The East Side of the Muiredach Cross, Monasterboice, County Louth


900-923 CE

16' High


Click here for the introduction on high crosses and other images of high crosses.

Click here to see details of the west side of the Muiredach Cross.

Click here to see details of the north and south side.

The east side of the Muiredach cross

This east side depicts several seemingly disparate Old and New Testament subjects. From the base up are the fall of man and the murder of Abel, David's victory over Goliath, Moses drawing water from the rock, the adoration of the Magi, and the Last Judgment. However, these subjects were chosen for their doctrinal and typological significance and underscore the connections between sin, atonement, and judgment.
 

The Last Judgment

The whole crossing is filled with this scene. On the left of Christ an angel blows the trumpet while on his right a figure holds an open book, presumably one recording the deeds of humankind. On the left cross arm (Christ's right) the saved face Christ and are led by David with a harp. On the right cross arm (Christ's left and "bad" side) are the damned. Satan goads them with a pronged instrument and another devil seems to kick them on their way to Hell.
 

Detail of the Last Judgment

Christ occupies the center, holding a cross and flowering rod, symbolic of His eternal priesthood. The large bird above his head may be the mythical phoenix, symbolic of His resurrection, or an eagle, symbolic of His ascension.
 

The Weighing of the Souls (or the Psychostasis)

Below the central scene the scales of justice hang. A righteous soul (generally the heavier one) is in one pan while a devil who had tried to tip the scales is on the ground, attacked by St. Michael.

See a stylistically more sophisticated example of this scene in the Gothic west tympanum of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
 

The Adoration of the Magi

This scene has important doctrinal significance: the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles. An old bearded Joseph leads the Magi to the Virgin seated on a throne with the infant Jesus. The Magi seem about ready to kneel. The star is above Jesus' head.
 

Moses Drawing Water from the Rock

The life-giving water of the rock relates symbolically to the spiritual refreshment of the church and the saving blood from Christ's sacrifice. A bearded Moses strikes the rock with a long rod while the Israelites sit in two rows, each one holding a drinking vessel.
 

David and Goliath

David, as author of the Psalms which were often recited and studied in Irish monasteries, was held in great esteem. Helen M. Roe explains this panel which "shows from left to right King Saul, armed with sword and round buckler seated on a small throne; at centre David, clad in short sleeveless tunic, holds in one hand his shepherd's crooked stick, the open sling hanging from the other, the shepherd's scrip looped round his neck, while the stone (now almost imperceptible) flies through the air and Goliath, wearing his helmet of brass and armed with a sword and round shield with a central umbo, presses his hand to his forehead and with knees buckling under him sinks to the ground. At his back his armour-bearer looks on in amazement" (40).
 

The Fall of Adam and Eve and the Death of Abel

Adam and Eve stand beneath the heavily laden limbs of the Tree of Knowledge. Adam moves toward Eve to take the fruit. The second incident, a result of the former, is Cain's murder of Abel. Cain, with a long beard, strikes his innocent brother. This Old Testament event had typological significance, foreshadowing the death of the innocent Christ.



Click here for the introduction on high crosses and other images of high crosses.

Click here to see details of the west side of the Muiredach Cross.

Click here to see details of the north and south side.


Much of the information on this page was taken from Helen M. Roe, Monasterboice and its Monuments (County Louth Archaeological and Historical Society, 1981).



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Copyright Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. (I would appreciate being told if you find them useful.) They are not available for commercial purposes without my explicit permission.

Page maintained by Mary Ann Sullivan, sullivanm@bluffton.edu