The West or Tall Cross, Monasterboice, County Louth

10th century CE

7 meters high

Like the Muiredach Cross, the West (or Tall) Cross consists of a base (a truncated pyramid with minimal decoration), a shaft, head, and house cap--although the parts of the cross are separate pieces, probably because of its height. Much of the cross is badly weathered.

The west side with the Crucifixion


Detail of the Crucifixion

Unusual features include the clothed Christ (in a long-sleeved garment with heavy folds) and His bowed head (as if dead). (Contrast this scene with the similar one on the Muirdach Cross). Christ's ankles are bound and his feet, with obvious nails, rest on a foot rest. The spearbearer and spongebearer occupy the curves of the intersection of the arms and shaft. The heads on each side may represent the two thieves. The right arm represents the kiss of Judas and the arrest of Christ while the left depicts the mocking of Christ.

The milking and shearing of sheep

Two small scenes on each side of Christ are rare--the milking and the shearing of sheep. These relate to Early Christian depictions of Christ as the Good Shepherd. The milking scene relates to "the mystical milk of Paradise with which he feeds the Christian soul" and the shearing to the "unprotesting submission of the Suffering Servant who, as a sheep in the hands of the shearer is dumb" (Roe 46).

The east side with the Last Judgment (or the Church Militant)

The shaft represents scenes from the Old Testament with typological significance. The right arm depicts the fall of Simon Magus, an apocryphal story illustrating the triumph of faith over heresy.

The Last Judgment (or the Church Militant)

Christ is armed with sword, shield, and spear and stands with a group of armed men (the apostles?). Below this scene the story of the Hebrews in the furnace is depicted. The three Hebrews are protected under the wings of the angel while the stokers of the furnace stand on each side. This story emphasizes God's powers of deliverance and symbolizes the resurrection of Christ.

Much of the information on this page was taken from Helen M. Roe, Monasterboice and its Monuments (County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, 1981).

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Copyright Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

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