Irish High Crosses

Castledermot

A monastery was founded here at the beginning of the 9th century by St Dermot. It was formerly known as Diseart Diarmada or Dermot's hermitage. Dermot was reputedly the grandson of the King of Ulster, Áed Róin d.735. The monastery was plundered on two occasions by the Vikings during the 9th century and again in 1106 CE. Present at the site are two of my favourite High Crosses, plus the base of a third Cross. Also present at Castledermot are, a 10th century round tower, a romanesque archway, a Viking hogback and a variety of cross slabs and holed stones. On the opposite side of the Main Street are the ruins of a Franciscan Abbey.

The North Cross

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On the north side of the church stands the 3.12 metre high granite cross, pictured above. It is one of two beutifully decorated crosses at Castledermot. They belong to the Barrow Valley group of crosses and were probably carved in the late 9th or early 10th century. They may also be amongst the earliest of the scriptural crosses. In general scriptural crosses bear iconographic images from the Old Testament on the east face and scenes from the New Testament of the west face. This cross may be orientated wrongly as the west face, pictured above left, features panels from the Old Testatment and the east are New Testament. Adam and Eve-the fall of man, is featured at the centre of the head with David playing a harp on one arm, and the Sacrifice of Isaac on the other. The top panel has not been identified, but may represent the Judgement of Soloman. Daniel in the Lion's den is at the top of the shaft with the Temptation of St Anthony below it. The bottom panels bears three figures that may represent the three children in the firey furnace. At the centre of the head of the east face, pictured top right, is a Crucifixion scene surrounded by the 12 apostles, in groups of three. The middle panel on the shaft features Saints Paul and Anthony receiving bread from the Raven. The bottom panel features two unidentified robed figures.

South Face

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Head, South Face

The east and west faces of the shaft bear spiral decoration, but the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes is featured on south side of the base. The north side of the base bears a carving of a winged creature. A close up of the head, above right, shows Eve offering the apple to Adam. The Fall of Man is represented on a large number of high crosses but this is the only one where it appears at the centre of the head. The high crosses were probably painted in colours similar to those used in the book of Kells. Click here to see a painted reproduction of this cross in the Irish National Heritage Park.

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West face, Daniel in the Lions Den

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Base, south face, Loaves and Fishes

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Base, west face

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Base, North face, Winged Creature

The South Cross

This 3.66 metre tall granite cross was re-erected at the end of the 19th century. The base, shaft and head were previously recorded as lying south of the Church. The south cross bears no iconographic images on the east side. It bears scenes from the bible on the west face, pictured below left, including the Crucifixion at the centre of the head, the sacrifice of Isaac on the left arm and David with harp on the right. Starting at the bottom of the panel we have, Daniel in the Lion's Den. The second panel features the temptation of St Anthony with Adam and Eve-the fall of man, in the panel above it. The top panel bears a raven bringing bread to St Paul and St Anthony. All of these iconographic images also appear on the north cross. I love the carving on the west side of the base. It represents a hunting scene or possibly Noah herding a variety of animals into the ark. Hunting scenes are also featured on the market cross at Kells. The south face of the cross is divided into six panels, each bearing two apostles. The north side is divided into 5 panels, each one contains figure sculpture. Harbison suggests it is the David cycle, David smiting Goliath, the triumph of good over evil. The central panel shows a large figure carring a sword with a smaller figure standing under the sword. The panel below it shows a large figure on his knees with the smaller figure standing over him.

Pictured above right, is the west face of the head. On the leftt arm is David playing his harp and on the right arm, the sacrifice of Isaac. In the centre is a crucifixion scene. On some of the early Irish high crosses, Chist is shown clothed and erect with his arms in an orans position. Above his arms are two angels and below are Stephaton ang Longinus. The panel at the bottom may represent the three childern in the fiery furnace. There are two more unidentified panels at the top of the head, each bearing three figures.

West face, Raven brings bread to SS Paul and Anthony

West face, Temptation of St Anthony

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The Fall of Man, Adam and Eve

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West face base, Hunting scene

The south side of the cross, pictured above left, is divided into six panels, each bearing two apostles. The north side is divided into 5 panels, each one contains figure sculpture. Harbison suggests it is the David cycle, David smiting Goliath, the triumph of good over evil. The central panel shows a large figure carring a sword with a smaller figure standing under the sword. The panel below it shows a large figure on his knees with the smaller figure standing over him. The east face pictured above right, has some wonderful geometric decorative panels and the base is plain. The south side of the base, similar to the north cross, also bears the miracle of the Loaves and Fishes.

The West Cross

The first thing you see as you enter the graveyard is a High cross base. The stepped granite base is plain on all four sides. Cut into the top tier is a square mortice joint. The base is set into a plinth on the southside of the pathway. Sadly there is no trace of the shaft or head at the site.

Situated: In Castledermot, County Kildare, from Dublin take the N7 west, then the N9 South for Carlow. The crosses are in the grounds of St James Church of Ireland, situated in the middle of Castledermot about 7. 5 kilometres South of Moone.

Group: Barrow Valley.

Google Map.

Discovery OS. Map: 61 S 783 851.

Last Visit: April 2019.

Nearest High Crosses featured on this web site

Moone 7. 5 Kilometres further North on the N9.

Old Kilcullen: 22 Kilometres North. Just off the N9.

Glendalough: 35 Kilometres East.

Graiguenamanagh: 42 Kilometres South.

 

 

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