Our parishioner, Mr. John Roger, is presently working on a new piece of art for our church’s Narthex. He is carving for us a Celtic High Cross out of Spanish cedar, and once finished, it will be a unique masterpiece of monumental scale about which we can all be very proud. The Knights of Columbus are sponsoring this highly decorated carving for our Church, and it is designed to hang high on the wall in our Narthex. It is hard to get a sense of the scale of the cross, but it will be about twelve feet tall once it is installed. It is so large that it will have to be partially assembled in our Narthex, as it is otherwise too big to deliver through doors and on flatbeds.
At present, John has already roughed in part of its patterns, and over the next months, he will begin to refine the carving by adding layers of detail as these interlacing patterns start to weave in and out in their characteristic style. The primitive figurative style of these bas relief carvings will imitate the ancient standing crosses. A circular nimbus will eventually be added as an essential part of what makes a cross Celtic. Once finished, the four ends of the cross will include carvings of Celtic missionary saints who were instrumental in re-evangelizing Europe after the barbarian invasions brought about what historians call the Dark Ages. This cross will help us recall those heroic saints, invoke their prayers, and tell our children about that period of our history.
This Hiberno-Saxon style of art is what we associate with the post-Roman times in the British Isles (including what is today Ireland, Scotland, Wales, and England). It is sometimes called “insular art” from the Latin word for island, but its influence extended also into Gaul (or France). The famous illuminated manuscript called the Book of Kells gives us a sense of the patterns, figurative style, and symbolism often associated with this art. The Hiberno-Scottish and Anglo-Saxon missionary monks used this beautiful artistic style in the books they took with them in their mission work. Those books from the western isles helped to save civilization and gave Europe something that it had lost with the vandalism of the barbarians.
These missionaries came from remote monasteries in places like Lindisfarne and Iona, where many high crosses of stone once stood. The vast majority of those high crosses were senselessly vandalized centuries later by Protestants, who often pulled them down insisting that they were too Papist. Now and then, some high crosses escaped this Protestant fury, and some have been unearthed and restored here and there as well.
The Celtic High Cross in our Narthex will be carved of wood, not stone, and it won’t be standing, but will be hung on the blank wall above our doors leading into the church. Nevertheless, this beautiful cross will give witness to that period of time in our past. It will also hang there as a warning of what could happen to our own nation if we continue to abandon God. Remember, our ancestors were the barbarians, and we can become barbarous again if we aren’t careful. The world can go dark again, but if it does, then once again, it will be the Gospel of Jesus Christ that will illuminate that darkness.