[From Manx Crosses, 1907]

Art of the Manx Crosses

D OCTOR ANDERSON'S Introduction to The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland 1 gives an admirable review of the whole monumental system of the early Christianity of the British Isles.

In this system our Manx Monuments, as I hope to show by these pages, have an honourable place, with distinct local peculiarities.

As the primitive Christianity of Britain was an extension westwards ot the Christianity of the Roman Empire, so the early Christian monuments of the British Isles form, as Dr. Anderson says, an extension westwards of the monumental system of that Empire, in the period succeeding the reign of Constantine. The influence of Roman civilization was less felt in Britain than on the Continent, and we find, as a local peculiarity, that it " is the only province of the old Roman Empire in which inscriptions on the early Christian monuments appear in the vernacular as well as in the Latin language."

" The figure of the cross," Dr. Anderson continues, " is absent from the earlier monuments both of Britain and Gaul. But from the time of Constantine the monogram composed of the first three letters of the name XPICTOC, became the distinctive symbol of the faith, and was so used on the monuments." Later, " a horizontal bar placed across the elongated stem of the Rho produced a form, which was the precursor of the symbol of the cross." We find a series of monuments showing a gradual change in the form by the broadening of the ends both of the Chi and Rho, and by shortening the stem and reducing the tail or loop of the latter to a tiny flourish, thus presenting the appearance of a plain cross patee. Mr. Romilly Allen in his Early Christian Symbolism, pp. 86-90, has traced the development of the cross as a design on these monuments from the monogram which originated in Constantine's dream; after A.D. 323, this "was universally recognised as signifying the name of the Saviour, and used . . . throughout the whole range of sacred art." Of this monogram there are three examples in the West of England, one in North Wales, four in the South- West of Scotland, and, as we have now discovered, one in the Isle of Man.

(1) S. Just ; (2) Penmachno ; (3) 4) Kirkmadrine ; (5) Whithorne ; (6) Aglish ; (7) Maumenorig; (8) Modern Dedication Cross, S. Olave's Church, Ramsey, 1860.

The very instant of change into the cross is to be seen on the two stones at Kirkmadrine, Wigtownshire, and on one at Whithorne (fig. 7, numbers 3, 4, 5), where the cross, surrounded by a circle, has widely-expanded terminations to the limbs and a shaft attached, the only trace of its origin which remains being the little flourish at the right-hand upper corner representing the loop of the Rho. It only wants the limbs to be extended by square ends beyond the circle, and the shaft to assume larger proportions, in order to convert it into a typical Celtic cross ; the hollow recesses at the junction of the limbs, which distinguish it from all other forms of cross, being the survival of the spaces between the vertical and horizontal arms of the Chi with widely-expanded ends; while the circle connecting the limbs represents that which originated in the wreath or crown of glory within which the monogram is so often inscribed. On a monument at Milan we find this circle thus explained, also the symbols Alpha and Omega and Chi-Rho 2 :-

Milan monument

The form with the horizontal bar, is met with in Gaul on monuments dating from 400 to 540. Thus " we obtain a definite starting point in the correspondence of the earliest Christian monuments of Britain with those of Gaul attributed to the fifth and sixth centuries of the Christian era-the whole British group of inscribed monuments of this early class being manifestly an extension westwards of the Continental group, but with inevitable local and racial variations." 3

In Ireland the British type of early inscriptions in the Latin language and in Roman capitals gives place to the vernacular Celtic incised in Ogams. In Wales, with Devon and Cornwall, also are some Ogam inscriptions in the vernacular, many accompanied by Latin of similar sense. Dr. Anderson thinks the Ogam originated in Ireland, and that the oldest inscriptions are "not very much later" than the fifth century. Professor Rhys dates their origin as "probably about the fourth century," the inventor possibly being one of the race of invaders from the South of Ireland, who had visited South Wales and seen the Roman inscriptions there.

The earliest inscriptions in Man are in Ogams, and Irish in type; then we have one or two in Latin of British or Hiberno-Saxon type. The earliest decorated pieces also show generally Irish, but in a few instances British, influence, while Northumbrian appears only to be represented in one or two pieces from Maughold; from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, the monuments are Scandinavian in workmanship, though evidently evolved from Celtic models. In all, a hundred and sixteen examples have been brought to light, distributed over the whole Island,4 but no locality has proved to be so rich in them as that of Maughold on the east coast, where are no fewer than thirty-seven-one-third of the total-and more than any four other parishes.

In drawing conclusions, however, from their distribution, we must bear in mind that many others are known to have been broken up and used as material by the builders, while some have been carried off the Island,' others lost. We know of one 5 which was buried deep underground from a belief that it had been the cause of murrain to the man's cattle! Others, again, are still hidden in the walls of old churches-indeed, it is from the demolition or extensive restoration of these buildings that so many have been brought to light.

Of those which have been brought to light, the greater number-ninety-are now in Parish Churches, Keeils, and Churchyards 6; fifteen are in the Insular Museum; five in private houses or gardens; five in open fields or by the side of the high road; and one, which has been described and figured, is lost.

At least eighty of these have been upright slabs, roughly rectangular in outline, of which about fifty are complete or nearly so, and twenty or thirty are represented by broken fragments- seldom more than one fragment of a single cross. Only two or three appear to have been recumbent. Eight of the slabs have the upper corners rounded, while about a dozen more may be described as Wheel-crosses, the head being rounded to the point where it joins the shaft, with the limbs in some cases very slightly projecting. Eight are boulders and unhewn pillars ; two early pieces are cruciform in outline, and two of the latest (one broken) are pillar crosses of Celtic type ; one appears to have been an altar-stone, and one apparently an architectural detail in a church.

Of the fifty unbroken, the largest is the Clagh Ard (High stone) at Port St. Mary, eleven feet four inches; the next the Joalf Cross, Michael, ten feet; and Roolwer Cross, Maughold, nine feet. The smallest is nine inches, Peel, and the average about four feet six inches.

Those that remain fall naturally into two divisions-the pre-Scandinavian, which for convenience we may speak of as Celtic, and the Scandinavian.

Of the pre-Scandinavian we know of seventy-one examples, including the one now lost, but seen and figured by Kinnebrook and Cumming. Their distribution is remarkable-namely, thirty from the parish of Maughold ; seven from Lonan ; five each from Conchan and Braddan ; four each from Rushen, German, and Marown ; three from Santon ; two each from Malew and Arbory ; and one each from Bride, Lezayre, Patrick, Michael, and Jurby. In all, forty-one "Celtic" pieces from the Northern District and thirty from the Southern.

These may be sub-divided into slabs which are merely incised, very few of which show any decoration, and those which are sculptured in relief, some of which exhibit great beauty of design and excellence of workmanship equal to any monuments of similar character met with elsewhere. Intermediate between these are half-a-dozen showing sunk work.

The cross-slabs of our first class, Pre-Scandinavian, are rarely inscribed, and as regards the more primitive examples, we are only able to judge of their probable sequence by the form and development of the cross upon them, and by their appearance generally. The later pieces afford more solid grounds for judgment by the style of their decorative treatment.

Of symbolism on these early pieces we have very little-a solitary instance of the Alpha and Omega; one example of the cross-form, showing clearly its development from the Chi-Rho monogram, and approximating to those at Kirkmadrine ; and the "Celtic" form of cross which is derived from that sacred symbol. In one case, Maughold 65, the pastoral staff no doubt denotes the episcopal office, and I regard the figure of a ladle, Lonan 49, as used symbolically to denote the priestly office-a unique instance.

As regards inscriptions, we have three in Latin, one of them of the Welsh type, in debased Roman capitals, one in Hiberno-Saxon capitals and Minuscules, and one in Hiberno-Saxon Minuscules. Of Ogams we have four which, if their history were not known, could not be distinguished from those of Munster, while three of much later date belong to the "Scholastic" or Pictish group of the north-east of Scotland and the Northern Isles. A single example in Anglian Runes forms a link with the Northumbrian group.

1 The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, by J. Romilly Allen, F.S.A., Hon. F.S.A.Scot. ; and an Introduction being the Rhind Lectures for 1892, by Joseph Anderson, LL.D.

2 Early Christian Monuments, Intro., p. xvi.

3 Ibid., p. vi.

4 Among those taken off the Island, Mr. Wallace had three pieces in his museum at Distington, near Whitehaven. After his death, however, these were purchased by the Insular Government, and have now been returned and placed in the temporary museum at Castle Rushen.

5 This was in a field near St. John's. Before the old man's death about eight years ago, the Rev. J. Corlett, Chaplain of St. John's, and I tried to discover where he had buried it, but he had forgotten or was unable to describe the exact spot, and though we tried several times, our labour was in vain.

6 Including Peel, where four are built into the Cathedral walls, and one is stored in the modern Guard-house.


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