Early medieval Irish high crosses inspired neo-Gothic gravestones in the 19th century across these isles. In Ireland they have been widely replicated as an expensive form of funerary commemoration to the present day, articulating faith and identity in both churchyards and in cemeteries. Clustering along major thoroughfares through cemeteries, they can sometimes dominate funerary topography and provide a visual reference to early Christianity when they cluster around the ruins of medieval church ruins as at the Hill of Slane.

The final dimension of this phenomenon I witnessed in my recent visit to eastern Ireland was how these modern high crosses cluster around early medieval high crosses. This was most strikingly seen around Muiredach’s Cross, Monasterboice, where there is a clear and unquestionable concentration of modern high crosses, dwarfed by, and citing the monumental presence of the 9th-/10th-century cross.

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A classic view of Muiredach’s cross; in which the round tower and ruins of the church behind frame the east side of the cross itself. It looks free of modern high crosses. However, to the right are hints of a dimension to the site usually ignored: modern high crosses
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Another classic view of Muiredach’s Cross, and again it appears isolated in terms of modern replicas, with only one distance modern high cross gravestone contrasting in scale and character
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Muiredach’s Cross, viewed from the east in rain, showing the many mimicks that are situated immediately to its east and north-east. Of course they are not replicas of this cross at all, but part of a broader sculptural repertoire that is pan-Irish.

Of course this was not the only concentration of high crosses in the cemetery, even if Muiredach’s cross gets particular attention. Another concentration could be found in the north-east of the churchyard and further ones to the south-west. These modern crosses don’t even come close to the scale and skill of execution of their early medieval forebears, but this is not the point. To the uninitiated, and because of the lines of sight they set up, they guard approaches to the early medieval monuments and serve to merge the distant monastic past with the recent dead as they huddle around their larger, earlier predecessors.

Are there other early medieval high crosses that have attracted such devotional replicas?

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Modern high crosses with the early medieval North Cross beyond
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Modern gravestones in the south-west corner of the churchyard

 

 

 

 

 

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