Monday, October 05, 2009

The crosses of Oronsay

Walking up to Oronsay House, I asked Mrs Colburn if it was easy to get to the Oronsay Cross.

"You will find two crosses very easily, they are just beside the Priory."

"Oh, I had wondered if we might have passed the old stump of a cross down by the dunes." I replied.

Without a hint of irritation, Mrs Colburn quietly answered "That 'old stump' is the memorial I erected to the memory of my dear husband in the Millennium year."

Oops! "Sorry!"

She continued "I do hope you enjoy your visit, it's such a nice day and there have been so few like it this year."

The Great Cross of Oronsay stands inconspicuously against the farm buildings at the back of the Priory graveyard. It is finely carved on both sides and is thought to have come from Iona.

It has suffered from the weathering of five centuries but this drawing, which was published in Thomas Pennent's, A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1772, shows the west face in detail, when it had been standing for only 272 years. The inscription reads:

'This is the cross of Colinus (Malcolm), son of Christinus MacDuffie

It was carved for Malcolm MacDuffie, the Lord of Colonsay, some time after 1472 and erected before 1500.

This is the beautiful east face of the Oronsay Cross. Next to the Kildalton Cross, on nearby Islay, it is one of the finest crosses in all of SW Scotland.

Another interesting, but older, cross stands on a little knoll to the east of the Priory. In 1881 just the shaft was standing and the present head of the cross lay on the ground beside it. There is some doubt as to whether this is the original head but it has now been replaced atop the shaft.

It is decorated by a rather portly and smiling figure.

From the grounds of the Priory, you can look out over the sea to Jura, Islay and Ireland. It is said that St Columba, who had been banished from Ireland, landed here but proceeded to Iona because he could still see his homeland from Oronsay.

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