Permanent Exhibition - Raising the Cross in Down
This permanent exhibition tells the story of the Downpatrick High Cross and its place in the early Christian tradition of County Down.
A fascinating collection of artefacts illustrates the story of the development of Christianity in the locality, with the centrepiece being the 10th century Downpatrick High Cross displayed in a specially constructed gallery. This unique object has been carefully moved to ensure its preservation for future generations and makes a stunning impact highlighting its importance in our local history.
The new gallery tells the story of how St Patrick first raised the Cross in the area in the 5th century, and how the monks of the monastery of Down later set up the High Cross in about 900 AD. Having been dismantled in 1729, and the pieces dispersed, the Cross was reconstructed outside the east end of Down Cathedral in 1897. Due to severe weathering the Cross was removed to Down County Museum where it was conserved and reconstructed in a protected environment between 2013 and 2015. An exact replica of the ancient Cross, made of the same type of Mourne granite, was placed outside the Cathedral in 2014.
The exhibition follows the story of the High Cross in parallel with the story of St Patrick’s legacy - the establishment of Christian sites on the Hill of Down and in the surrounding area.
The High Cross has been reconstructed with a new socket stone, based on the remains of the original in Down Cathedral, and a new capstone, both made of Mourne granite. The carvings on the Cross have been carefully lit in order to show the details of the craftsmanship of 1100 years ago. Display panels close to the Cross interpret the images carved on the shaft and head of the Cross, and offer clues to the overall meaning of the carved programme.
A number of other stones carved with crosses are now on display in this gallery, including examples from Raholp, Struell, Maghera and Nendrum. The gallery also includes many other stone items, such as a holy water stoup from St John’s Point Church, querns for grinding grain, and architectural fragments from local abbeys. Objects found in the excavations on the Hill of Down in the 1980s are also on display, thanks to the Department of the Environment.
Special features of the exhibition include the 17th-century silver shrine of St Patrick’s Jaw, drawings of the 1200-year-old St Patrick’s Cross, and granite replicas of parts of the Downpatrick High Cross to touch. A short film telling the story of how the Cross was moved, replaced with a replica and reconstructed in the gallery, can also be viewed.
The windows of the new gallery look out on to a truly historic vista of drumlins, water and monuments. A translucent painting of the view as it would have appeared in 1200 AD has been adhered to the window in order to interpret the amazing landscape that can be seen from here.
It is therefore possible to appreciate the dramatically reconstructed High Cross in the context of both the artefacts and the landscape of Early Christian and Medieval Down.