Thursday, 7 March 2013

First Celtic High Cross to return to Iona

From Historic Scotland (

Reconstruction of World’s First Celtic High Cross

The world’s first Celtic High Cross, St Oran’s Cross, pictured, dating back to the 8th century, is being reassembled in Selkirk before it is returned to Iona for the celebration of the 1450th anniversary of the arrival of St Columba on the island.

This was the springboard for the spread of Christianity in Scotland; St Columba and his followers arrived from Ireland and established a monastery on Iona in AD 563.

St Oran’s Cross will be re-erected for the first time in centuries in a new display as part of the 1450th anniversary celebrations.

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.”

The cross, which was in five pieces, will be re-erected within a specially constructed steel structure designed by Borders based museum mountmaker Richard West.

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.

(With thanks to Paul Spence at Historic Scotland)


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