Chapter 7: Cunga Fheichín (Cong)
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The large processional cross, now preserved in the National Museum
(RIA Collection), and known as "The Cross of Cong," is undoubtedly
one of the finest specimens of metal work, enamel, niello, and
jewellery of its age in the western world. It stands 30 inches
high, and the breadth of the arms is 19
affords so faithful a representation of it, that it is
unnecessary, especially in a work of this nature, to enter into a
minute description of its artistic details. It consists of an oaken
cross, covered with plates of bronze and silver, washed in many places
with a thick layer of gold, and having interspersed golden filagree
work of most minute character around its front centre.
All the front
and back plates are elaborately carved with that intertwined pattern,
or strap work, with grotesque animals, which is specially
characteristic of Irish ornamentation on stone, metal, vellum, and
vitreous composition, and which is seen on so many of our great
monumental crosses, and is well represented in the Moytura Cross,
figured at page 89.
The outer corners of each compartment were
originally studded with precious stones, glass, or figured enamel
paste, in white, and dark blue colours. Supported upon a raised boss,
decorated with niello in the centre, there is a large polished
crystal, under which was placed originally the relique sent from Rome
to King Turloch O'Conor, in 1123, and thus stated in the Annals of
Innisfallen under that year: "A bit of the true cross came into
Ireland and was enshrined at Roscommon by Turloch O'Conor." And,
again, in the Book of Clonmacnois, under the year 1136, we read, that
Roderick O'Conor and Nuada O'Concennan were arrested by Turloch O'Conor
although under the protection of the Comharba of St. Jarlath,
and of O'Duffy and of the Bacall Buidhe, or "the yellow staff," by
which name, as Dr. Petrie, in his learned article upon the subject,
See proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, vol. iv, p572; also Dr.
O'Donovan's dissertation on this inscription in the Journal of the Kilkenny
Archaeological Society, vol. i, new series, p. 37; see also his Irish Grammar.
this shrine was popularly called from its golden
Around its sides there are a series of Latin and Irish
inscriptions both in the Irish character; the letters are punched into
the silver plate, apparently by dies or types, and so deeply that the
metal plates beneath are indented with almost equal sharpness; and
this enables us to read uninterruptedly even where the external plate
has been injured.The foot of the cross springs from a highly
decorated dog's head, which rises out of a globe, the ornamentation of
which, in detail, is a marvel of the workmanship of its own or any
other period.Beneath that ball is a decorated socket, into which was
inserted the staff or pole with which the cross was carried. The
inscription affords, unerringly, the history of this magnificent
relique, the time and purpose for which it was made, and recounts the
names of those in any way concerned in its formation. The following is
a facsimile engraving of the Latin inscription, which is in duplicate
on both sides of the lower portion of the edges:
Or, in modern characters--Hac cruce crux tegitur qua pasus [passus]
conditor orbis. "In this cross is covered the cross on which the
Founder of the world suffered."
Some of the Irish inscriptions are slightly defective, but
sufficient remains to furnish us with the following information: "A
prayer for Mureduch U Dubhthaig, the Senior of Erin"--the notice of
whose death at Cong, in 1150, is given at page 87.
"A prayer for Therrdel U Chono [Turlough O'Conor] --for the King of
Erin; for whom this gressa [or shrine] was made."
Another portion of this inscription refers to the ecclesiastic whose
death is recorded at page 88:
"A prayer for Domnull Mac Flannacáin U
Dubdaig [O Duffy], bishop of Connacht and Coharb, of [Saints] Commán
and Ciarán, under whose superintendence the shrine was made"--which
also lends support to the assertion already made that the work was
completed at Ros Comáin, where O'Duffy was Abbot of the celebrated
monastery of St. Commán, as well as that of St. Ciarán at Clonmacnois.
"The fourth, and last compartment," says Dr. Petrie, " of these
inscriptions, is not the least valuable, though it only preserves the
name of a person of inferior station--that of the artificer who made
the shrine, as it proves incontestibly what without it might, and
probably would have been deemed doubtful; namely, that the shrine was
of native workmanship."
"A prayer for Maelisu Mac Bratdan O'Echan, who made this shrine."
This O'h-Echain was comharba of St. Finnén, of Cloncraff, in the
county of Roscommon.
Probably the cross was brought to Cong Abbey by the O'Duffys; but as
to what became of it for five centuries we have no historic account.
There is a tradition in the parish that it was kept in an iron box,
with other reliques, about a hundred years ago. The author remembers it
during his boyish days, in the possession of Abbot Prendergast, who
kept it with the other reliques already mentioned, in a three-cornered
cupboard in his little sitting-room at Abbotstown. See page 86.
used, however, be placed upon the altar of Cong chapel at the
festivals of Christmas and Easter. After Fr. Prendergast's death it
was removed to Cong, at which time the central crystal had been
removed, and was usually carried by a lady in her pocket. If still in
existence, it is not known where the relique for which this cross was
made is at present. It must have been a very small fragment, such as
can at present be obtained in the Vatican. The cross was purchased by
the late Professor McCullagh, and presented, in 1839, to the Royal
Irish Academy, where it served to form the nucleus of that great
national collection of secular and ecclesiastical antiquuties, that
for its age and the scanty means at the disposal of those who have
created it, is undoubtedly the finest national collection in Europe.