The Blessing of the Celtic High Cross at MRC

Reflection by Fr. Daniel Manger,OSB,Cam.

On a wind swept and sunny day Prior Cyprian and the monks and oblates having celebrated Eucharist processed down to the meadow toward the entrance of the property where the Celtic High Cross replica was installed just weeks earlier by Mike Houston and his volunteers. Amidst the ʻIrish Hills or Valleyʼ as some locals call it and its brilliant spring green sweet grass covered mountains the Celtic Cross stands we chanted: “We should glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.ʼ from our Camadolese Holy Week liturgy, as the blessing was given at this place of meditation. The particular Celtic Cross replica donated to the monastery, is one of four historical crosses of the period of the late 9th century found in Ireland. The Muiredach replica that now graces the monasteryʼs front meadow and ancient field stones on Sierra Romualdo mountain was commissioned by a king who wanted to honor the two abbots of the Abbey of Monsasterboice in the county of Louth Ireland. There is an inscription on the cross in Gaelic that reads; “Or do Muiredach las indernad in chros.” (“A prayer for Muiredach who had this cross made.”) King Muiredach had the cross carved on an ancient ʻstanding stoneʻ archeologists theorize that was set up by the ancient Celts in pre-Christian times.

The high cross represents the ʻworld treeʼ (wisdom & knowledge) in ancient Celtic times, but for the Catholic Celts the cross was the Tree of Life upon which the Christ its fruit bore, as the bread of life and fountain of salvation in his precious blood. In fact the entire cross ingeniously becomes a catechism of the faith of the church upon which an illiterate person could learn salvation history and belief in the true God and Savior Jesus, along with figures of the Old Testament and New Testament and saints. The ancient art forms of the Celts are invested with new knotting of Christian faith. The circle around the cross is the symbol of both space and time and for the Celtic monks that in Christ all time and all the universe in its cosmic dimensions are created and sustained in the destiny of the ʻnew creationʼ. The circle divides into four spaces representing the four gospels. Salvation in Jesus Christ re-interprets ancient beliefs and holds a future of hope that encompasses the cyclical nature of ancient thought. The cross at the top is symbol of the Southern direction of the compass and encloses the meaning of summer and of youth, and Divine wisdom. The base of the cross symbolizes the North and represents ancestral wisdom, maturity, old age and winter and the underworld. The

West side of side of the cross which faces sunset symbolizes Jesusʼ passion and resurrection which are depicted in the center of the cross beam. The side of the cross which that faces East symbolizes the Cosmic vision of history from Adam and Eve at the base in the garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, David and Goliath. Moses is depicted drawing water from the ʻRockʼ which represents Christ and his blood and water flowing from his wounded side at his crucifixion. Saints Antony of the desert and St. Paul of Thebes in Egypt are in the reliefs and were twin saints of inspiration for the Celtic monks. David from the Old Testament is depicted playing his harp, reminding the monks of the Psalms that were to always be regarded as a principle form of prayer for them.

Christ above his head is surmounted the ancient symbol of the Phoenix, which self-combust and rise again from the ashes and bring healing and new life, just as Christ rose from the dead and brought healing and new life. Thus the whole of the Celtic high cross is shaped with many biblical symbols and Celtic art. We invite all who come to sit in the meadow and find inspiration in the cosmic movement of earth, sky and season where God has placed the book of creation for us read and ponder. The cross was placed on the axis between East and West to honor the ancient understanding of the ʻthinning placesʼ where Celts believed a person could catch a glimpse of eternity at sunrise and sunset.

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