“must surely be regarded as the country’s greatest contribution to European sculpture”

The BBC notes the recommendations of a Conservation Study [9Mb pdf file] for the early medieval ecclesiastical site of Monasterboice, County Louth, commissioned by the Irish government’s Office of Public Works and Louth County Council. In particular, proposals to remove and replace with replicas the likely late 9th to 10th centuries, exceptionally significant, Monasterboice high crosses. From the BBC report

The study notes that there will be opposition to moving the crosses. “Some local residents strongly oppose any option that involves moving the high crosses because of their spiritual connection to the site, and this opinion should be weighed against the potential damage or structural failure of the crosses if they are left in situ without any protection,” it said. “If the crosses are to be moved, it is preferable that they are retained as close as practically possible to their current location so that they retain their link to the ecclesiastical enclosure.”

From the study’s summary [pdf file]

The preservation of crosses

While a number of structures on the site require conservation, and there are a number of pressing issues that need to be addressed, none present as urgent or as important an issue as the protection of the crosses.

Arising from the study, it is clear that on-going weathering and the existing public access will cause the continuing deterioration of the high crosses. A range of options for the preservation of the crosses have been examined. All of these options involve the crosses remaining within the immediate vicinity of the National Monument. The table below illustrates how the issue was assessed and the options that are available, adopting the following criteria:

(A) Protection from the weather and preservation in present condition in perpetuity.
(B) Round-the-clock security from vandalism/wilful damage.
(C) Protection from casual visitor damage.
(D) Protection of visual integrity and character of monument group and visitor experience of monument.

The Options

The evaluation of the options was guided by principles of best practice in conservation (O=objective achieved; X=objective not achieved)


(1) Moving crosses into purpose-built visitor centre nearby and putting exact replicas, indistinguishable from originals, at the original locations A O B O C O D O

(2) Leaving crosses exposed to continued weathering (and deterioration) where they are and placing high quality replicas within visitor centre A X B X C X D O

(3) Erecting protective railings around crosses A X B X C O D O?

(4) Erecting shelter around crosses (roof only with supports) A O? B X C X? D X

(5) Erecting shelter around crosses (glazed walls and roof) A O? B O C O D X

The other objectives

Depending on the decision agreed in relation to the crosses, all other related decisions, including those relating to the extension to the graveyard, traffic management, visitor management and visitor facilities can be further analysed.

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  • It all depends on how we reconcile our utility of places like Monasterboice: cultural legacies to be preserved, or tourist traps to be exploited? The most “visitor-friendly” compromise has to be the removal and replacement (option 1).

    I am reminded that the same problem was (de)faced on Iona. The St John Cross was removed, repaired and replaced. Not many passers-by notice the substitution (but Iona must have been one heck of a sight — and site — when it had its full estimated complement of a thousand crosses: eat your top-knots off, Easter Island).

    Similarly the Quadriga on the front of St Mark’s, in Venice, are 1960s repro (the originals are inside). Do all the clicking cameras in the Square detect the difference?

    Wasn’t there a suggestion that a replica Stonehenge be erected as an alternative attraction? Or does that suggestion only come up on April 1st? It might not be so daft an idea, anyway: if you know the way to Amarillo, you’ll have seen the Ant Farm’s Cadillac Stonehenge, next door to old Route 66. It has a similar quality of disappointment: like the Wiltshire inspiration it is dwarfed in the landscape (though on Amarillo Boulevard, the locale is semi-urban wasteland).

    Hey! what about a ring of plastic Monasterboice crosses around a central breezeblock round tower, housing a giftshop with those leprechaun hats? Bet the tourists would still come, and go away even happier. The true student could venture round the corner, where they’ve paved paradise and put in a parking lot, and pay a dollar and a half just to see’um.

    Or, perhaps I’m still hungover and jaded from yesterday’s OD on rugby.

  • Bungditin

    Well at least the National Roads Authority aren’t proposing to drive a motorway through the site…yet!

  • joeCanuck

    I have visited historic sites all over the world and viewed replicas, excellent replicas in many cases and subsequently occasionally seen the real ones in State Museums. It makes a lot of sense when they are in danger, obviously from weathering in a country like Ireland. They should go for it.