Christ on the Cross

Textual and material interpretations of Christ’s passion in early Ireland

As far as the medieval world was concerned, Ireland represented the very ends of the earth. And yet, although geographically on the boundaries of Europe, in cultural terms Ireland was a part of the Christian hegemony, the western centre of which was Rome. During the medieval period, Christianity had grown from its origins as a small, marginalized circle of believers living on the outskirts of Roman society to become the most enduring and inclusive of the various institutional, regional and ethnic communities to which a medieval person might belong. Clearly, the process by which this had been achieved did not occur at a uniform rate or in a uniform manner across the various regions that adopted the faith; nevertheless, there were certain constants of universal significance across the Christian world. One such constant was Christ’s crucifixion, which represented a defining moment central to every branch of Christian theology. Yet even this was interpreted in ways divergent enough to cause controversy and the image of Christ on the cross was represented by variant groups accordingly. This project aims to examine the depiction of Christ upon the cross in the textual and material record of Ireland ca. 800-1200 A.D. It will use this complex and defining moment to assess how Irish theologians reacted to continental controversies and will illustrate an aspect of Ireland’s religious history that is rarely acknowledged: that Irish interpretations of Christ upon the cross were profoundly influenced by and influential within the Christian federation. The unique tension created between the conflicting doctrinal stance of the Hibernenses and the Romani in Ireland encouraged and required a creative response to Christiological concerns. That response was the inception of a textual and material culture that revelled in the multivalent readings to be found in the moment of Christ upon the cross.

Project funded by the Department of the Taoiseach, Project Grants Scheme in Theology and Religious Studies

Research team:
Dr Juliet Mullins (Principal Investigator)
Mr Richard Hawtree
Dr Jenifer Ní Ghrádaigh

Please see the English and History of Art websites for further details of the research team, including contact details

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