Irish High Crosses


Donagh Cross aka St Patrick's Cross

The more I visit the high cross in the town of Carndonagh, the more I am intrigued by it. The art historian F. Henry places the cross to the 7th Century since the braid pattern is similar to the interlace on the c.650 Book of Durrow. He also suggests that it is very important to the understanding of the evolution of high crosses in Ireland. This early Christian cross is thought to represent the transition from crosses carved on slabs, such as that at Fahan Mura, to a slab that is cut out in the shape of a cross. The east face of the re-erected cross depicts bands of broad ribbon interlace (symbolic of the tree of life), 3 birds under each arm of the cross and 8 simplified figures in low relief. Although the central image may depict a Crucifixion scene (arms outstretched), it does not portray Christ in a slouched or suffering position. Typically Irish crosses show Christ as erect, perhaps as the self-sacrificer, a victor over death, resurrected. The body-flanking figures could either be Mary and Joseph, the two thieves or possibly the soldiers and the figures flanking the head are thought to be angels. Below this scene are three figures wearing cowls and long robes, perhaps representing the holy women who visited Christ's tomb after the Resurrection.

The west face of the red sandstone cross is completely covered with interlacing and bears no figure carving. The two re-erected pillar stones flanking the cross are carved with figures. On the pillar to the left in the top photo, the west face depicts a figure holding a bell in one hand and a satchel or book in the other. A drop head staff lay under his feet . All of these symbols are commonly used to represent a pilgrim, with the satchel symbolizing a traveler. On the south face is a trifold knot and a medieval creature with large ears or horns carrying a hammer. On the north side is a head in profile and a fish, possibly representing Jonah and the Whale. The east face has only a carved face.
On the north pillar King David is represented as a harpist on the east side and as a warrior on the west side, although some argue that the warrior could represent Goliath. On the north side of this pillar is a large fish and a small bird, and the south side depicts spirals. This is one of my favourite sties and along with the cross slab at Fahan one of the most interesting. If you are lucky enough to view the Carndonagh Cross, make sure you visit the Marigold Stone situated in the church grounds next to the cross. See Clogher Cross/Sundial to view another cross from the same period.

West face

East face

Pilgrim ?

Horned Figure ?


David the Psalmist

Situated: On the beautiful Inishowen Peninsula. From Buncrana head north on the R238. Then turn right onto the R244. You will then meet the R238 again in Cardonagh. As soon as you turn right onto the R238 the cross is situated on your right next to the church.

Google Map.

Discovery OS. Map 3: C 464 450.

Last Visit: April 2010.

Nearest High Crosses or Early Christian sites featured on this website.

Carrowmore: 5 Km E.

Clonca: 6.5 Km ENE.

Fahan: 22 Km SSW.

Gartan: 48 Km WSW.

Photos: Jim Dempsey and Deb Snelson.

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