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St. Patrick’s High Cross is a beautiful Irish Catholic mystery

David Dixon - CC BY-SA 2.0

J-P Mauro - published on 07/04/20

With no records and time-worn images, experts are left to speculate on the ancient artwork.

One of the most treasured Catholic monuments in Ireland is also one shrouded by mystery, as what history we know of St. Patrick’s High Cross, in Carndonagh, is based in legend. The story goes that this beautiful carved stone cross was erected before a monastery started by St. Patrick himself, but there are no records of such a monastery and all that remains today is an ancient free-standing cross, flanked by two carved pillars.

According to Megalithic Ireland, the High Cross is dated to the 7th century. This is not based on scientific testing, however, but rather on similarities between the braid patterns on the High Cross and those found illuminating 7th-century Irish texts. The early Christian artwork is believed to mark a transition from multi-piece carved stone crosses to those cut into form from a single slab.

David Dixon - CC BY-SA 2.0

The carvings on the face of the cross are equally cryptic, although they are deciphered as clearly Christian images. The focus point and largest carving is believed to be Jesus, placed on the shaft, rather than higher up at the cross. Atlas Obscura notes that the figure of Christ is not slouched, but standing triumphant with outstretched arms, which is typical of Irish Catholic artistic representations of the era.

At each side of the Christ image are two figures that are too time-worn to clearly recognize. Experts suggest this could be several pairs of biblical figures, including the Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene, the two thieves whom Christ was crucified next to, or even a pair of soldiers. Below the feet of Christ are three more robed figures, who are equally worn down and unidentifiable.

The two small pillars on each side of the High Cross are adorned with more carvings, one of which (Megalithic Ireland notes) is pictured with a harp and has long been believed to be King David. On the other side, there is a carving of a warrior, who may represent Goliath. Other carvings show a horned figure, a robed cleric, and what is believed to be a pilgrim.

Situated on the beautiful Inishowen Peninsula, St. Patrick’s High Cross welcomes all visitors to walk up and experience its historic beauty.

David Dixon - CC BY-SA 2.0

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