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Durrow High Cross
 

County

Offaly

Coordinates

N 53° 19' 32.52"   W 007° 31' 10.5"

Nearest town

Tullamore

Grid Ref.

N 32005 30713

Map No.

48

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

68

Date of visit

Tuesday 21 June 2016

GPS Accuracy (m)

3
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The restored church seen from the west.


So much has changed here in the last years.
The first time we came here was on May 19th, 2002, and we found an old, ruined and neglected church under some large trees at the end of a 500 metres long path departing from the west side of the N52, halfway between Kilbeggan and Tullamore. To the west of this neglected church was a high cross and further west, built into the boundary wall, there were some old cross slabs facing the cross and the church.
This time we found a well repaired and mantained church, the high cross was moved inside the church along with all the cross slabs.
Though I understand the need to protect such important historical artifacts, I think that the amazing magic that we felt many years ago has totally vanished.
The restored church is of medieval origin, built on the place of an early monastery founded by St. Columcille in 566. The famous Book of Durrow, a Gospel book enriched by decorations, images and other motifs, was probably written here in 650. The Book is now preserved at Trinity College in Dublin. It predates the Book of Kells, which is also at Trinity College, by over a century.
In 1144 the monastery changed its rules to the Augustinian, but in 1570 it was dissolved by king Henry VIII. In 1733 the church was in bad state of repair and was demolished and rebuilt by Bishop Mant. It probably remained in use until 1888 when it was abandoned. The church, the high cross and the slabs were in the private property of Durrow House until December 2003 when the Irish Government bought the whole property and 8 years later opened the place to the public. So, when we came here for the first time everything was still in a private property.
The church is aligned to the east (90°).
The high cross has been mounted in the chancel facing exactly as it was when it stood outside.
It is 2.90 metres tall and stands on a base having the shape of a truncated pyramid about 78 centimetres tall, for a total height of 3.68 metres. The arms open at 1.24 metres, the shaft is 45 centimetres wide and about 30 centimetres thick. The high cross is richly decorated on each face. The west side has scenes from the Passion of Christ. The east face shows a mix of scenes from the Old Testament and the Resurrection of Christ. Other minor themes from the Old Testament are depicted on the north and south faces.
The cross dates to the 9th century.
The slabs that once were into the west boundary wall are now mounted against the south inner wall of the church.
Outside two fragments of lesser value are still into the wall. In the nearby graveyard we found a very old grave slab, dated 1665.
About 200 metres northeast from the church there's the St. Colmcille Holy Well.


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