Face to face with ‘Penal Crosses’

On a recent unscheduled trip to County Donegal, I was honoured to be shown a pair of 18th Century ‘Penal Crosses’. I had not seen anything like these ‘up close’ and was totally intrigued by these fascinating  pieces of Irish folk art.

So what are ‘Penal Crosses’? The ‘Penal Laws’ referred to  a series of  statutes aimed at diminishing the power and influence of religions other than the established church, and were enacted in various forms from 1695 on. In England the established church was the Anglican Church, while in Ireland it was the Church of Ireland. Presbyterians for example were also subject to the  Penal Laws, but in Ireland it was the Catholics who were most oppressed by the laws that covered almost every aspect of life including employment, ownership of weapons, intermarriage, education, religious practices and clergy. The practice of the Catholic religion continued during these ‘Penal Times’ with priests saying Mass in safe houses and in discreet places, with few devotional objects on display. The ‘Penal Cross’ was a carved crucifix, with short cross arms, evolved it is said, to enable a priest to hide it in his sleeve.

1-IMG_0883The crosses were often crudely carved, yet there is a remarkable similarity between all known examples with the figure of Christ always carved in high relief.  The ‘head’ below the feet is often carved in high relief as well. All of the crosses have carved symbols of the Crucifixion on front and back. On the example above to the right (as we look at the photograph) of the figure, is a representation of the ladder used to take down the body of Jesus from the cross, and on the opposite side is  the spear or lance.

2-IMG_0882On the reverse is carved the year 1766, with the insignia IHS (a symbol for the name of Jesus) on the transom, and a  cross rising from the centre of  the letter ‘H’. These two features are typical on the reverse of the majority, (if not all) penal crosses, the date being the year in which the cross was carved. Penal crosses of this type have suspension loops at the top to allow for hanging or possibly wearing.

3-IMG_0884The second cross is more sophisticated than the first, and bears much more of the iconography of the passion and crucifixion than the other. The carved figure of the crucified Christ is quite shiny  (possibly from being touched?), and as is usual, is in high relief. The top of this cross  has the acronym INRI, meaning Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.

I have had to research the remaining symbols, and found that there are about a dozen images of medieval iconography that appear on penal crosses, some having a few, others having all the images. Some of these images date back to early Christianity, but many appeared originally on tombs and on religious artifacts such as chalices from the 15th century on.

On the cross above a number of symbols are carved on the front.  1) Above Christ’s head are three stars, indicating the sun, moon and stars,representing the total eclipse that took place at the time of the Crucifixion. 2. On the left arm of the cross(left of the photograph) is the Vinegar Jug. 3)Attached to the opposite arm of the figure are the cords which were used to tie him to the pillar 4) Below this, the pincers used to extract the nails.  5)To the right of the torso is the hammer used to drive the nails. 6)Below that is the ladder used to take down the body. 7) On the opposite side is the spear used to pierce Christ’s side. (These latter two  are also depicted on the simpler penal cross above) 8) A carved  head below the feet, which may be either a skull or a cherub – in this case it appears to be a skull; below the skull are crossbones; and 9) at the bottom is a cock. This cock is interesting – could it be the cock that crew three times at Christ’s betrayal? The cock that is most often depicted at the bottom of Penal crosses is a cock above a pot, known as the ‘Cock and the Pot’ and is a reference to a story in the  apocryphal gospel of Nicodemus.

This interesting explanation of the Cock and the Pot comes from anamchara blog:

Based on an anecdote in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus or Acts of Pilate, a famous story of Judas gets tweaked in Irish folklore as related in the Irish Leabhar Breac.

In the darkened streets stumbled a weeping Judas, distraught at betraying Christ.  Wracked with guilt, he had returned the 30 pieces of silver to the temple officials and now was going home.  Opening the door to his house, he smelled his wife’s cooking; she was roasting a cock over the fire.  Food was the furthest thing from his mind, however, and he asked her, “Wife, get me a rope so I may hang myself; my Lord, my friend, Jesus of Nazareth is betrayed by me!”  The woman had no love for Jesus; she was as cynical as her husband toward the Galilean.  “Do you hear me?” he shouted.  “Get me the rope, for I am sure he will rise as he said in three days.”

“Nonsense,” said his wife.  “There’s as much chance of Jesus rising from the dead as there is of this dead, plucked, and cooked rooster jumping out of this pot.”  At this moment, the cock jumped from the pot, clapped his wings–all refeathered now– and crowed three times crying “Mac na hOighe Slan–The son of the Virgin is safe/risen!”

And that is why on the Irish crucifixes, particularly those made in penal times when the Irish were persecuted for their Catholic faith, underneath the crucified body of the Lord is a pot with a rooster standing over it, announcing the resurrection.

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On the reverse, this Penal Cross is dated 1725, and again bears the IHS symbol with a cross rising from the letter ‘H’. The triangular configuration below the IHS symbol is a representation of the three nails used in the  crucifixion. This triangular representation of the three nails is quite common on penal Crucifixes

Dr Tony Lewis (1911 – 1986) carried out a study of penal crosses, examining the 129 specimens recorded by the National Museum of Ireland. His conclusions are interesting:

Firstly he dismissed as ‘historically naive and factually baseless’ the romantic notion that the arms were made deliberately short in order to be concealed in a sleeve, stating that the real reason for the shortness of the arms was because each crucifix was carved from a solid piece of wood.

Pilgrims at Lough Derg Station Island c.1890. Image Wikimedia Commons
Pilgrims at Lough Derg Station Island c.1890. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Secondly, he concluded that these crucifixes formed part of the ‘ritual of pilgrimage’  between the 15th and 18th centuries, and that such crosses were for sale in the locality of the Lough Derg Pilgrimage Island, County Donegal, up to the mid 19th Century. He found that the uniformity of style and technique indicated a single centre of manufacture, and that centre was Lough Derg in County Donegal.

He further  found that the crucifixes were consistently dated over a period of one and a half centuries, and the date represents the year in which the crucifix was bought, used in devotional exercise and taken home as a dated souvenir of pilgrimage.

Pilgrims being rowed to Lough Derg in 1876  by W.F . Wakeman. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Pilgrims being rowed to Lough Derg in 1876 by W.F.Wakeman. (Image Wikimedia Commons)

Research by P.O’Gallachair, published in 1965 adds weight to the Lewis theory by examining the 1792 O’Donnell Crucifix. On July 12 1795, 90 pilgrims out of a total of 93 on a boat crossing Lough Derg to the Penitential Island drowned  when their boat sank. A Miss O’Donnell’s body was recovered with a ‘penal cross’ tightly clasped in her hand. The Cross was dated 1792, the conclusion being that she was revisiting the Penitential Site carrying a Cross that she had purchased on an earlier pilgrimage.

It was a very special experience for me to see and touch objects that were revered and treasured in my local area between 250 and 290 years ago, the like of which I  had not seen before. I cannot help but wonder: Who carved them? Who owned them? What stories could they tell? What lives did they comfort? What tragedies did they witness?  What homes did they protect? And of course, were they ever hidden in a sleeve?

We will never know.

I am very much indebted to Moira Hughes, Raphoe Diocesan Archive, St Eunan’s, Letterkenny  for the  kindness, patience and generosity shown to me on my recent visit. 

Sources/Further reading:

”Penal” Crucifixes, A.T Lucas & H.G Tempest , Journal of County Louth Archaeological Society, Vol 13,No 2, (1954), pp. 145 – 174

Pilgrim Crucifixes of Lough Derg, P.Ó Gallachair, Clogher Record, vol 5, No 3, (1965) pp. 296 – 306 Clogher Historical Society

Penal Crosses found in Co. Carlow: the significance of 18th and 19th century devotional crucifixes in early modern Ireland. Nugent, L. 2013.  Carloviana Vol 65 pp 84-88

anamchara.blogs.com

National Museum of Ireland

National Science Museum,Maynooth

 

 

 

 

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August 26, 2014 · 12:37 pm

Margaret Ann Bulkley:The extraordinary Doctor James Barry

The Silver Voice:

The most viewed post on this site has been the story of Corkwoman Margaret Ann Bulkley who went through life as Dr James Barry, an eminent physician who rose to the top of the ranks in the British Army becoming Inspector-General of Military Hospitals.

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

Portrait of Dr James Barry painted 1813 – 1816. Image: Wikipedia.

In July 1865  a char woman named Sophia Bishop was asked to lay out the body of an eminent physician. The place was London and Doctor James Barry, who had attained the rank of Inspector General of Military Hospitals, the highest medical rank in the British Army, had died of dysentery. Sophia Bishop went about preparing the body and discovered that  Dr. James Barry was in fact a ‘whole woman’  and had stretch marks on her body indicating that she had even borne a child. Sophia did not disclose the information until after the funeral. The story grabbed the headlines for a time, but there was no conclusive evidence as there had not been a post-mortem.  Interestingly for someone of such a high military rank, and who had given 50 years of loyal and distinguished service, no obituary was ever published. Furthermore, the embarrassed British Military placed an embargo on Dr…

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Blog Awards Ireland 2014 Nomination for The Silver Voice!

Blog AwardsI am chuffed to have been kindly nominated in the Arts and Culture Category of Blog Awards Ireland 2014 and my nomination badge is proudly displayed!

The Long List in this category includes many of my favourite blogs, so I will be delighted for all those making the Short List.

Good luck to everyone in all categories!

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Postcards from Dún Laoghaire, Co. Dublin

 

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Dún Laoghaire (pronounced Dun- lee -ry) is a coastal town south of Dublin, familiar to many Irish emigrants who departed these shores for economic betterment of life in England, this writer included. Back then, Dún Laoghaire was the ferry terminal, my sorrowful point of departure from home, but in later years it was also the joyful point of arrival usually for summer holidays. (It still is a bustling Ferry Terminal for passengers crossing the Irish Sea between Ireland and Wales) The other week, I was back there attending the Great War Roadshow lectures and at the end of the day I grabbed a few photos of the venue and immediate surroundings. Hope you enjoy looking at the ‘postcards’!The venue was the Dún Laoghaire and Rathdown County Hall. This beautiful building was originally the Town Hall of the Kingstown Town Commissioners, Kingstown being the name of the town between 1821 and 1920.

Kingstwon Harbour c1895 with the Town Commissioners Building between the two spires. (Image Library of Congress)

Kingstown Harbour c.1895 with the imposing Town Commissioners Building between the two spires. (Image Library of Congress)

The interior of the building proudly connects with its past.

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There are some beautiful features, including the mosaic floor and decorated ceiling.

The stairs are luxuriously wide and elegant, with the original handrail and a large window on the first landing

The plaster work is exquisite. The Janitor pointed out this fascinating detail – it  is a self-portrait of the craftsman who did the plaster work. Unfortunately his name is unknown. This can be spotted by the sharp-eyed when descending the stairs.

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A pair of ornamental iron gates used to separate the adjoining Courthouse from the main Town Hall. These are usually left open nowadays, but are worth inspecting!

Across the road is the Queen Victoria Fountain. Built in 1900 to commemorate the visit of Victoria to Kingstown as it then was, and destroyed in the 1980s, this has been restored in recent times.

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Detail from the fountain

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Birds abound…

The most stunning part of the fountain is the metalwork dome

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Nearby is this lovely Hobby Horse Merry Go Round, reminiscent of days gone by…….

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I enjoyed my flying visit, and hope my next visit will be more leisurely to enjoy all that Dún Laoghaire  has to offer.

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Croagh Patrick,Ireland’s Pilgrim Mountain

The Silver Voice:

Today on the last Sunday in July,2014, 30,000 Pilgrims scaled Croagh Patrick mountain,in the West of Ireland, following a tradition going back hundreds of years.
Here is my earlier post on this annual event,an event like no other that draws people of all ages from all over Ireland.

Originally posted on A SILVER VOICE FROM IRELAND:

On the last Sunday of July each year,tens of thousands of people, many barefoot, climb the steep slopes of Croagh (pronounced Croke) Patrick, on a penitential pilgrimage.  They are following in the footsteps of generations of pilgrims who have ascended the conical mountain, in the West of Ireland, in County Mayo. The mountain is known locally as ‘The Reek’ and today is ‘Reek Sunday

Pilgrim's Path on Croagh Patrick. Image from Wikipedia Commons

Croagh Patrick dominates the landscape for miles; from the N17  road that runs north to Sligo from Clare, its almost perfect cone can be seen from some 20 miles distant,and on a clear day it can be seen from some 40 miles away. Anyone reaching the summit, whether tourist or pilgrim,is stunned by the magnificent views, most especially of Clew Bay with its more than 300 islands, lying some  2,500 feet below.

Looking down on Clew Bay from Croagh Patrick. Image Wikipedia Commons. Paul McIlroy

It is believed that St Patrick used the mountain as a place of penance…

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Sculpture by the Sea at Cottesloe Beach, Western Australia

On March 17 last I was delighted to be introduced to the famous annual Cottesloe Sculpture by the Sea event in Western Australia. Not only was it my first trip to Western Australia’s most iconic beach, it was fascinating to see some 70 pieces of Artwork on display in the open (and no vandalism!) Appreciation of   modern art installations can sometimes be something of a challenge for me, but these modern sculptures were right on my plane and I loved them. I hope you like them too!

I do not have a name for each work, but they are good to look at anyhow!

Loved this spinning flower

Flower in  the wind

Flower in the wind

Bulk Carrier

Bare feet often seen at a beach!

Bottle top Monsters

And what about some Bottle Bottoms?

Bottle Bottoms!

Bottle Bottoms!

Stuff from the seashore

More Monsters!

Surfboard Graveyard?

SurfingSharks

SurfingSharks

Killer Wave…..

Of course it is hard to improve on nature –  this is my own piece of artwork –  people enjoying beautiful Cottesloe Beach!

Cottesloe Art - by Me ! Enjoying the beach!

Cottesloe Art – by Me ! Enjoying the beach!

Thanks to my friend Leith, for a great afternoon!

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Shamrock and Celtic Crosses

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A typical Celtic Cross Memorial at Karrakatta Cemetery

I recently enjoyed an extended trip to Australia. During my time there, I was struck by the strong connection to Ireland expressed by Irish ex-pats, the great pride they have in their Irishness, and the esteem in which many of these Irish emigrants are held by Australians.I hope to share some of my great and unexpected experiences in the coming weeks. Towards the end of my visit, I had to visit Karrakatta Cemetery, just outside Perth, in Western Australia in search of a particular grave.

This is a vast cemetery, covering some 98 hectares, with a mausoleum, a Crematorium, a Commonwealth Graves Commission Section , and a  Dutch War Graves section, in which the victims of the WW2 Japanese bombings in Broome are buried. (I have written about these latter two in an earlier  post here.) Since it opened in April 1899, Karrakatta Cemetery has been the last resting place for over 201,000 people,  and 189,000 cremations have been carried out here. On this visit I was looking for the  grave of an Irishman.The cemetery is divided into denominational areas  representing 37 different religions and ethnic groups. Prior to my visit I had identified the grave I wished to see online,and made my way to it along the well laid out paths, with the help of a map.

I returned by a different route and was surprised  to see so many Celtic Cross monuments close together, in an older part of the cemetery, I was in the Roman Catholic section, yet I was struck by the sheer number of these very Irish headstones. There are many different styles of  Celtic Cross  here, yet all embellished with Shamrock. There are no more Irish symbols than the iconic Shamrock and the Celtic Cross.

Gaynor Family Grave

Gaynor Family Grave

The majority of the crosses bear the IHS Monogram at the intersection of the arms and the upright sections, yet  it appears to be absent on  this very fine example in Gaynor Family monument, above

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Grave of the Cullity Family from County Kerry

My friend Chris Goopy, has a blog entitled Irish Graves – They who sleep in Foreign Lands where she accepts images of Irish graves for publication. She has published a number of images I sent from Karrakatta, on which an Irish origin  – town or County – was clearly stated. The Cullity’s from County Kerry memorial above is included on her website.

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A broken Celtic Cross lies abandoned

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One of my favourite Celtic Crosses on the McCarthy grave

The majority of these  Celtic Cross headstones did not have any mention of Ireland, but they surely are strong testament to the Irishness of the people who lie beneath them. There is  quite a variety of  Celtic Crosses but all have Shamrock entwined on or carved into them, requiring a certain amount of skill by the monumental masons.DSCF5357Even on plain headstones, the family names are resoundingly Irish. The sheer number of them is quite remarkable. In this photo above 7 Celtic Cross headstones can be seen. DSCF5359 As with the O’Dea headstone above, this image has a representation of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, a Catholic symbol included in the design , with the image surrounded by Shamrock on the O’Callaghan memorial.DSCF5355 The Hon Timothy Quinlan was born in Borrisokane Co Tipperary in 1861 and emigrated to Australia with his family at the age of 2 years. His very Irish memorial records his rise to the top of Western Australian political life.DSCF5348Three different Celtic Crosses. DSCF5347 This memorial towers above the others, and exceptionally shows a harp, another iconic Irish symbol. (The one depicted here is the reverse of the official Irish symbol).  John Hardy was a native of County Antrim and a veteran of the Crimean War. He emigrated to Australia in 1866, at the age of 42,and ended up as a Pensioner Guard at Fremantle prison. His full (and colourful) military record can be seen here.

DSCF5351 These headstones with their Celtic Crosses date from the very early 20th Century. As such they would either be Irish-born or children of Irish-born emigrants who went here in search of a new life. The Daly monument here shows the link to Cork Ireland, in contrast to the image below of  a tragic pair of young men, possibly brothers and young  emigrants, or sons of Irish  emigrants , who lost their lives in accidents. Their headstone is a simple one yet included the Celtic Cross and Shamrock as testament to their origins.

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Emigration was no protection from grief and heartbreak. This Cantwell headstone is as sad as the monument to a 26-year-old wife below.

Julia Prendiville, a young wife who died at the age of 26

Julia Prendiville, a young wife who died at the age of 26

Julia sadly appears to lie alone in her grave. Inscribed at the  base  is this verse that provides an insight into the choice of a  Celtic Cross emblazoned with Shamrock as a permanent memorial for graves of Irish in this sandy place, 10.000 miles from home. It reads:

”A Celtic Cross raise o’er me,

and the Shamrock round it twine;

‘Twill tell the land that bore me

that the dear old faith was mine”

 

Further Information:

The IHS symbol

Hon. Timothy Quinlan Biographical Note

John Hardy Military Record 

Irish High Crosses 

Karrakatta Cemetery

 

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