Nestled in the Irish landscape, the Kilclispeen Monastery and its remarkable Kilklispeen High Cross stand as silent witnesses to a bygone era. The monastery, with its deep spiritual significance, and the intricately carved cross, with its rich symbolism, offer a glimpse into the intertwined history of faith and artistic expression. This article delves into the history of the Kilklispeen or Kilclispeen Monastery, deciphers the intricate design of the Kilklispeen High Cross, and uncovers the profound meaning behind its decorative elements.

Kilclispeen Monastery: A Spiritual Haven

The Kilclispeen Monastery believed to have been founded in the early medieval period, was a place of spiritual devotion and contemplation. Located in a quiet corner of the Irish countryside, this monastic complex provided a haven for monks seeking solitude, prayer, and study. These monasteries were not just religious centers; they were also repositories of knowledge, where scribes meticulously transcribed manuscripts and illuminated texts, preserving a wealth of information for future generations.

The Kilclispeen Monastery was established there somewhere between the 5th and 7th centuries. St. Crispen, a man whose identity is uncertain, may have been the founder of the monastery. There is little left of this monastery, with the exception of two tall crosses that date back to the 8th century and are known as the "North Cross" and the "South Cross." The two crosses that can be seen at the cemetery each stand at a height of 4 meters, are constructed out of sandstone and depict different passages from the bible. In addition, the foundation for a third cross may be seen on this religious site.

The Kilclispeen Monastery played a vital role in the spiritual and cultural life of the region, fostering a sense of community and contributing to the development of Irish identity. It was within the bounds of this monastery that the Kilklispeen High Cross would rise, bearing witness to the religious and artistic aspirations of its creators.

The Kilklispeen High Cross: A Masterpiece of Symbolism

The Kilklispeen High Cross stands as a masterpiece of Celtic artistry, its surface adorned with intricate carvings that weave together stories and symbolism. At first glance, the cross is a Christian icon, but upon closer inspection, its decorative elements reveal a deeper layer of meaning.

The cross is composed of a shaft and arms, culminating in a circular shape at the center. This circular feature holds profound symbolism: it represents eternity, as it has no beginning or end. This motif, often referred to as a "wheel" or "ring," is a common element in Celtic art and signifies the eternal nature of God and His love.

The Four Projections: Head, Heart, Hands, and Feet

The unique feature of the Kilklispeen High Cross is the presence of round projections at the center and on the arms of the cross. These projections hold specific symbolism — they represent the head, heart, hands, and feet of the crucified Christ.

  1. Head: The projection at the top of the cross symbolizes Christ's head. It serves as a reminder of His ultimate sacrifice and divine wisdom. This positioning emphasizes Christ's authority and reign as the King of Heaven.

  2. Heart: The projection on the horizontal arm of the cross symbolizes Christ's heart, representing His love and compassion for humanity. It speaks to the profound selflessness and devotion that Christ demonstrated through His sacrifice.

  3. Hands: The projections on either side of the cross's shaft symbolize Christ's outstretched hands on the cross. They serve as a visual reminder of His embrace, welcoming all who seek His grace and salvation.

  4. Feet: The projection at the base of the cross symbolizes Christ's feet, highlighting His grounding presence in the world and His journey to the depths of human suffering.

Dating and Historical Context

The Kilklispeen High Cross is estimated to date back to the early tenth century, placing it within a period of Irish history marked by the synthesis of Christianity with pre-existing Celtic traditions. During this time, intricate stone crosses served as markers of sacred spaces, teaching tools, and expressions of faith. The Kilklispeen High Cross, with its unique design and symbolism, is a product of this era of cultural and spiritual fusion.


The Kilclispeen Monastery and the Kilklispeen High Cross form a harmonious tapestry of history, spirituality, and artistry. Through the monastery, we glimpse the lives of devoted monks seeking a deeper connection with the divine. The cross, with its intricate carvings and profound symbolism, speaks to the enduring power of faith and the craftsmanship of those who carved it.

As we stand before the Kilklispeen High Cross today, we are reminded of the convergence of spiritual devotion and artistic expression that shaped its creation. The round projections, representing Christ's head, heart, hands, and feet, provide a visual language for understanding His sacrifice and love. The cross continues to beckon us to reflect on our own spiritual journey and to appreciate the timeless beauty of Celtic artistry.