Mayo Cross

Two crosses are known from County Mayo.  One is the lost cross of Cong.  The other is at Mayo Abbey.  The location of County Mayo is indicated by the red star on the map to the right.

Cong Cross

The Site and Saint

St. Fechin (Feichin) founded a monastery at Cong in 623-624.  It became known as Conga Feichin or “Feichin’s neck”.  The foundation was established with the patronage of King Domhnall Mac Aedh Mac Ainmire.  St. Fechin died in 664 of the yellow plague.  At some point following his death the monastery fell into decline and may have ceased to exist.

The record is unclear as it is recorded that the church that existed in 1114 was burned.  When this church was established is unknown.  In any event a new church was constructed by the Canons Regular of the Order of St. Augustine shortly afterward.  This church was destroyed by Munstermen in 1137.  Following this King Turlock Mor O’Connor built a new church.

Having royal patronage from the O’Connors, the monastery developed into a large monastery with as many as 3000 cenobites.  The schools  there included scholars in history, poetry, music sculpture and illumination of manuscripts.  There were craftsmen in many of the arts.  The existing ruins date from reconstruction carried out by Cathal Crovdearg O’Connor (Cathal of the Red-Wine Hand) in 1205.

The Cross

Unfortunately the cross-shaft that is supposed to have come from Cong has been lost.  It was reported in 1867 by Sir William Wilde.  The shaft was 58 cm high and Wilde made the illustration that is pictured to the right.  The two sides had animal interlace.  One face had interlace, the nature of the decoration on the other face is unclear.  (Harbison, 1992, p. 60, illustration Vol. 2, Fig. 178)

Resources Consulted

Cong Tourism:  http://www.congtourism.com/cngabbey.htm

Galway Independent:  http://www.galwayindependent.com/opinion/talkinghistory/articles/2015/06/17/4064444-saint-fechin-founded-a-monastic-settlement-in-cong-during-the-seventh-century-it-is-believed-that-he-also-established-several-/

Harbison, Peter; "The High Crosses of Ireland:  An Iconographical and Photographic Survey", Dr. Rudolf Habelt GMBH, Bonn, 1992.  Volume 1:  Text, Volume 2:  Photographic Survey; Volume 3:  Illustrations of Comparative Iconography.

Irish Tourist Association Survey:  http://www.mayolibrary.ie/en/LocalStudies/IrishTouristAssociationSurvey/CongandTheNeale/CongAbbey/PDFDocument,16111,en.pdf

mayo-ireland.comhttp://www.mayo-ireland.ie/en/towns-villages/cong/history/cong-abbey.htm

Mayo Abbey Cross

The Site and Saint

In about the year 670, St. Colman of Lindesfarne, in Northumbria, founded a monastery at Mayo, in the west of Ireland.  This was a direct result of the decision of the Synod of Whitby in 664 that favored the practices of the Roman church over those of the Celtic church.  Coleman first returned from Whitby to the mother church at Iona and from there traveled to Innisboffin, an island off the west coast of County Galway.  From Innisboffin he moved to the isolation of what became Mayo (Maigh Eo).  Over time Mayo came to be called “Mayo of the Saxons” because it’s foundation was a result of a split between Irish and Saxon monks.  St. Colman brought with him to Mayo half the relics of lindisfarne.

Mayo is mentioned by Bede in his History of the English People, written in the 10th century.  It was known as a center of learning and had students from Britain and Europe, including many Saxon nobles.  The first Abbot of Mayo was St. Gerald, who became abbot in 670 the year of Mayo’s foundation.

The monastery had its share of trouble with the Vikings.  It was raided in 783 and again in 805.  In 818 Turgesius completely destroyed it, though clearly it was rebuilt.

By the year 1000, Mayo Abbey had an estimated population of 3000 with important links to Canterbury in England, and the Court of Charlemagne, the Holy Roman Emperor (768-814).

In 1152 Mayo became a diocese and remained so until being joined with Tuam in 16 31.

The Cross

Cross-head:  This fragment is set in a concrete plinth covering a grave in the graveyard of the old church in Mayo Abbey.  It is 49.7cm high and 53.2cm at the transom.  (Kelly, 1993, p. 154)

Decoration is difficult to assess.  The arms of the cross are short.  There is no evidence of a ring.  The present west face may have been covered with interlace.  There is also interlace on the south face of the upper shaft.  On the other face is a sub-circular feature and a human head may be present above the modern base.  There is a finial at the top of the shaft that is in the shape of a crouching animal straddling the cross-head from one narrow side to the other.  This finial is unique among the Irish crosses.  The presence of the finial, similar to St. John’s Cross at iona suggests an early date for the cross, perhaps as early as 800.  (Kelly 1993, pp. 152, 154)  

The photos above right are from Kelly, 1994, p. 153.

Cross-base:  The base is pyramidal in shape.  It stands by the boundary wall of the graveyard, west of the old church.  It is 34cm high and 64cm at the base.  The base is also early in date but is not related to the cross-head.  (Kelly, 1993, pp. 152, 154)

Sources Consulted

Kelly, Dorothy, “Some Remains of High Crosses in the West of Ireland,”  The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. 123 (1993), pp. 152-163.

Mayo Abbey:  http://www.mayoabbey.com

Mayo County Mayo:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mayo,_County_Mayo

Museum of Mayo:  http://www.museumsofmayo.com/mayoabbey1.htm


 Barney McLaughlin 2012