Saint Patrick's High Cross – Carndonagh, Ireland - Atlas Obscura

Saint Patrick's High Cross

Carndonagh, Ireland

This rare and ancient Christian relic is one of Ireland’s oldest freestanding stone crosses.  


Located on the Inishowen peninsula, Carndonagh is one of the main towns of County Donegal. In Irish, Carndonagh may be Carn Domhnaigh, which means “the Sunday cairn,”  and the story says that Saint Patrick himself founded a monastery there. But, in reality, very little is known about the site and its history, and the building is long gone. The sole remnant of it is its high cross, which suggests that the monastery had reached a certain level of prosperity and importance.

Art historians date the Carndonagh high cross to the seventh century, making it one of the oldest of its type in Ireland. This early Christian relic is a red sandstone slab cut out in the shape of a cross, and engraved with a rich, low relief that mixes Celtic artwork and Christian iconography. The west face is completely covered with a Celtic interlacing, while the east face depicts a crucifixion scene. Quite surprisingly, the crucifixion scene is placed on the shaft of the cross rather than its head. Typical of Irish crosses, Jesus is not depicted as suffering or defeated, but rather erect and triumphant. Two small, separate pillars frame the cross, decorated with various characters, such as David with his harp and a large warrior believed to be Goliath.

Today, the cross and its pillars are a National Monument of Ireland and can be visited freely in Cardonagh.

Know Before You Go

The cross is under a wooden shelter (which can be mistaken for a bus stop) and is visible from Church Road, near the Carndonagh Community School. There is parking. 

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