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Medieval stone crosses, modern problems

Medieval stone crosses are facing serious damage from weathering, erosion and pilgrims. Now people are asking, how can we preserve them for future generations?

The damage to the cross has renewed debate about how we should care for and accommodate our infrastructure of remaining high crosses in Ireland, which are some of the most important early medieval sculptures in the world. Experts estimate that there are some 200 high crosses in Ireland, many in graveyards and religious grounds or located on former monastic sites.

In recent years, there have been efforts to move several of these crosses indoors to purpose-built centres or to pre-existing museums and buildings near their original location. In some instances, copies have been made and placed on the original sites. But the overall national policy is sporadic and it is left to local county councils and dedicated members of the public, in conjunction with the Office of Public Works, to assess and decide on what is the best course of action for high crosses in local areas. It’s a tricky balancing act. Covering the crosses in glass casing to protect them has been tried in Scotland and has not proved the whole answer. Many crosses are in areas that may also contain medieval sundials or perhaps a round tower, so that by isolating them, the symmetry of a site can be hugely compromised.

The notion of moving local crosses to a central museum, say Collins Barracks, is controversial and likely to meet local opposition, while housing the crosses in a building locally requires staff and construction costs, at a time when local heritage budgets are being severely tested.

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