Published Wednesday, 04 December 2013
The cross will be moved to a museum and a replica will be installed. (© UTV)
The Downpatrick High Cross will become the centrepiece of an important new extension at Down County Museum which is to be built soon.
The intricately patterned Mourne granite cross, carved around AD 900 as a 'prayer in stone', is of huge historical and cultural as well as religious significance.
Its first location is believed to have been the early medieval monastery on the Hill of Down.
Following the Reformation, the High Cross was taken down and was used as Downpatrick's market cross, suffering damage in a busy town centre location before being dismantled and its parts dispersed around the town.
In the 1890s the parts were gathered together by Francis Joseph Bigger and reconstructed outside Down Cathedral, with the help of subscriptions from generous donors.
Having suffered erosion from centuries of weather, the cross will be moved again to ensure it survives the years to come.
On Thursday the High Cross will be removed and relocated in a protected environment as the first step in a sixteen month programme to protect and display this unique piece of Irish art.
Once safely positioned in Down County Museum, the High Cross will be cleaned, drawn and photographed by a team of experts.
It will be replaced, next year, by an exact replica which will be made by a Kilkeel stonemason using granite to be blasted from a local quarry at Thomas Mountain later this month.
New photographs and scans of the cross done in preparation for the move have already revealed new details of the carvings which have not been apparent in recent years, this has led to revised interpretations of the biblical scenes from the Old and New Testaments depicted on the stone.
The project has been made possible due to both the Church of Ireland, which has agreed to a long-term loan and the Northern Ireland Environment Agency which has given consent for the officially protected Cross to be moved to the museum and is funding its removal and conservation, and funding the creation of a detailed replica of the cross.
The key funding of almost £500,000 for the Museum's new extension and exhibitions has been provided by the East Border Region and the European Union's INTERREG IVA Cross Border Programme managed by the Special EU Programmes Body.
Down District Council is also providing funding to promote Downpatrick's Early Christian and St Patrick-related heritage.
© UTV News