High cross

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A high cross or standing cross (Irish: cros ard / ardchros,[1] Scottish Gaelic: crois àrd / àrdchrois, Welsh: croes uchel / croes eglwysig) is a free-standing Christian cross made of stone and often richly decorated. There was a unique Early Medieval tradition in Ireland and Britain of raising larged sculpted stone crosses, usually outdoors. These probably developed from earlier traditions using wood, perhaps with metalwork attachments, and earlier pagan Celtic memorial stones; the Pictish stones of Scotland may also have influenced the form. The earliest surviving examples seem to come from the territory of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Northumbria, which had been converted to Christianity by Irish missionaries; it remains unclear whether the form first developed in Ireland or Britain.

The crosses often, though not always, feature a stone ring around the intersection, forming a Celtic cross; this seems clearly an innovation of Celtic Christianity, perhaps at Iona.[2] The term "high cross" is mainly used in Ireland and Scotland, but the tradition across the whole of the British Isles is essentially a single phenomenon, though there are certainly strong regional variations. Some crosses were erected just outside churches and monasteries; others at sites that may have marked boundaries or crossroads, or preceded churches. Whether they were used as "preaching crosses" at early dates is unclear, and many crosses have been moved to their present locations.


British Isles

High crosses are the primary surviving monumental works of Insular art, and the largest number in Britain survive from areas that remained under Celtic Christianity until relatively late. No examples, or traces, of the putative earlier forms in wood with metal attachments have survived; the decorative repertoire of early crosses certainly borrows from that of metalwork, but the same is true of Insular illuminated manuscripts. The round bosses seen on early crosses probably derive from Pictish stones. High crosses may exist from the 7th century in Northumbria, which then included much of south-west Scotland, and Ireland, though Irish dates are being moved later. However the dates assigned to most of the early crosses surviving in good condition, whether at Ruthwell and Bewcastle, the Western Ossery group in Ireland, Iona or the Kildalton Cross nearby, have all shown a tendency to converge on the period around or slightly before 800, despite the differences between the Northumrian and Celtic types. The high cross later spread to the rest of the British Isles, including the Celtic areas of Wales and Cornwall and some examples are also found on Continental Europe where the style was taken by Insular missionaries.

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