Kildalton Cross

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The Kildalton Cross on Islay is a masterpiece of 8th-century religious art. It’s closely related to three major crosses in Iona – St John’s, St Martin’s and St Oran’s. Remarkably, the cross still stands where it was erected over 1,200 years ago, the only early Christian cross still standing in its original position. Excavation in 1882 showed that there was an even earlier Christian cross-slab on the site, as well as burials. The cross stands 2.65m high, and the span of the arms is 1.32m. It is carved from grey-green chlorite schist, a hard and durable local stone that has preserved the carving. Although somewhat weathered, the main features can still be identified. The west face of the shaft is carved with geometric designs, comprising two roundels made up of ‘snake-and-boss’ decoration. Four inward-facing lions symbolise Christ as the Lion of Judah. The east face of the shaft contains rich spiral-work woven around five open roundels. It includes what appear to be peacocks feasting on grapes, a detail paralleled in the Book of Kells. The cross-head depicts the Virgin and Child. The left arm of the cross depicts Cain slaying Abel, and the right arm the sacrifice of Isaac by Abraham. Within the top arm two angels stand above a figure gripping the jaws of a rearing beast. Above is a horned animal.