The High Cross in Donaghmore is one of the best preserved crosses of its kind in Ireland. It dates to the 10th Century. These crosses served to mark the site of a Monastery and were also an important teaching tool. The High Cross in Donaghmore is 4.78m high and was erected in its current location in 1776 by Rev. Vincent after being buried to hide the crosses during the 17th Century, at a time of much hostility in Ireland and when many High Crosses were destroyed.
The Donaghmore High Cross is in fact made up of two separate crosses. High Crosses were developed from Christian Traditions in Western Europe during the Roman Empire. While the tradition declined in mainland Europe in the 5th to 8th Centuries, Ireland continued to develop and erect High Crosses on Monastic sites – with the remains of up to 200 High Crosses still surviving today.
High Crosses served a number of purposes including marking the boundary of religious sites (usually three crosses to the west, east and south of the site), representing the teachings of the church and as a focal point for religious gatherings and prayer. These High Crosses were being erected at a time when the majority of people could not read and before there was access to printed material or pictures.
The panels on Donaghmore High Cross depict Biblical scenes used for teaching including Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Annunciation of the Shepherds, Baptism of Christ, Marriage Feast of Cana, The Loaves and Fishes, Mocking of Christ as well as the Crucifixion, Resurrection and Ascension.
Donaghmore High Cross also depicts scenes of mythology and decoration such as Romulus and Remus, a horseman, various animals and Celtic ornamentation similar to the style seen on illustrations and metalwork of that era.
It is believed that the High Crosses from Donaghmore were hidden by burying them during turbulent times in the early 1600s. Local tradition tells how the sections of the High Cross were recovered from the “Cross Field” behind the current site of St Patrick’s Catholic Church. The High Cross is actually parts of two separate crosses, and was erected in its current position in the village in 1776.
The Donaghmore High Cross is carved from stone sourced in nearby Carland. The stone would have been cut into rough shape, transported to the site and then carved. The carver would have followed the scheme for the panels that were to adorn the finished cross. The cross would then most likely have been brightly painted to highlight the biblical scenes.
Since Donaghmore High Cross has deteriorated over the 1000+ years since its construction, the local Historical Society commissioned an “Interpretive High Cross”. This Interpretive High Cross is erected in the Old Graveyard where Donaghmore Monastery is believed to have been located and behind the where the original Donaghmore High Cross now stands in the village.
The Interpretive High Cross has been created to accurately reflect the panels of the original High Cross, but there are some speculative depictions where these detail is missing from the original High Cross.