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Monasterboice Monastic Settlement
 

County

Louth

Coordinates

N 53° 46' 39.3"   W 006° 25' 03.8"

Nearest town

Collon

Grid Ref.

O 04362 82036

Map No.

36

Elevation a.s.l. (m)

128

Date of visit

Wednesday 8 June 2011

GPS Accuracy (m)

14
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The amazing view of the site when approaching it from the gate.


A long visit to one of my favourite places ever.
It's been a long time since our last stop here. The first time that we came here was on December 12th, 1995, the last time was on May 4th, 2002. What better gift for this visit than a clear and sunny sky.

Monasterboice was founded by St. Buithe, a follower of St. Patrick, towards the end of the 5th century. Its Irish name is Mainistir Bhuithe. The River Boyne that flows less than 3 km south from here was named after this saint.
The monastic settlement was attacked by the Vikings who were driven out in 968. The round tower was built shortly after this year. The two high crosses are of the same period.
The most beautiful cross of all Ireland stands here, the Muiredach's Cross, so richly decorated that I define it as breathtaking. All the details are still well preserved and that is amazing. Every single centimetre of its surface has something to show.
The east and west faces of this cross are decorated with scene from the Bible from the Old and New Testament.
The cross is 4.07 metres tall and 2 metres wide at the arms. The shaft measures 77 centimetres in width and 51 centimetres in thickness. It stands on a stone base that is 1 metre tall, for a total height of 5.07 metres. The cross is aligned east-west 95°-185°.
The lowest panel of the west face depicts two cats, that is rather unusual for that time, and carries the inscription "OR DO MUIREDACH LASNDERNAD IN CHROS", that means "Pray for Muiredach for whom the cross was made".
The north and south faces of the cross show human figures and celtic patterns and knots. The base as well is decorated.

The second cross, also known as the West Cross, is taller and slimmer.
It's 5.79 metres tall and 2.03 metres wide at the arms. Its shaft measures 63 centimetres in width and 42 centimetres in thickness. It stands on a base that is 63 centimetres high, for a total height of 6.42 metres. It's aligned east-west 80°-160°.
It is the tallest high cross in Ireland, and it looks in worse condition than Muiredach's Cross, especially at the lower part of the shaft that is visibly worn, most likely due to the touch of the people's hands during the years. I could even think that this cross is in danger of breaking at the bottom.
Just like the first cross, this one too shows scenes from the Old and New Testament.

Not far from the west cross is the round tower, with its doorway facing east (85°) provided with a metal ladder. The doorway is fitted with a gate that is padlocked. Apparently there's no public access to the tower. I couldn't find a reliable way to measure the height of this tower, but it is presumable that it's in excess of 25 metres. Just like other round towers in Ireland, this one also was used as a belfry for the monastic settlement and as a safe place to store valuables during the attacks from Vikinkgs and other invaders. According to the annals, the tower was burned in 1097, along with the books and the treasures of the monastery.
The round tower misses its cap and the top is broken.

East of the round tower is the North Church, aligned to east (95°), that measures 10 metres x 5 metres.
A second church is called the South Church, it measures 11 metres x 6.5 metres, aligned to east (105°).
Apart from the outer walls, not much survives of these two buildings.

At the northeast corner of the settlement there's a fence that surrounds what is called the North Cross, much simpler than the other two crosses, and a pillar that the monks used as a sundial to tell the time in the monastery.

Monasterboice was an important centre of religion and learning until 1142, when the Cistercians arrived at the nearby Mellifont Abbey and Monasterboice began to decline.

I took the coordinates of every single monument in this settlement but the coordinates for this page refer to the first cross visible when entering the settlement, the Muiredach's High Cross.


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