DUNMORE CROSS

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The Dunmore High Cross is one of the most impressive and well-preserved examples of the Irish high cross tradition, which flourished from the ninth to the twelfth centuries. Located in the graveyard of Dunmore, on the site of a former abbey in County Galway, the cross stands over five metres tall and is carved from a single block of limestone. It is decorated with intricate scenes from the Bible, as well as geometric and floral motifs, that showcase the skill and creativity of the medieval sculptors. The cross is not only a remarkable work of art, but also a symbol of the religious and political significance of Dunmore in the Middle Ages.

Dunmore Abbey was founded in the early twelfth century by Turlough O’Connor, the High King of Ireland, who was a great patron of monasticism and art. He invited the Augustinian canons to establish a community at Dunmore, which became one of his royal residences and a centre of learning and culture. The abbey was dedicated to St. Mary and St. Patrick, and was endowed with lands and privileges by O’Connor and his successors.

The high cross was erected around 1152, probably to commemorate O’Connor’s death or his son Ruaidri’s accession to the throne. It was placed in front of the abbey church, facing east, as a focal point for devotion and instruction. The cross bears an inscription in Latin that reads: “A prayer for Turlogh O’Conor, King of Ireland, for whom this cross was made”. The inscription also names the sculptor as Gille na Naemh Ua Eochadha, or Gilla-na-Naomh O’Huagha, meaning “servant of the saints, descendant of Eochaidh”. He was likely a member of a family of stone carvers who worked in various parts of Ireland.

The cross survived the dissolution of the monasteries in the sixteenth century, when Dunmore Abbey was suppressed and its lands confiscated by the English crown. It also escaped damage during the Cromwellian invasion in the seventeenth century, when many other high crosses were destroyed or defaced. The cross remained standing until 1835, when it was blown down by a storm and broke into three pieces. It was re-erected in 1890 by a local committee, with the help of an engineer named William Henry Hill. The cross was restored again in 1975 by the Office of Public Works, who cleaned and consolidated the stone and added some missing parts.

The Dunmore High Cross is one of the finest examples of Romanesque sculpture in Ireland, influenced by both native and continental styles. The cross has a ringed head with four arms, each ending in a circular boss. The shaft rests on a square base with four corner pillars. The cross is carved on all sides with relief panels depicting scenes from the Old and New Testaments, as well as abstract patterns and plant designs.

The high cross also features geometric designs such as interlace patterns, spirals, chevrons, circles, stars, crosses, and rosettes. These motifs may have symbolic meanings related to eternity, unity, harmony, protection, or cosmology. The cross also displays plant motifs such as vines, grapes, acanthus leaves, palm branches, lilies, roses, ivy, oak leaves, and acorns.

The Dunmore High Cross is a testimony to the artistic skill and religious devotion of the early Irish Christians.

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Dunmore Cross

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