The world's first Celtic High Cross, made with the lavish funding of an 8th century King, is having its five elaborately chiselled pieces reassembled in Scotland.
The new cross replicates the original quarried from the Ross of Mull at the behest of the clan of a missionary monk.
© Historic Scotland
St Columba’s followers, who headed for Ireland and established a monastery on Iona in AD 563, instigated widespread Christianity in Scotland. A mountmaker is resurrecting the St Oran’s cross in honour of the 1,450th anniversary of their arrival.
“The complete cross originally weighed in excess of a tonne,” says Peter Yeoman, the Head of Cultural Heritage for Historic Scotland, whose experts have cleaned, conserved and begun studying the carved stones ahead of a planned exhibition on the island later this year.
© Historic Scotland
“It is beautifully carved with Biblical scenes and Celtic interlace patterns. Just below the centre of the cross arm is an extremely rare and early image of the Virgin and Child sheltered by the wings of angels.
“This monumental, powerful and decorative use of the Christian cross had never been seen before anywhere in Western Europe. It’s one of the largest and finest in the collection of early medieval carved stone grave slabs and crosses to be found at Iona Abbey.”
King Óengus, the conquering ruler of Scotland in the around AD 741, is thought to be the monarch behind the snake-patterned, Christ-symbolising landmark, which may have been an imitation of the Golgotha jewelled cross of early 5th century Jerusalem.
Its exuberant Celtic spinal ornamentation closely matches the Book of Kells, a manuscript produced at the monastery shortly after its creation. An Old Testament image of Daniel in the Lion’s Den was a reminder that God would save the faithful, accompanied by a pair of rampant lions in the centre and a quartet of snake-carrying roundels.
The current community on Iona will celebrate their 75th anniversary in May 2013.