Restoration of St Oran’s Cross

Iona, St Orans Cross

St Oran’s Cross: front and back of the upper arm (photographs by J.B. Mackenzie in J.R. Allen & J. Anderson The Early Christian Monuments of Scotland, 1903)


News of an interesting project relating to St Columba and the monastery on Iona. This year – the 1450th anniversary of the monastery’s foundation – the museum at Iona Abbey will be unveiling the newly restored St Oran’s Cross.

Standing more than 11 feet tall, this magnificent free-standing cross is one of the finest early medieval monuments in Scotland. It was carved in the 8th century, probably at the request of a king, and would have been a prominent feature in the monastic precinct. In more recent times it has lain in a horizontal position in the Iona Abbey museum, broken into five pieces. Experts from Historic Scotland have put the pieces together and will re-erect the cross as part of a new exhibition of Iona’s carved stones. Visitors will then be able to fully appreciate how impressive this monument must have looked during the monastery’s heyday.

For further information, see this article at The Scotsman website and the entry for St Oran’s Cross on the Canmore database.

For a good illustration of the carvings, take a look at Ian G Scott’s brilliant drawing.

I am grateful to Michelle Ziegler for pointing me to a news item at medievalists.net.

I’ve written about the history of Iona in my recent book on Saint Columba.

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6 comments on “Restoration of St Oran’s Cross

  1. ritaroberts says:

    This must be some carving to look upon. The photo’s are brilliant but there is nothing like gazing at the real thing. Thankyou for sharing.

    • Tim says:

      Thanks Rita. It does look mightily impressive. Reminds me of the Dupplin Cross in Perthshire, one of the finest examples of Pictish sculpture, commemorating King Constantin. Some people think St Oran’s was also carved for a Pictish king, which would explain the similarity.

      • Maybe donated by a king to the monastery. At what point to Scottish/Pictish kings begin to be buried at Iona?

        • Tim says:

          Seems the first Pictish king to be buried on Iona was Brude son of Beli, the victor of Dun Nechtain, in 693. The earliest royal burial mentioned in the sources is Ecgfrith (685) but I would think he was preceded by one or more Dal Riatan kings, e.g. Eochaid Buide or his son Domnall Brecc. Aedan mac Gabrain, whom we might have expected to be buried on Iona, was supposedly interred at Kilkerran in Kintyre.

  2. Jo Woolf says:

    I can’t wait to see this cross! I had never heard about it until recently.

    • Tim says:

      I’d like to see it too, but not sure when, so if you get there first and post a photo on your blog I’ll link to it from here.

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