The Market Cross in the town of Athenry in Galway is said to be one of the oldest, if not the oldest, market crosses in Ireland still situated in its original position. It is also a unique example of a late medieval Gothic cross of Tabernacle or Lantern type.

A Tabernacle or Lantern cross is a type of cross that dates from the 15th century, mainly from the second half of that century. It is well known in Britain, northern France, Germany, and other parts of Gothic Europe, but the Athenry monument is believed to be the only one of its kind in Ireland. Such crosses have a rectangular swelling at the top, instead of a transom, which has an appearance vaguely resembling a lantern or tabernacle. They also have a long, tapering shaft set into a sculpted socket, which is on top of a large and often quite high stepped pyramidal base. These crosses are not crucifixes, though most bear a carving of a crucifixion scene on the main face of the tabernacle-like part.

The Athenry Market Cross fits into this general pattern, but it is missing some parts. It has four steep steps on its base, well-built of large stones, and excluding the concrete surround at ground level, it measures 2.46m by 2.38m at its bottom, and has an overall height of almost 2m. On top of the base is set a virtually square stone, 40cm by 41cm and 26cm high, which is the original socket-stone for the now missing shaft. The socket-stone is carved with various animals and figures, such as a stag, a winged quadruped, fighting dogs, an angel holding a scroll, and two opposed jani (mythological quadrupeds with single horns) with interlocked necks. These carvings resemble those on the doorway into Clontuskert Abbey, near Ballinasloe, dated to 1471, which helps date the Athenry cross.

The upright stone set into the socket-stone is the tabernacle/lantern-like part of the cross, though it is also missing its top and bottom. It has two wide faces (the front and the back) and two narrower ones on the sides. All faces are recessed and surmounted by crocketed and pinnacled arches. The front face has two arches over the recess and shows a carving of a crucifixion scene with Christ on the cross flanked by two figures (probably Mary and John) and two angels holding chalices to catch his blood. The back face has one arch over the recess and shows a carving of an ecclesiastic (possibly St. Nicholas) holding a crozier in his left hand and blessing with his right hand. He is flanked by two shields with coats of arms: one with three castles (possibly representing Athenry) and one with three lions rampant (possibly representing de Bermingham family). The side faces have one arch over each recess and show carvings of saints or apostles holding books or scrolls.

The Market Cross is a rare and unique example of a Tabernacle or Lantern cross in Ireland, showing the influence of Gothic art and architecture from continental Europe. It is also one of the last remnants of Athenry’s medieval heritage, which includes its town walls, castle, abbey, church and other monuments. The cross is a symbol of Athenry’s history and identity, as it marks the central place in the town where locals congregated to trade and socialize in medieval times. The Market Cross has witnessed many events and changes in Athenry over the centuries, and it still stands today as a reminder of its past glory and present charm.


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Market Cross



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