The Cross of Church, State and Cong

1 Apr

While I was searching around the National Museum, I stumbled upon a dark room with a bright box at the end of the hall. The contents within was one of the most beautiful crosses I had ever seen, every bit of it magnificently gleaming, covered in designs and animal carvings that were evident of careful handwork. An oak masterpiece dressed in sheets of bronze, intertwined with streams of silver, with points of deep blue stone inlaid within the cross made up this artifact. It was the Cross of Cong I was seeing, within the Treasury Exhibition, the most exquisite example of medieval Irish art form. Naturally I saw many crosses in my tour of the museum, smaller, larger, darker, brighter, a natural part of the religious Irish history.

On further inquiry, I found the multitude of other crosses in the museum didn’t hold the same historical context of this cross. The Cross of Cong is referred to in Irish as “an Bacall Buidhe” which translates into “the yellow staff”. This description of it adequately fits its history and cultural origins. It was first presented to Tairdelbach Ua Chonchobair (Turlough O’Conor), king of Connacht and high king of Ireland, by Pope Callistus II in A.D. 1123. This allowed O’Conor to assert that the Pope recognised him as the official king of Ireland, it put an end to the vicious fight for lordship of Ireland. In doing this, O’Conor could present himself as a supporter of the church and cleverly extract support from the Church for the benefit of his own political aspirations. This is one of the first times recorded in Irish history of the connection formed between the Church and State, a pattern that would repeat itself countlessly through Irish history, even in current day events. It is one of the last surviving artifacts of the Irish Medieval Church, it reflects Viking and Romanesque styles and was influenced by how Irish craftsmen were drawn to new artistic styles. There is a tradition presented with this cross that goes deeper than just being a gift, it is a symbol of the origins of the intermingling between the interests of religion and that of politics, being a reflection of each other in the laws and social trends.

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