Monasterboice High Crosses
At a Glance
County Louth
OS Map 36
OS Coordinate O 043 827
 
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Monasterboice High Crosses, Co. Louth

Muiredach's Cross (south cross)

The Tall Cross or West Cross

Location: Approximately 8 km northwest of Droheda, on a side road just west of M1. It is signposted. Turn left at the Monasterboice Inn. A reasonably large carpark with toilet facilities is across the lane from the monastic complex. The three crosses stand in the graveyard and are easily found.

Dimensions: It is unknown how tall the North Cross (in the fenced enclosure) was, but at present stands approximately 3 meters high on the replacement shaft. All that survives is the ringed cross head and a small part of the upper shaft. Part of the original shaft is included in the enclosure. South Cross (Muiredach's Cross) nearest the entrance to the graveyard stands 5.5 meters high. The West Cross (the Tall Cross) nearest the round tower is nearly 7 meters high.

Features: The North Cross is the plainest of the crosses here, appearing incomplete. It has nicely rounded edges and a rolled sort of molding and on its East face, a lovely medallion composed of bosses and swirls. The western face of the crosshead is a very simple representation of the crucifixion of Christ. Of interest is the unusual placement of the volutes, on the open ring of the cross, rather than where the arms cross (as seen on the other two crosses here).

The West or Tall Cross has an angular pyramidal base and richly carved head and long shaft. The broad sides of the shaft have individual panels of biblical scenes while the narrow edges are decorated primarily with interlace and ornamental design. On the west face an unusual depiction of the crucifixion is carved with Christ's head at a sideways angle as if dead and wearing oddly flowing garments. Bound feet are clearly shown as are nail holes in his hands and feet. In the center of the east face is a highly unusual depiction of Christ In Glory. A house cap, though badly weathered still shows the roof's shingles and finials.

The South Cross (Muirdeach's Cross) is the most spectacularly ornamented of the crosses. It's height is masked by the broadness of its shaft. It is ornately carved with scenes from the life of Christ and from bible stories. On the west side of the bottom of the shaft, the inscription OR DO MUIREDACH LASERNAD IN CHROS (a prayer for Muiredach for whom this cross was made), is still legible behind the reclining cats. Under the cross arm farthest from the churches can be found a wonderful carving of heads with snakes intertwining above which is a rendition of the right hand of God. The narrow sides are also carved with a few scenes from the life of Christ, but more with fanciful beasts, interlace, spirals and other designs.

Comments: Several headstones from the 18th and 19th centuries have unusual or curious carving. The most elaborate scene and perhaps the most unique and creative in this graveyard is the Gartland Tombstone erected in 1799.

History: The monastery here was reportedly founded by St. Buithe mac Bronaigh, a bishop of Mainistir, who died in 521. The church ruins at this site however date from the 13th century, while the round tower and crosses probably date from the 10th century.

Other Items of Interest:Monasterboice is known for the remains of the monastic settlement of St Buite. These remains consist of an old graveyard, two churches, three sculptured high crosses, two early grave slabs and a sundial or Mass clock. This latter stands a bit over two meters high, possibly contemporary with the now-ruined churches and, like the high crosses, is composed of sandstone. The South church is the older of the two and it still has the remains of the chancel arch. The smaller church is situated beside the Round Tower and has no trace of a chancel. Two early Christian graveslabs can also be found here. One lies near the north wall of the North Church (closest to the round tower) and is inscribed OR DO RUARCAN (a prayer for Ruarcan). The other is a graveslab with carving that resembles part of a cross with a triangular end. It is propped against the south wall of the North church. The most conspicuous remaining artifact of this monastic settlement is the Monasterboice Round Tower.

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