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Downpatrick High Cross, Co. Down

Downpatrick High Cross is an artifact of profound historical, cultural, and religious significance. Located in Downpatrick, County Down, this cross stands as a testament to the rich medieval heritage of Northern Ireland. The cross, originally carved around AD 900, is recognized for its intricate design and biblical narrative carvings.

Historical Background

Early Foundations

The region’s historical narrative begins with its association with Saint Patrick, who is believed to have founded the first monastery on the Hill of Down in AD 432. This site later became pivotal as it transformed into a monastic foundation by the second half of the eighth century. In 1111, the location was established as an important episcopal see.

The Cross’s Original Location

The Downpatrick High Cross was initially situated at the early medieval monastery on the Hill of Down. Over the centuries, the cross endured various relocations and modifications due to socio-political changes, including the Reformation.

Rediscovery and Restoration

In the 1890s, antiquarian Francis Joseph Bigger played a crucial role in the cross’s preservation. He organized efforts to gather the dispersed parts of the cross, reconstructing it outside Down Cathedral with the aid of public subscriptions.

The Cross’s Description and Significance

Design and Carvings

Carved from Mourne granite, the Downpatrick High Cross is about 3.35 meters high. Its design features a ringed head that, although sunken on each face, is not perforated. The carvings, although severely weathered, depict various scenes from the Bible. Notable carvings include the Crucifixion with Christ flanked by smaller figures on each arm and possibly scenes from the lives of Adam and Eve and other biblical narratives.

Conservation Efforts

Due to its deteriorating condition, a decision was made to preserve the original cross. On December 4, 2013, it was moved from its outdoor location to the Down County Museum. This relocation was part of a broader conservation effort, which included detailed recording and cleaning of the cross.

The Modern Replica

Creation and Installation

An exact replica of the Downpatrick High Cross was crafted by S. McConnell and Sons of Kilkeel using granite from Thomas Mountain in the Mourne Mountains. This replica, weighing about a ton, was installed in front of Down Cathedral on April 16, 2014. The replica was created using modern technology to ensure precision in replicating the ancient design.

Public Display

The original cross, now housed in Down County Museum, became the centerpiece of a new extension designed to exhibit this monumental piece of history. This allows visitors to appreciate the cross’s historical significance while protecting the original artifact from further environmental damage.

Downpatrick High Cross in the late 1800s

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