EMILI: Early Medieval Irish Latinate Inscriptions

LOU-001. Monasterboice (South) High Cross

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Description: National Monuments Service Record Number: LH021-062007-. Sandstone, high cross, w: 2.14 (across arms) x h: 5.20. The South Cross, also called Muiredach’s Cross, is truly monumental and the sculpted biblical scenes are so finely executed that art historian, Roger Stalley (2007), has called the unknown sculptor the 'Muiredach Master' and has pointed to other crosses at Kells, Durrow and Clonmacnoise that are likely to have been carved by the same man. The most significant scenes are those at the junction of the arms and shaft and central to the ring at each side, the crucifixion facing west and the last judgement facing east, with the blessed on one arm and the damned on the other. There are Old Testament scenes on the east side of the shaft and New Testament scenes on the west side. All surfaces of the stone are sculpted as is the base, which has suffered much from weathering (Archaeology.ie; Harbison (1992); Roe (1981, 31-43)).
Text: The inscription is carved on the base of the shaft on the west side of the cross around and between a high relief carving of two cats in a double-lined frame. It is arranged horizontally in three lines. Some letters on the extreme left and right of the second and third lines are lost to weathering.
Letters: The inscription is in Insular half-uncial, including one of the Rs and the S, which are often found in there majuscule form. Other than those placed between the heads of the cats, letters are quite broad. Of note are the two Ds with ascenders which bend to the left over the bow, in the second example the ascender then curves upward. The Es are both open and closed, and the D has an open bow. The U has an extended descender and two contraction marks over OR and the final I of line two can also be seen (Celtic Inscribed Stones Project). Letter height approx. 4cm

Date: Late ninth or early tenth century A.D

Findspot: The first known mention of the high cross is by Isaac Butler in 1744 (Roe 1981, 15). The monastic remains at Monasterboice constitutes a National Monument consisting of a small enclosed graveyard (LH021-062002-) with two small churches (LH021-062003-; LH021-062004-), a round tower (LH021-062006-), three high crosses (LH021-062007-; LH021-062008-; LH021-062009-), a bullaun stone (LH021-062010-), sundial (LH021-062011-) and a number of grave-slabs (LH021-062012-; LH021-062013-; LH021-062014-)... Founded by St. Buite (later Buithe), who died about 520 and who gave his name to the place (Mainistir Buithe - the monastery of Buithe), it came to prominence in the Irish annals from the early eighth century and continued to be mentioned frequently up until the twelfth century, mainly in relation to the deaths of ecclesiastics associated with it (Archaeology.ie).
Original location: Monasterboice (Mainistir Bhuithe), Co. Louth, 53.777608, -6.417710.

Last recorded location: Standing on site, probably in its original location.






A prayer for Muiredach for whom this cross has been made


Muiredach is quite a common name in the medieval period but it is generally accepted that this is likely to refer to Muiredach son of Domnall who, according to the Annals of Ulster, died in 924 as successor of Buithe and vice-abbot of Armagh (Stalley 2020, 91).

The verbal form (·dernad) is the 3sg. prototonic, augmented preterite passive ('has been made') of do·gní 'to make', with a prepositional relaitve las(a) n- 'by whom'). However, rather than expressing that Muiredach is the craftsman who made the cross (for which we might rather expect the from do·rigni '(who) has made'), the use of the prepositional relative to express agency with the passive verb suggests that Muiredach was the commissioner of the cross, which is best conveyed by the translation 'for whom the cross has been made' (cf. Okasha and Forsyth 2001, 29). Although the last few letters are illegible, there is sufficient space for a demonstrative particle -so/-sa following in cros (giving 'this cross' rather than just 'the cross'). This reading with the demonstrative survives on the otherwise very similar inscription on the Bealin high cross (WEM-001).

Bibliography: Harbison 1992, vol. XXX ; Macalister 1949, 31-32, no.580 ; Roe 1981, 26-44 ; Stalley 2007, 153-166 ; Stalley 2020, 91
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