Discovery of 500 year-old skeletons halts erection of replica cross

Discovery of 500 year-old skeletons halts erection of replica cross

7 March 2018

PLANS to erect a replica eighth century cross at Down Cathedral have been temporarily put on hold after the discovery of skeletons, which are believed to be hundreds of years old.

The 4.5 metre high cross of St Patrick was to have been unveiled this Friday to herald the start of the town’s St Patrick’s Week celebrations.

However, excavation work at the site where the cross is to be put in place, close to the cathedral cemetery, has revealed three skeletons, which are thought to be at least 500 years old.

Archaeologists will need to carry out a more detailed examination and that has meant that the unveiling of the cross has been postponed, possibly until late summer.

It is thought that the skeletons are of monks who lived in the monastery which was situated on the site of the cathedral on the Hill of Down during early Christian and medieval times.

The Dean of Down, the Very Rev Henry Hull, believes the skeletons are at least 500 years old and says the discovery has left him awestruck.

“It is amazing to think that when we pray at Down Cathedral the people who were buried here all those years ago were doing the same thing,” he said.

“This is part of the story of continuous Christian worship on the Hill of Down.”

The new cross, which is made of Mourne granite, is a replica of an eighth century cross, parts of which can be viewed inside the front entrance of the cathedral.

One possibility is that the unveiling will take place in late summer to coincide with the 200th anniversary of the reconsecration of the cathedral.

As for the skeletons, church authorities are discounting any suggestion that they could be saints.

Tradition has it that St Patrick, St Brigid and St Columcille lie buried together at Down Cathedral, giving rise to the well-known couplet: ‘In Down, three saints one grave do fill, Patrick, Brigid and Columcille.’

However, they lie buried in St Patrick’s Grave which will once again be the focus events at the cathedral on St Patrick’s Day.