14 March 2013
The world's first High Celtic Cross, the 8th century St Oran's Cross, is to be reconstructed before being returned to Iona. ...
The world's first High Celtic Cross, the 8th century St Oran's Cross, is to be reconstructed before being returned to Iona for celebrations to mark the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba on the island.
The cross, which will be reconstructed for the first time in centuries, is a 4-metre high stone cross which was chiselled out of schist stone blocks quarried from the Ross of Mull. The shaft is covered in dense patterns of spiral- and snake-and-boss ornament – the snake being a symbol of Christ’s resurrection in the way it shed its skin. The bosses, derived from precious metalwork forms, are grouped in various cross shaped arrangements, as other symbols of Christ and of the five wounds which he suffered on the Cross.
St Oran's Cross currently exists in five pieces and will be re-erected within a specially constructed steel structure designed by Borders based museum mountmaker Richard West.
Peter Yeoman, Historic Scotland’s Head of Cultural Heritage said: 'The complete cross originally weighed in excess of 1 tonne and was 4.4 metres high. We believe it was commissioned by a King around the mid 700s.
'It is beautifully carved with Biblical scenes and Celtic interlace patterns. Just below the centre of the cross arm is an extremely rare and early image of the Virgin and Child sheltered by the wings of angels.
'This monumental, powerful, and decorative use of the Christian cross had never been seen before anywhere in Western Europe. It’s one of the largest and finest in the collection of early medieval carved stone grave slabs and crosses to be found at Iona Abbey.'
Historic Scotland’s experts are cleaning, studying and conserving the carved stones before they go back on display in a new exhibition in time for the anniversary in 2013. The agency is also investing in new interpretation and visitor facilities to help visitors fully appreciate Iona Abbey’s fascinating history and the significance of the spectacular carved stone collection.
(Image copyright Historic Scotland)
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