interpretation is that a "stepped base" refers to the steps at the entrance to a house, further likening high crosses to houses for the dead. However, this interpretation lacks any foundation. In fact, a "base" serves a much more practical utilitarian function.
Tall slender tapering cross One of the earliest to introduce biblical scenes Elegant granite cross Has a narrow ring and is missing its capstone Covered on four sides with figurative scenes from the new and old testements which occupy only the base The cross of Moone