St. Martin’s Cross

The East Face of St. Martin’s Cross, Iona.

ST MARTIN’S CROSS. A high cross of red granite, probably dating from about 800 AD. It is sculptured in low relief and stands 16’8″ high in its stepped base. The name is of no great age.

This cross, whose name was recorded by Lhuyd in 1699, stands in a granite base (no.97) 21m W of the abbey church. It is carved from a single block of grey epidiorite, probably from the Argyll mainland, and is 4.3m in visible height by 1.19m in span. The diameter of the pierced ring is 1.09m and that of the armpits 0.24m. In the ends of the arms are vertical slots, open at the top, which may have housed ornamental panels rather than extensions for the arms. The angles bear roll-mouldings which on the W face extended below the lowest panel to flank an inscription, now indecipherable. The shaft of the E face bears three roundels of snake-and-boss ornament, a coarser variant of that in the same position on St John’s Cross. In the top of the shaft are seven interlaced bosses, each producing two snakes, and the largest of these is also one of the group of five high-relief bosses in the cross-head. That at the centre is set in a ring of nine small bosses linked by spirals, and in the side-arms each boss produces three snakes, while that in the top arm lies between two pairs of rampant leonine beasts. The E face of the ring bears knitted interlace.

On the W face the lowest panel bears six bosses with intertwined serpents, followed by four rows of figure-scenes on an undivided field.

  1. Two pairs of figures, too simplified for identication.
  2. A harper, seated with outstretched legs as on St Oran’s Cross and facing a kneeling man with a (? triple) pipe; a rectangle between them may represent a drum or a book symbolising David’s authorship of the psalms.
  3. Abraham’s sacrifice, with a central figure holding a sword across one shoulder and grasping the hair of Isaac, whose arms are extended above a rectangular altar; the small winged figure of the angel stands at the left.
  4. The seated figure of Daniel between two rearing lions, with a lump which may be the head of another lion to the right.

This theme may continue in the side-arms, where two passant leonine beasts flank a central roundel with the seated Virgin and Child between four small angels, the upper ones forming a canopy. The top arm bears three pairs of back-to-back leonine beasts with intertwined tails.

West Face of St. Martin’s Cross, near to the door of Iona Abbey.

Curator: Christian Clay Columba Campbell

Christian Clay Columba Campbell is a Roman Catholic of the Anglican Use. As Senior Warden of the Cathedral of the Incarnation (Orlando, FL), he organised the process by which the parish accepted the Apostolic Constitution Anglicanorum coetibus, petitioning to join the Catholic Church. The Anglican Cathedral is now the Church of the Incarnation in the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter. Personal queries should be directed to me at eccentricbliss dot com.

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