St. Mary's Cathedral High Cross




N 53° 30' 49.14"   W 008° 51' 20.94"

Nearest town


Grid Ref.

M 43238 51862

Map No.


Elevation a.s.l. (m)


Date of visit

Thursday 15 June 2017

GPS Accuracy (m)

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The wonderful St. Mary's Cathedral seen from the west.

Four crosses, all in fragments, had been found scattered around Tuam in the 19th century.
They're now all inside the St. Mary's Cathedral in Tuam.

This Cathedral in Tuam is the merge of buildings built in two different times.
The east section, now called the Sanctuary, was built in the 12th century incorporating what originally was a five-order Romanesque doorway, and now used as a chancel arch. Also part of the original chancel was incorporated within the new building. In the 14th century Archbishop William de Birmingham had the new church hugely expanded eastwards. The records state that in the 16th century the church was used as a fortress for the local gentry and that their horses were sheltered in it.
The church saw more destruction and restorations until in 1863, when the new nave was added and the church took the aspect that has now.

The most beautiful cross in the cathedral is clearly the Market Cross. This has been made with fragments of two different crosses. The shaft and the base belong to a cross, the head belongs to another cross. It was originally erected in the Market Square in Tuam, but in 1992 it was moved inside the cathedral for a better protection.
The shaft is decorated on all sides with several panels with interlaced patterns. It stands on a base decorated with interlaced patterns on the minor sides and with two human figures on each main side. The plinth bears two inscriptions in Irish which have been translated as "Prayer for Turlough O'Connor for the Comharb of Iarlath by whom was made" and "Prayer for O'Hessian, for the abbot, by whom was made".
The head shows a crucifixion on what now is the north face. Christ is shown in a long robe from waist down, no legs are visible. He has a long beard and wears a crown. The unusual representation of Christ might suggest that the cross was copied on a model of carving from abroad. Two bosses are carved above and below each hand. The south side of the head shows a bishop with a crozier in his left hand and with his right hand raised in the act of blessing. He is flanked by other figures.
The inscriptions on the base of the cross are a clue that the cross might have been erected at the end of 12th century. According to some records, it was commissioned to commemorate the building of the new cathedral.

I wasn't able to measure the cross because it is enclosed inside a railing, but according to some documents it should be 4.17 metres high and 1.60 metres wide at its arms.

A cross shaft is visible in the north transept of the cathedral. This fragment of a third cross was found under the communion table of the cathedral. Its main sides are decorated with interlaced patterns, the other two sides bear two inscriptions that reads "Prayer for the king, for Turlough O'Connor - Prayer for the crafstman Gillu Christ O'Toole" on the north side, and "Prayer for the successor of Iarlath, for Aed O Hessin who had this cross made" on the south side.
The shaft stands on a modern base, and it's 1.50 metres high and is 43 centimetres wide at the base.

The fragment of a fourth cross is a cross head now visible in the southwest corner of the nave. This head was found in 1926 during the construction of the Munster and Leinster Bank (now Allied Irish Bank). It was found close to the former site of the Augustinian Priory of St. John the Evangelist, founded by Turlough O'Connor in 1140. This priory was in use until 1574. Along with this cross head was an inscribed stone mentioning Mac Aodhagáin, a clan of Brehons. The cross head is badly damaged and worn out. It is decorated on one side only with interlaced motifs along the two surviving arcs of the circular ring around the arms, thick circles on each arm and interlaced lines in the centre of the head. There are no animal or human decorations. From a number of details on this damaged cross head, it has been dated very likely to the late 12th century or early 13th century.
It's 62 centimetres of diameter, but due to the level of damages it's impossible to say which is the way up.

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