The Cross of Cong consists of an oak core that is encased in sheet brass and cast decorative brass plates.
The cross is elaborately decorated with gold filigree, gilding, silver sheeting, niello and silver inlay, and glass and enamel settings. At its centre is a large piece of rock crystal. The fragment of the True Cross would have been housed under this, and it would have been visible through it. The fragment has long been lost.
The cross is 760 mm high, 480 mm wide and 35 mm in thickness.
The Cross of Cong is an exquisite work of art
It is one of the greatest expressions of Irish craftsmanship in the twelfth century. The cross is also one of the great works of European art of this time.
The ornamentation on the Cross is the culmination of the earlier “celtic” style of decoration that graced the great treasures of the eighth and ninth centuries, but with the added enrichment of the incorporation of Viking styles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries.
New discoveries about the Cross of Cong
When the Cross of Cong was being prepared to travel to the Museum of Country Life at Turlough Park, significant new discoveries were made:
Evidence of several previous investigations has been found – most recently in the 1960s.
Rather than being made of sheet bronze, as was previously thought, we now know that it was made of sheets of brass and cast brass.
The wooden cross that is the core of the Cross of Cong is made of oak; it is fractured just below the crossing of the two members and this is what causes the structural weakness in the Cross of Cong.
Most significantly, when the rock crystal and its mount at the centre of the cross were removed, another cross was found incised on the oak core of the Cross of Cong – of a type we now call the cross of Lorraine – and which is a symbol of the True Cross. This was carved at the time of the making of the cross. See image below.
There are indications that there was an earlier circular container underneath the rock crystal, and that this may have contained the fragment of the True Cross.