High cross

Free-standing Christian cross made of stone and often richly decorated / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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A high cross or standing cross (Irish: cros ard / ardchros,[1] Scottish Gaelic: crois àrd / àrd-chrois, Welsh: croes uchel / croes eglwysig) is a free-standing Christian cross made of stone and often richly decorated. There was a unique Early Medieval tradition in Ireland and Britain of raising large sculpted stone crosses, usually outdoors. These probably developed from earlier traditions using wood, perhaps with metalwork attachments, and earlier pagan Celtic memorial stones; the Pictish stones of Scotland may also have influenced the form. The earliest surviving examples seem to come from the territory of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which had been converted to Christianity by Irish missionaries; it remains unclear whether the form first developed in Ireland or Britain.

Muiredach's High Cross, Monasterboice, 9th or 10th century
A simpler example, Culdaff, County Donegal, Ireland

Their relief decoration is a mixture of religious figures and sections of decoration such as knotwork, interlace and in Britain vine-scrolls, all in the styles also found in insular art in other media such as illuminated manuscripts and metalwork. They were probably normally painted, perhaps over a modelled layer of plaster; with the loss of paint and the effects of weathering the reliefs, in particular scenes crowded with small figures, are often now rather indistinct and hard to read.

The earlier crosses were typically up to about two metres or eight feet high, but in Ireland examples up to three times higher appear later, retaining thick massive proportions, giving large surface areas for carving. The tallest of the Irish crosses is the so-called Tall Cross at Monasterboice, County Louth. It stands at seven metres or twenty-two feet high.[2] Anglo-Saxon examples mostly remained slender in comparison, but could be large; except in earlier Northumbrian examples their decoration is mostly ornamental rather than figures. The crosses often, though not always, feature a stone ring around the intersection, forming a Celtic cross; this seems to be an innovation of Celtic Christianity, perhaps at Iona.[3] Although the earliest example of this form has been found on fifth-seventh century Coptic textile.[4] The term "high cross" is mainly used in Ireland and Scotland, but the tradition across Britain and Ireland is essentially a single phenomenon, though there are certainly strong regional variations.

Some crosses were erected just outside churches and monasteries; others at sites that may have marked boundaries or crossroads, or preceded churches. Whether they were used as "preaching crosses" at early dates is unclear, and many crosses have been moved to their present locations. They do not seem to have been used as grave-markers in the early medieval period. In the 19th century Celtic Revival Celtic crosses, with decoration in a form of insular style, became very popular as gravestones and memorials, and are now found in many parts of the world. Unlike the Irish originals, the decoration usually does not include figures.