EMILI: Early Medieval Irish Latinate Inscriptions

DOW-002. Nendrum Cross Slab

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Description: Northern Ireland Sites and Monuments Record Number: DOW017:005. Fragments of a sedimentary stone cross slab (w: 0.29 x h: 0.43, converted from SMR file, 214). The first and larger, triangular shaped fragment contains a peripheral portion from the bottom right side of the overall cross slab design. A recently identified second fragment contains the bottom left side of the cross design and confirms that the design is a compass drawn cross of arcs set on a bed of quatrefoils and bound by a cricular double frame (Downey 2018, 1-2).
Text: The inscription is located below the cross design on the larger fragment in two horizontal lines, the first possibly complete but the second partial. The letters are finely formed and carefully placed (Downey 2018, 1-2).
Letters: Originally thought (by Macalister 1925, 70-71) to be in the Runic script (Old Norse language), Barnes, Hagland and Page (1997, 2) rejected this stating that only one letter coincides with a runic graph, a, though another is a marginal possibility, l; the rest are pretty clearly not runic. Charles-Edwards (2006, 266-267, 310) (also 2007, 396-404) was the first to acknowledge it as an inscription in lightweight angular capitals (otherwise known as 'decorative capitals' and also found on metalwork, such as the Ardagh Chalice, and in insular manuscripts, such as the Book of Kells and the Lindisfarne Gospels). She describes the Nendrum lettering as follows: Lightweight Roman capitals P and R with gate M, boxed U, minuscule right angled s, Type C manuscript display capital S, angular uncial A, squared capital C, and the scribal manuscript symbol representing the contraction for `inter'. She also dentified some words in Latin in this inscription and compared this decorative, display style of lettering to that of the inscription on Toureen Peacaun East Cross shaft (Okasha and Forsyth 2001, 290-297; Charles-Edwards 2006, 266-267). In 2018 Downey built on the work of Charles-Edwards and supplied a hypothetical reconstruction (adding a third line) with a detailed and quite convincing explanation. The lettering of the second line is slightly larger than that of the first.

Date: Unknown.

Findspot: The larger inscribed fragment was discovered during excavation at Nendrum early ecclesiastical site by Lawlor in 1921 (Lawlor 1925, 70-71) and the second fragment was recently identified among the excavation finds (Downey 2018, 1-2) . Nendrum is said to have been founded in the C5th by St.Mochaoi and its abbots and bishops are recorded in the annals C7th-9th. In 987 it was burned probably in a Viking raid. The site now consists of the ruins of a church, round tower, enclosures, buildings, graves, carved stones and a rare pre-Norman sundial. The site is surrounded by 3 concentric enclosures. There are many burials within the inner and middle enclosures, some predating the church. In the middle enclosure is a monastic workshop (SMR file).
Original location: Nendrum (Naondroim), in the townland of Mahee Island (Inis Mochaoi), Co. Down, 54.498173, -5.647652.

Last recorded location: The fragments are now in Down County Museum. (Inv. no. BELUM.A6.1925)

Interpretive

[((†))?] PRIM(UM) OPUS ɫ(UEL)
[---GL]ORIA CR-
[EATONIS?]

Diplomatic

[..]PRIMOPUSⱢ
[---..]ORIACR
[.......]

1: Read by Macalister (Lawlor 1925, 70-71), taking it as a Old Norse inscription written in runes, as ...BRIMOBA/OTA... 'of the chief abbot'.

Translation:

The first work, that is, the glory of creation

Commentary:

The edition here is that proposed by Downey (2018, 4), who suggests that the mark that can be seen before the initial P on the stone is what remains of an initial crosslet: the end of the right arm of a small bifurcated cross, which is relatively common at the beginning of inscriptions, and is counter-balanced at the end of the row by the cross-like symbol ɫ. Initial crosslets are common before texts on carved stone monuments and on metalwork, as well as in manuscripts, on the Continent and in Britain (Lionard 1961, 101–2). In Ireland, they are attested from the later 7th/8th centuries (e.g., Toureen Peakaun) to the 12th century (e.g., the Cross of Cong). However, they are not as common as in Anglo-Saxon England (Okasha and Forsyth 2001, 16).

Bibliography: Barnes, Hagland and Page 1997, 2 ; Charles-Edwards 2006, 310 ; Charles-Edwards 2007, 396-404 ; Downey 2018, 1-8 ; Hamlin 2001, 56-7 ; Jope 1966, 292 ; Lawlor 1925, 70-71
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