STOKES, Margaret. Notes on the Cross of Cong. Illustrated with two chromo-lithographs and two cuts


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STOKES, Margaret. Notes on the Cross of Cong. Illustrated with two chromo-lithographs and two cuts. Dublin: Printed at the Dublin University Press by Ponsonby and Weldrick for Private Circulation, 1895. Quarto. pp. [4], 12, 2 (lithographs). Quarter blue linen on original boards, printed in red and black. Inoffensive water stain to corner of upper cover.

The Cross of Cong (An Bacall Buí, ‘the yellow baculum’) is stated to be the finest piece of metal, enamel and jewellery work of its epoch in Europe. The ‘Annals of Innisfallen’ records in the year 1123 the bringing of the piece of the true cross into Ireland, and the making of this shrine for its preservation. The history of this reliquary is based upon the information afforded by the five inscriptions which fill the silver edges of the cross. It gives us the name of Toirrdelbach Ua Conchobair (Turlough O’Connor), King of Connacht for whom it was made; Muireadach O’Duffy, Archbishop of Connaught, for whose use it was intended; Donnel O’Duffy, the Bishop who watched over its progress, and Maelisu O’Echan, the artist who executed it. Sadly there is no further information of O’Echan, no monument is left to tell of his former greatness save the exquisite work of this magnificent treasure that has stood for almost nine hundred years, bearing witness to the marvellous power and delicate skill of this great artist. It was made around 1123 probably in either Roscommon or Tuam, and donated to the Cathedral church of the period at Tuam. The cross was subsequently moved to Cong Abbey, County Mayo, from which it takes its name. When George Petrie toured Connaught he visited Lord Abbot Prendergast (1741-1829), the last mitred Abbot of Cong, then living in a little cottage at Abbotstown, given to him by the ancestors of Oscar Wilde. He had found the reliquary in an oak chest in a cottage in the town, where it had been concealed since the time of the Reformation or at least since the rebellion of 1641. After his visit Petrie told Professor MacCullagh of his amazing discovery and the latter purchased it at his own expense for the Royal Irish Academy. An object of extreme grace and beauty the cross measures 76cm high and almost 46cm wide. It is made of oak covered with plates of copper, silver and brass, adorned with precious stones and ornamented with crystals, amber, gold and silver filigree; and niello (a deep black mixture of metals). The treasure is heavily influenced by Hiberno-Norse design of S-shaped animals interwoven with threadlike snakes. Professor MacCullagh when he spoke of this precious reliquary stated: “a most interesting memorial of the period preceding the English invasion, and one which shows a very high state of art in the country at the time when it was made”.




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