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