Tall Cross, Monasterboice, Co. Louth

Tall Cross

Plaster-of-Paris replica SA1909:1

This cast was made in 1901, over a period of three months at a cost of £161.16s. 10d. The Tall Cross was the first to be cast after the controversial 1896 casting of Muiredach’s Cross (also at Monasterboice) when concerns were raised in the British Parliament that iron tools had been used to remove lichen from the original cross. This was later disproven. In1903 casting was suspended due to the time it was taking to produce casts. Mr L Guintini, the Museum’s modeller, indicated that the delays were due to the fact that the mother mould could not be constructed around the Tall Cross as the base of the cross was unstable. Instead the section moulds had to be assembled in the Museum workshop and the mother mould constructed around them.

Original Cross

Tall Cross Original

The two crosses from Monasterboice represent another sculptural tradition in which the surface of the cross is divided into discrete panels which are carved with biblical scenes. Sometimes these may be arranged in carefully thought out narrative programmes with scenes on one face derived from the Old Testament being paralleled by comparable panels on the other representing New Testament events. Invariably, the centre of one face bears a figure of the Crucifixion while the opposite face carries a representation of the Last Judgement. It is possible that some crosses were painted although there is now no surviving evidence of this.

Figure sculpture

This ninth-century cross is the tallest in Ireland and displays the largest number of figure sculpture panels on any High Cross. It stands almost 6.5m in height.

The east face displays (from head to base):

Tall Cross E

• A scene of a seated figure

• Christ walking on water

• David, King of the Israelites

• The scenes on the arms depict

St Anthony tempted by demons (left)

St Paul and St Anthony overcoming a devil (right)

• An angel shielding the three children in the fiery furnace

• Elijah ascending to Heaven with a chariot and winged horse

• Samson pulling down the pillars of the house

• David holding Goliath’s impaled head and Samuel anointing David

• Moses drawing water from a rock

• Abraham sacrificing Isaac

• David killing the lion

The west face displays (from head to base):

Tall Cross W

• Pilate washing his hands

• St Peter with a drawn sword

• The crucified Christ

• The scenes on the arms show:

Judas betraying Christ (right)

The soldiers mocking Christ (left)

• The soldiers casting lots for Christ’s garments

• The risen Christ

• Christ giving a key to St. Peter and a book to St. Paul

• The three women at Christ’s tomb

• John the Baptist baptising Christ

• Christ lying in the tomb

The south face shows two scenes from the life of John the Baptist: John as an infant being carried by his parents and the naming of John. On the north face are scenes depicting David on the throne of Israel and Daniel in the lion’s den.

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