Manx Celtic Designs
Situated between Britain and Ireland, and with a history of being first an independent Celtic island, then a Norse kingdom, the Isle of Man has its own unique crosses. As other Celtic countries, the earliest Manx crosses are inscribed standing stones, some of which bear inscriptions in ogham or Roman script. Some of these memorial stones are bilingual. One, at Knoc-y-doonee, Andreas, which dates from the sixth century, had on one face the Latin Ammecat filius Rocat hie jacet (Ambecatos son of Rocatos lies here), and on the left side the fragmental ogham Celtic inscription (Am)b(e)catos maqi Rocatos. A standing stone from Maughold is interesting in being a transitional form from the standing memorial stone to the classical Celtic Cross. Inside a circle surrounded by an inscription in the manner of a seal is a hexafoli pattern that was the sigil of the goddess Juno in Roman religion. Beneath the Pagan goddess sigil are two chi-rlio crosses with accompanying inscriptions.
The crosses of the Isle of Man developed in the same broad way as in other Celtic and Celtic-influenced areas. From the simple cross-inscribed standing stone developed the cross-slab with complex carvings, representing a standing cross amid ornament or mythic scenes. One of the most evocative Celtic crucifixion scenes is on a Manx stone of this type. Although it is a broken fragment, the remains of a late eighth-century slab from the Calf of Man depicts Christ on the cross, with Longinus about to spear him. Christ is richly dressed, with a roundel of interlace over his heart. Remarkable though this is, it is outside the mainstream of designs of Manx crosses. Another of the crosses at Maughold resembles Pictish examples, having a carving of a
Above: A representation of the crucifixion on a slab from the Calf of Man. (Manx National Heritage)
Opposite: Reconstructions from fragments of crosses from Kirk Conchan, Isle of Man, showing 'wicker-work' interlace and guardian dogs of Conchem/St Christopher.
whccl-hcad cross, on cither side of which is a seated monkish figure, representing Paul and Anthony, a popular theme in the Celtic church.
The 'boss' or 'serpent stone' style of the Pictish stones and the western Scottish and Irish crosses also appeared in the Isle of Man. At Maughold, Crux Guriat is a flat slab which has five bosses in a cross-pattern, carved just inside the ring of a wheel-head. The bosses, however, arc in a much lower relief than those elsewhere and are not carved with the 'serpent's egg' interlace patterns. Furthermore, there is no actual cross within the circle. Unlike Crux Guriat, the Conchan crosses (see page 113) known by their prosaic catalogue numbers 92 and 93, are the forerunners of the free-standing stone crosses. Although they are slabs carved with crosses and beasts, it is likely that the tops of the stones were rounded to conform with the outline of the wheel-cross. In these two crosses, the wheel-head, cross and shaft are all composed of continuous interlace patterns, resembling nothing less than crosses composed entirely of wickerwork. Like others of this kind in Scotland, they give us the impression that the whole cross-slab is a picture of a free-standing cross in the land. Perhaps they represent wooden or wickerwork crosses that have not survived. The other Conchan cross illustrated (No. 74) is closer to the Irish tradition, where the cross-part and wheel-part are separated, as though the wheel is behind the cross as its support rather than integral with it. The form of cross where the stone has been shaped into a rounded form outlining the wheel, supported on a wide base like those at Llantwit Major and Margam, is also known in the Isle of Man, for example in a cross from Kirk Braddan and another at Lonan, which has the close, wickerlike interlace of the Conchan crosses. The next step in this development came when the cross 'escaped' entirely from the slab, and the freestanding stone Celtic Cross was born.
Under Norse rulership, which initially was Pagan, syncretic religious practices evolved, in which Christian and Pagan elements which had the same symbolic meaning co-existed alongisde one another. Thus, Odin, Thor, Heimdall and other gods of the northern pantheon were carved by the Northmen. Also, the spirits of the land, rarely present in other Celtic crosses, the dwarfs, gnomes, trolls, giants and dragons, made their appearance on the Northmen's crosses in Man. These Manx crosses are important mythologically, for they depict several significant episodes from Norse sacred stories, including elements recognizable from the Pagan scriptures known as The Edda. Episodes from the life of the hero Sigurd Fafnirsbane are depicted on a number of Manx crosses,
Opposite: Manx cross-fragments with episodes from Norse religion. Top row, left to right: Thor Cross, Kirk Bride, with beasts and shield-knot; Kirk Maughold, with beasts trampling corpse; Malew, fragment with episode from the legend of Sigurd Fafnirsbane the dragon-slayer.
Lower row: cross-slab from Jurby, with carving of Heimdall/Gabricl with his horn of summoning; wheel-head with Odin and the wolves (Daniel in the lions' den).
most notably those from Jurby, Malew and Maughold. The broken cross from Jurby shows the hero Sigurd, Wagner's Siegfried, killing the dragon Fafnir. Another cross from Jurby shows the Rainbow Bridge, Bifrost, with Hcimdall the warder of Asgard sounding the Gjallarhorn to summon all the gods to battle against the forces of destruction. On a cross thought to be the memorial of King Olaf the Red, who was killed at Ramsey in 1153, arc depictions of the story of the trickster-god Loki. The Kirk Bride cross depicts the four dwarfs that hold up the sky in Norse cosmology, Nordri, Ostri, Sudri and Vestri; a figure with a staff, perhaps Odin; Thor, fighting the World Serpent; and the giant Rungnir. On a slab from Andreas, we can see Odin in combat with the Fenris-Wolf. Like the Cumbrian Gosforth Cross, the Manx crosses of the Norse period arc wonderful examples of 'dual faith' religious syncretism, where archetypal myths of different systems coexist in perfect harmony.
Eighth-century Anglian runes have been found on the remains of crosses at Maughold, spelling out the names Blagc-Mon and---gmon.
Both crosses have an early form of the cross pattee inscribed inside a circle, with remains of the Greek letters alpha and omega. Other runic inscriptions on Manx crosses arc in the later Scandinavian runes of the tenth to thirteenth centuries. A stone found at Kirk Maughold bears an invocation in thirteenth-century runes: 'Krist: Malaki and Patrick: Adamnan: But of all the sheep Iuan is the priest in Kurna valley.' Although this runic inscription appears to be in honour of a Christian priest, when we encounter runic invocations to the saints it was not necessarily Christians who carved them. The process of making saints in the church is identical to the apotheosis of Pagan heroes who enter the pantheon to become divine, in the manner of Hercules or Alexander the Great. It is only according to the theological doctrine of the Christian religion that they do not become gods. Yet, like their Pagan counterparts, they also enter the otherworldly realms, from which they may be invoked to grant aid to human beings. Recognizing this, the Pagan Danes in Ireland invoked St Patrick as the god of the land in their struggles against the Norwegians there. As recorded in the Irish Annals of Mac Firbis: 'This St Patrick, against whom these
Under Norse rulership ... syncretic religious practices evolved, in which Christian and Pagan elements which had the same symbolic meaning co-existed alongside one another.
enemies of ours have committed many evils, is archbishop and head of the saints of Erin. Let us pray to him fervently and let us give alms to him honourably for gaining victory and triumph over our enemies.'
The Celtic Cross form is not unknown outside the British Isles, though its connection with the Celts may be tenuous or fortuitous, for occurrences are few and far between. In the late medieval period, small wayside crosses with wheel-heads about a metre (3 ft) in diameter were erected in parts of Germany. The example illustrated here is from Calden, near Kassel. Also, in southwestern France and northern Spain, the traditional Basque tombstones, known as estela discoidea, include wheel-crosses as well as eight-fold wheels and hexagrams. Perhaps more closely related to the authentic Celtic tradition was an intriguing cross illustrated by the Danish antiquary Ole Worm in 1651 in Book Six of his Danicorum Momimentorum. This stone cross stood at Julskovkorset on the island of Fiinen. It was in the form of a wheel-headed high cross that bore the inscription: 'In the year 1445 Wolfgang and his son Oluf had these letters chiselled.' A labyrinth was carved on the cross-shaft. Unfortunately, this remarkable high cross no longer exists. During the nineteenth century, the influence of the Celtic revival saw the erection of Celtic Crosses wherever there was British influence. In Brittany, a small British-style Celtic Cross was set up as a finial on the holy well at St Cado.
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