Trinity's High Cross
In Trinity Church's inner courtyard is located a ½ size cast stone replica of the Muiredach (pronounced MEEyur-Dosh) High Cross, a granite Celtic Cross from the 800s located at the ruined monastic site of Monasterboice, in County Louth, Ireland. It was a gift of departing Rector Fr. Tony Hutchinson at the end of his ten year tenure in 2021. The “glory” or ringed halo around the intersection of the upright and horizontal arms represent the thin place where the phenomenal and spirit worlds meet. It has the practical effect of supporting the weight of the horizontals. The main scenes in the center of the cross on both sides—the last judgment and the crucifixion—not only are major articles of Christian faith, but in the Celtic monastic spirituality represented here stand for the intersection of the spiritual and physical planes. The Last Judgment scene teaches that the choices we make and paths we follow lead us either to glory with Christ and the Blessed, or to forgotten paths. The Crucifixion is the moment when the eternal is killed by the temporal, only to be recreated anew by the Creating God. Both are “crucial” scenes in the strict sense of the word (“of a crossing,” or “of the Cross.”) Muiredach’s cross, called so because the name appears in an inscription at its base (probably the Abbot or King who sponsored its carving), is the most impressive surviving example of early medieval Irish stonework.
Last Judgment Face
Hermit Saints: Anthony of Egypt and Paul of Thebes founded the two traditions of Christian monasticism: hermit (eremitic) and cenabitic (taking meals together, community). Celtic monks often lived in a blended style halfway between these two traditions: spending their time in single huts or cells, and joining together for meals and worship. The two saints hold a loaf of bread; a raven sits on the ground beside them. Like Elijah being fed bread by ravens in the desert (1 Kgs 17:1-6), monks saw themselves as being supported wholly by God. This panel is related to the panel of the immediate left side which shows Anthony and Paul meeting with their shepherd crooks crossing.
Saints Anthony and Paul sharing bread
Soul to heaven: A soul is carried to heaven by two angels, or perhaps, an angel records our deeds, good and ill, in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev 21:27). The Phoenix above the head of Christ on Judgment Day is a symbol of resurrection.
Angels escort Soul to Heaven; Phoenix above Christ's Head
The Last Judgment. Jesus stands in the center, holding a flowering scepter in the right hand and the Cross of the Resurrection in the left. Above the head of Christ there is a phoenix, the symbol of the Resurrection. At his foot is a small, kneeling figure with an open book over the head, likely an angel reading from the completed Book of Life. At the right hand of Christ (our left) is David enthroned, playing a harp, upon which the Holy Spirit rests in the form of a dove, and on his left (our right) a piper. Behind them are a choir of angels and the blessed dead playing instruments. Behind the piper (to Christ's left) are people who have lost their way, being driven away by a devilish creature holding a trident.
The Last Judgment
St. Michael: The Archangel argues with the Accuser over the fate of a soul. Michael holds a staff to beat down Satan and his deceits, and with his other hand weighs a human being in a balance, suspended by a chain from a cross-bar. The Devil, the tiny figure lying below, tries to pull down the empty scale of the balance to unfairly accuse.
St. Michael the Archangel
The Adoration of the Magi. At the left are the Blessed Virgin Mary holding the hand of her husband, St. Joseph, portrayed as an elderly man with a beard. Between them in her lap is the Baby Jesus with the star of Bethlehem over his head. Approaching from the right are the three gift bearing kings.
Adoration of the Magi
Drawing Water from the Rock: Moses stands at the right holding a staff in front of a crowd of thirsty Israelites, while water gushes out horizontally between them (Deut 8:15). The scene is chosen for its symbolism, as Christ is seen as the spiritual rock, the source of the living water.
Moses draws water from the rock.
David and Goliath: The two stand in the middle of the panel, likely meant to be the foreground; the figures on either side of the combatants are in the background. David has a shepherd’s crook over one shoulder, and in the other hand he holds a sling, hanging open to show that the stone has already been cast. Over his shoulder is suspended a wallet in which the stones were stored. Goliath wearing a conical helmet is depicted on his knees, with a hand against his forehead, to indicate that he has been struck there. He bears a round shield and a short dagger. To the left of the two combatants is a seated figure, likely King Saul, who also has a round shield and carries a short sword, and is drinking from a horn. The fourth figure, to the right of the combatants, is likely David’s beloved, Jonathan.
Saul, David and Goliath, Jonathan.
Adam and Eve stand beneath the forbidden tree, heavily laden with fruit. Coiled around the tree is the serpent whispering into the ear of Eve, who hands the apple to Adam. The scene explains that however evil entered the world it was our doing and not God’s.
Cain and Abel: Cain, a middle-aged man with a beard, grasps Abel, a beardless youth, and buries a cleaver into his head (Gen 4).
Adam and Eve; Cain and Abel.
Moses, Aaron, and Hur: Moses defending the people of Israel with an outstretched staff (the same one with which he drew water from the rock), with Aaron and Hur supporting his hands (Exod 17:12).
Moses, Aaron, and Hur.
The Crucifixion: Christ is fully clothed, normal in European representations of the Crucifixion in the 9-10th centuries, arms outstretched. The lance-bearer and sponge-bearer are on either side of Christ. The two circular knobs appearing between them and Christ probably represent the sun and moon, darkened by the Crucifixion. On the outside of the lance-bearer and sponge-bearer are two small figures—a woman, and a man kneeling on one knee, probably representing the Blessed Virgin Mary and John the Beloved. On either side of these figures in the central scene, abstracted clouds of darkness roil, and outside of these, bystanders look upon the scene. Beneath the crucifixion scene is an elaborate Celtic knot with four buds representing the fours corners of the world, and the universal importance of Christ's death and resurrection.
The Great Commission or the Giving of the Keys of the Kingdom . Christ, seated with feet on a footstool shaped like an animal's head, instructs the apostles to make disciples of all nations, or gives the keys of the kingdom to St. Peter as St. John looks on.
The Great Commission or the Giving of the Keys
Jesus Appears to Thomas: The resurrected Christ raises his hand in blessing as “Doubting” Thomas touches his side (John 20:26-29).
Thomas touches the Resurrected Lord's side as St. John looks on.
Arrest in Gethsemane: Christ holds a staff as he is seized by two men with military equipment (Matt 26:47-54). Also understood as the abuse of Christ by the soldiers before the crucifixion.
The arrest of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.
Side Panels and outer edges of the “Glory.”
Left and right refer to the sides of the cross as you look at the Last Judgment Face.
Cross Head—Balaam and his donkey. The Canaanite seer wears a hat and rides his donkey to a paid job of prophesying disaster for the Israelites. An angel sent to prevent this stops the donkey, who overcomes his nature as a mute beast to speak and tell Balaam to desist. In turn, Balaam overcomes his nature as a pagan prophet and, under an angel himself, predicts victory for Moses. Above him is the Star he predicts will rise out of Jacob (understood by the monks as Christ) (Num 24).
Outside edge of the “Glory”—Snakes and faces. Snakes entwine human faces, a symbol of how much our humanity is part of the natural world.
Faces and Snakes.
Top of Cross beam—uncertain, perhaps Mary Magdalene washing the feet of Jesus with her hair as he is at table with friends, or a musician playing a pipe surrounded by frolicking animals.
End of Cross Beam--Pilate washing his hands after condemning Christ while Roman soldiers look on.
Pilate washes his hands.
Underside of Cross Beam—The Hand of God. On the under-side of one of the arms of the cross is a depiction of a hand surrounded by clouds. This represents the Hand of God, Dextra Dei, long used as a Christian symbol. Generally, it was only in the 12th century that artists presumed to make a full human likeness of God. Before this time the normal way of representing God was showing a hand issuing from the clouds. Since it appears on the under-side of the cross bean, where people can see it above their head, the Hand of God here seems to beckon to the bystander.
The Hand of God
Cross top—Saints Anthony and Paul Meeting with their traveling staffs shaped like abbots' or bishops’ crosiers (shepherd crooks), under a symbol of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit.
Monastic saints Anthony and Paul meeting.
Top of cross beam—Baptism of Jesus. While the crowds watch, John the Baptist pours water over the head of Christ, who stands in the River Jordan, which the medieval church believed rose from two lakes in the mountains.
Baptism of Christ.
Side of cross beam—Scourging of Christ or the Binding of Isaac. Three angels hover over a seated Christ over whom tower two other figures holding rods to beat him; alternately, the binding of Isaac: an angel prevents Abraham from sacrificing his son, tied to a pyre while a servant boy looks on and a ram is seen caught in bushes in the background (Gen 20).
Scourging of Christ; the Binding of Isaac
Underside of cross beam—cats or foxes playing
Base—Scene of Monastic life: Two monks arguing, pulling each other’s beard