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The Stone Crosses of Kilfenora by Jack Flanagan

The High Cross

The High Cross, 1910
The High Cross, 1910
Photo: George Unthank Macnamara

The cross in the field west of the Cathedral is the tallest and best preserved of the Kilfenora group, but has suffered much from weathering, particularly the west face. It measures 4.5 meters in height, tapering by about 25cm from base to top. The cross is of the open form and ornaments occur on the two faces of the cross. In studying Westropp’s drawing we see in the west face that the cross head and arms are outlined by the rope-like moulding, while on each of the arms are similar knot-work bands. The outer ring of the arms is also decorated. The centre of the cross head has a circular panel, patterned and outlined again by a rope-like moulding. This circular panel is sometimes compared to the sun disc. Below the ring of the cross are three separate panels of square, circular, and rectangular panels of knot-work. The below a blank space is a large triangular interface which Mr. Westropp said was probably an afterthought. The main features of the east face are a figure of Christ standing on a foot rest, from which descends a double rope-like moulding down the centre of the cross joining onto an unworked triangular panel at the base. On the upper arm of the cross stands a four-legged fierce looking animal, its tail forms a loop under its body, and leads to its mouth. The ring of the cross is decorated with light plait-work of different patterns, then below the support for the figure there are on either side of the rope-like plait, six different panels of lightly carved ornaments, extending only half way down the shaft.

The High Cross
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Some refer to this figure as the Crucified, but this is rather the risen triumphant Christ standing erect with arms fully extended. It is vested in a long robe reaching to below the knees. The head is tonsured in the Roman style and on the breast is a square blank panel. The feet that rest on the small support are turned outwards, so the tip of the feet connect to the double strand moulding running down the centre, connecting to the triangle at base.

The High Cross

A theory by Fergus O’Farrell published in the “North Munster Antiquarian Journal” suggest that this unworked area gives the shape of a gable end of a house shaped shrine or Founders Tomb. This is a very plausible idea. Then again, in 1984 Jakob Streit in his book “Sun and Cross”, page 142 says: “On the cross at Kilfenora the Christ figure spreads out his arms in benediction. The sacrificial blood pours down the long shaft of the cross in two streams and spreads over the ground.”

So here the message portrayed on this cross seems to have been the fruits of salvation of Christ’s Crucifixion and Resurrection, flowing down on the founder’s tomb, or on the people of his church. A sermon on stone.

 

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