Irish High Crosses


The Monastery at Kells was re-founded in 804 by monks from St Colmcille's Iona. As well as the Book of Kells, the monastery is also famous for it's five High Crosses.

Cross of St Patrick and St Columba

The Cross of St Patrick and St Columba, also known as the South Cross, east face pictured on the right stands around 3.30 metres high and was erected in the 9th century. On the east face you can see Adam and Eve and Cain slaying Abel, above that The Three Children in the Furnace and above that Daniel in the Lions' Den.

Detail of the three children in the fiery furnace. This is the earliest of the five crosses in Kells.

The Cross of St Patrick and St Columba

East Face-Adam and Eve + Cain and Abel

Raven brings bread to St Paul and St Anthony

The west cross west face

The West Cross

The West Cross or Ruined Cross, which stands at the west end of the graveyard must have been a very fine High Cross, it has some beautifully inscribed decorative panels on it's north and south sides, some details are shown below.

The west side has some scenes from the Bible, including Adam and Eve and also the Israelites returning to the promised land. The east side has many scenes such as The Marriage feast of Cana, Christs Baptism and Christ entering Jerusalem. The cross was probably erected in the 10th century. The damage to the cross was done by Oliver Cromwell's soldiers.

West cross - west face - Noah's Ark

West cross - east face - Baptism of Christ

The East Cross

The east or Unfinished Cross pictured right, gives us an insight into how these High Crosses were constructed, the actual carving being done on site and the various segments of the crosses are clearly visible. You can see from the detail below that they had started to carve an intricate key design on the underside of the ring.





The unfinished east cross

The Market Cross

Probably the most famous of the high crosses in Kells is the Market Cross, east face pictured on the left, this is a sandstone cross standing at 3.35 metres high. The cross has been moved on several occasions, It's present location is outside the Heritage Centre in Kells. At the centre of the head on the east face, is Daniel in the lions den to the left, the sacrifice of Isaac, to the right the temptation of St Anthony, immediately below Daniel is David with lyre and below that Adam and Eve on the left and Cain Slaying Abel right. The base shows four horsemen with shields, above that are spirals and directly above that is Christ in the tomb. The large iconography in the centre of the shaft is open to interpretation, is it Christ, David or Goliath. The west face bears the crucifixion on the head, below that the Loaves and Fishes and the left of the head may represent St Anthony tempted by a woman ? On the base is a scene depicting a deer hunt or a man herding animals. To view west face run your mouse over the image. The north and south sides of the cross also bear iconography. The north base features birds, animals and centaurs and on the southern base a battle scene.

Latitude: 53° 43' 35" N. Longitude: 6° 52' 16" W

Base East Face

West Face

Base North Face

- South Face

The North Cross

All that remains of The North Cross is the base pictured on the right, but judging by it's size the cross would not have been as tall as the other crosses in Kells. Because of it's size, shape and decoration it has been suggested that this base and the one at Nobber graveyard were carved by the same person.




Situated: From Dublin take the N3 North through Navan, follow the main road through Kells till you see the round tower on your left, then turn left then left again and park up next to the gate at the round tower. You may have to walk around to the main gate for entry.

Group: North Leinster.

Google Map.

Discovery Map 42: N 7391 7587. Last Visit: Sept 2012.

Longitude: 6° 52' 47" W. Monastery.

Latitude: 53° 43' 39" N

Nearest High Crosses featured on this website

Killary: 16 Kilometres North East

Duleek: 25 Kilometres ESE.

Monasterboice: 31 Kilometres ENE.

Dromiskin: 38 Kilometres NE.

Termonfeckin: 40 Kilometres East.


Photos: Jim Dempsey.

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