Iona: MacLean’s Cross

Iona, MacLean’s Cross © David Gill

MacLean’s Cross stands on the road between Port Rònain and the Abbey, not far from the nunnery and adjacent to the parish church. The route was the Sràid nam Marbh, or the ‘Street of the Dead’. The cross was commissioned in the late 15th century by the clan chief of the MacLeans of Duart.

Iona, MacLean’s Cross © David Gill

The cross is more than 3 m tall. Pilgrims to the island would have stood facing the cross from the west side on which there is a carved crucifixion. Above the cross is a lily that symbolises the Virgin Mary.

Iona, MacLean’s Cross, east face © David Gill

On the reverse of the cross is a patterned motif, with two animals below the cross head.

Iona, MacLean’s Cross © David Gill

The cross is the oldest monument in State Guardianship on the island. The cross still rests in the original socket slab, but the base is more recent. A Ministry of Works sign was provided to explain the cross.

Ruthwell Cross

Ruthwell Cross © David Gill

The Ruthwell Cross now stands in a specially constructed apse (1887) in Ruthwell Parish Church (although it is in the care of Historic Scotland). It is some 5.7 m in height, and dates to the early 8th century.

The inscribed text includes sections of The Dream of the Rood linked to Caedmon.

Ruthwell Cross © David Gill
Ruthwell Cross © David Gill
Ruthwell Cross © David Gill
Ruthwell Cross © David Gill

The cross stood at the entrance to the Manse from 1823 to 1887 (when it was placed in the church).

St Augustine’s Cross

St Augustine’s Cross © David Gill

St Augustine traditionally landed in Kent in 597. In 1884 the Second Earl of Granville, George Granville Leveson-Gower (1815-91) [ODNB], the Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports (1865-91), erected a Saxon style cross near the supposed spot where Augustine landed. Granville’s official residence was at Walmer Castle.

Granville’s wife was a Roman Catholic, and his sister, Lady Georgiana Charlotte Fullerton (1812-85) , had converted in 1846. The Times (13 October 1884) had reported Lady Georgiana’s letter announcing the creation of the cross at Granville’s “own expense, on his own land”, and that it was “an act of homage to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to the Apostolate of St Augustine, rendered by one of their Protestant fellow-countrymen, which is doubtless a cause of rejoicing to all English Catholics”.

The cross was carved by J. Roddis of Birmingham and was based on the Sandbach Crosses in Cheshire.

St Augustine’s Cross, Latin text on the base of the cross © David Gill
St Augustine’s Cross, Latin Text © David Gill

The accompanying Latin text, cut on the base of the cross (and with a plaque), was composed by Dr Henry George Liddell (1811-98), Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, and compiler of the Greek Lexicon (Liddell-Scott). One of Liddell’s daughters, Alice, was celebrated by Lewis Carroll. Liddell had been Granville’s tutor at Christ Church in 1836 (see The Graphic 15 November 1884).


The Nigg Cross-Slab

Nigg Cross-Slab © David Gill
Nigg Cross-Slab © David Gill

There is an elaborate carved cross-slab in Nigg church in Easter Ross, Scotland. It originally stood in the churchyard but has now been placed inside with a special viewing area. It has been suggested that the cross would have been seen from the adjacent Cromarty Firth.

The stone originally stood at 2.36 m high. In the triangular pediment at the top of the slab are St Paul and St Anthony with a raven, carrying a loaf, between them.

Nigg Cross-Slab © David Gill
Nigg Cross-Slab © David Gill

The rear of the stone contains a framed panel containing images that refer to King David.

See also the nearby cross at Shandwick.

Iona and the public display of early Christian art

© David Gill
Replica of St John’s Cross, Iona © David Gill

The great replica of St John’s Cross dominates the western end of the Abbey on Iona. It has a span of some 2.2 m. (The original is in the site museum.) It appears to date from the 700s or 800s. The original cross was made from stone brought from Loch Sween in Argyll.

A cast of St John’s Cross features in the newly opened The ‘Celts: Art and Identity’ exhibition that has opened at The British Museum.

2001 [rev. ed. 2011]
2001 [rev. ed. 2011]
2011 [rev. 2014]
2011 [rev. 2014]
How far are these early Christian images ‘Celtic’? I find it interesting that the Historic Scotland guidebooks to Iona Abbey and Nunnery by Anna Ritchie and Ian Fisher (2001, rev. ed. 2011) and by Peter Yeoman and Nicki Scott (2011) appear to avoid the use of the word ‘Celtic’.

Cruciform Heritage in Wales

Carew Cross
Detail of cross at Carew © David Gill

The logo of Cadw incorporates the head of the eleventh century cross at Carew in Pembrokeshire. This cross has a Latin inscription linking it to Maredudd, ruler of Deheubarth.

This is one of a number of stones in the care of Cadw. The largest collection can be found in the Margam Stones Museum.

Other crosses and inscribed stones in the care of Cadw are:

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