Insular crozier

Kells Crozier, late 9th, 10th and 11th centuries,[1] British Museum

An Insular crozier is a type of processional bishop's staff (crozier)[2] produced in Ireland and Scotland between c. 800 and 1200 in the contemporary Insular style. They can be distinguished from mainland European types by their curved crooks and pendant drop at the terminal.[3] A number of later examples, as well as earlier croziers reworked during the 11th century, include features characteristic of the Romanesque style.[4]

Croziers were symbols of office for bishops or abbots. The format is based on the idea of the shepherd as pastor of his flock, and was popular from the early days of Christianity. The first known mention of the attribute in relation to Ireland is from 431, in the context of the conversion of the Irish population to Christianity.[5] The first insular staffs were produced in the 9th and 10th centuries during periods of political and religious upheaval in Ireland, when authority was often seen as needing to be made explicit, including during battles against invading Vikings. A number of examples, such as the Cath Bhuaidh, found in Iona, are known to have been carried into battle against the Vikings as talismans.

Most Insular croziers have an inner wooden core onto which tubular copper alloy (aka bronze) plates were attached. The crooks tend to be highly decorated with elements such as openwork, and animal designs. As of 2014, fewer than twenty surviving fully intact examples were known, in addition to sixty fragments in various states of completeness.[5][6]

The major extant examples include the Clonmacnoise Crozier (believed to be amongst the earliest Irish metalwork of the medieval period), St Tola's crozier (NMI), the Kells Crozier (9th to 11th centuries), St Mel's Crozier (10th and 12th century),[7] the Aghadoe Crozier (early 11th century),[8][9] and the Scottish Coigreach and St Fillan’s Crozier. The majority of surviving insular croziers are held in the National Museum of Ireland, National Museum of Scotland and the British Museum.

Ecclesiastical and secular functions

Full length of the Kells Crosier

It is unknown exactly what their function in Irish medieval society was, but they were probably of ceremonial use, and some may have held relics in their drops.[10] As the art historian Anthony Lucas points out, at the time the "most prestigious of all Irish relics and the one most frequently mentioned down the years was ... the Bachall Iosa or Staff of Jesus ... [said ] to have been received directly from Heaven by St. Patrick."[11] Although the crosiers represented this tradition, they do not pretend that the wood was from the original staff, but instead may have contained other relics built into the shaft, crook or drop.[11]

River Laune (Innisfallen) Crozier, late 11th century, NMI

As undoubted symbols of wealth and power,[12] the croziers may have at times been used for solemnising treaties, swearing oaths, or even as battle talismans.[1][13] The antiquarian George Petrie noted how, in Ireland, relics of saints "used to be carried to distant places on solemn occasions, in order that rival chieftains might be sworn upon them, so much that the word mionna, which means enshrined relics, came to denote both a relic and an oath."[14][15] The annuals recounting the life of St. Finnchu of Brigown, County Cork mentions a battle against a king of Ulaid where the saint approaches the field with a crozier as a talisman.[11]

The earliest known Irish crozier dates to 596 AD and is entirely made of wood. It was found in a bog at Lemanaghan, County Offaly, and its hook contains a Greek cross inside a circle.[16] Representations of croziers appear in multiple other Insular art formats, including manuscripts, high crosses and stone carvings.[17]


River Laune (Innisfallen) Crozier

Insular croziers were probably made in workshops specialising in metal inlay techniques. The art historian Griffin Murray believes that the master-craftsman behind the Clonmacnoise Crozier may also be responsible for two other extant examples.[18] The croziers vary in size, material, and amount and quality of decoration.[5] A typical length is 1 metre, with the Prosperous Crozier from County Kildare being the largest at 1.33 metres.[19] Their major components are the shaft or staff and attached base, hook and knop. The shaft is generally formed from a wooden core, usually of yew wood, sheeted with metal tubing, and often millefiori discs and inlaid glass bosses.[20] The wooden core was used to support the weight of the hook, given the comparatively thin bronze on the visible shaft.[11] The tubing was in turn fitted with metal plating, usually of copper-alloy or silver, attached by nails and rivets.[21][22][23] In Early Medieval examples, the hook is typically formed from two separate plates fastened by a crest (coat of arms) and a binding strip, and the drop (the plate at the end of the hook) was attached separately. In some Romanesque crosiers, the crest is on the same plate as the crook, to which the drop is attached.[4]

The crooks are positioned at the top of the shaft,[23] and they and the drop are by far the most decorated elements. Some examples are lined with sliver, gold, glass, and niello-style inlay and openwork crests,[20] while the crook of the Aghadoe crozier is crafted from walrus ivory.[24] They are often ornamented with interlace designs, geometric patterns and zoomorphic (portraying humans as non-human animals) figures. The animal designs in the earliest example are depicted in a naturalistic manner, while many of the later examples bear influence from both the Ringerike and later Urnes styles of Viking art.[25][26] Some of the Ringerike style animals bear close resemblance to figures on the margins of ninth-century Insular brooches.[27] The designs on the crook of the Clonmacnoise Crozier are in the Ringerike style, and include snake-like animals with ribbon shaped bodies arranged, according to art historian Patrick Wallace, "in tightly woven knots", while the crest contains a series of "gripping dogs".[26] The Lismore Crozier contains three open-mouthed animals "connected in an Urnes-style mesh."[26]

Crozier head in the NMI

Only five croziers contain inscriptions, however in all but two (the Kells and Lismore Croziers), the lettering is too degraded to be readable.[28][29] The Lismore Crozier contains both the name of the smith (Nechtan),[30] and the name of the Bishop of Lismore who commissioned it,[31] as does the Kells Crozier (smith: Conduilig, bishop: Malfinnen, Archbishop of Leinster).[32]

Surviving examples

Like many Irish medieval religious objects, particularly shrines, some were built in one phase, while others were initially built in the 9th century and were added to or reworked in the 10th and 11th centuries.[17] Many of the croziers were held over the centuries by hereditary keepers, usually generations of a local family, until re-discovered by antiquarians in the early 19th century.[33][34][35]

The art historian Griffith Murray estimates that there is "physical evidence for at least thirty-one Insular-type crosiers from Ireland", and around 20 other fragments composed of shafts, knops and base (ferrule). In addition there are fragments of four eighth-century Insular crosiers in Scandinavia.[6]


1851 drawing of The Prosperous Crozier

This late 9th or early 10 century[36] crozier was found fully intact by turf cutters in 1831 near Prosperous, County Kildare, but did not receive attention from antiquarians until 1851.[37][38] It is made from copper, zinc, and tin alloy, and contains traces of inscriptions, but they are too worn to read.[28] The crozier is in relatively good condition but was split in two halves during the late Middle Ages and recombined in the nineteenth century.[39] It is the longest intact example at a height of 1.34m. Its wooden core is supported by three tubular copper-alloy shaft casings, which hold four shaft knops, a ferrule and the crook.[36]

The drop is lined with decorations of glass and champlevé enamel.[40] The drop contains a modern inscription, probably 18th or 19th century, recording that it was once owned by St. Mary's Abbey, Dublin, although there is no archival evidence to support this claim.[40][36] The crest is decorated with profiles of birds at the top, and a human head at its lower end, that is just above the drop plate.[36]

It is one of the earliest known European croziers, and is kept in the archaeology wing of the NMI and was extensively cleaned and refurbished in the late 20th century.[41]

Crook and drop of the Kells Crozier, 10th century, British Museum

Formed from copper-alloy, silver, gilding and niello, the Kells Crozier was built in three phases. The earliest metalwork occurred during the late 9th or early 10 century, with further adornment occurring during the early 11th and early 12th centuries.[42] The first phase is represented by the wooden core, and copper lined tubing, four closing strips, three copper alloy knopes, the crook, openwork crest and zoomorphic ornamentation. Later embellishments include the silver plates lining the crook, the drop (10th century), and the semi-precious stones (since lost)[43] and niello-inlaid spirals influenced by the Ringerike style added in the 11th century.[1]

The Kells Crozier, at 133 cm, is unusually long, however some of this is due to later additions.[44] The art historian Rachel Moss suggests that because so many parts were replaced, the crozier may "have suffered 'profanation' (sárugud), which is sometimes reported of insignia."[45]

Rediscovered in London in 1851, it is associated with Kells, County Meath based on inscriptions under the crest on the crook (ordo conduilis ocius do mel finnen), which, roughly translated, asks for prayers for Cúduilig (or Cū Duilig) and Maelfinnén (or Máel Finnén). However, as neither have been conclusively associated with historical figures, there is some doubt as to the location of origin. It is in the collection of the British Museum.[45]

Detail of St. Mel's crook plate

Found in the mid-19th century on the grounds of an early medieval church in Ardagh, County Longford,[46] Saint Mel's Crozier dates from the 10th or 11th centuries.[1] The shaft is 84cm long. The crook is made from oak, while the drop has a willow core. The drop's metal casting is secondary, and has an inset (or cavity) to hold a reliquary box, which is now filled with a small block of wood.[47][48] However the reliquary box is slightly too small for the drop, and was probably also a later addition, likely to replace a similar, slightly larger fitting.[49]

The crozier is built from 14 separate metallic parts, with the wooden core lterr lined with silver, gilding, glass and coral.[1] Today the wooden core can be divided into the three parts all now lined with nail holes[50] The collar knope Is designed to hold eight decorative stones, of which three survive: two red coral and one blue glass stone.[51] The staff contains a number of secondary nail holes, indicating that it may have been "dismantled and repaired several times in the past".[52] St. Mel's Crozier is dated based on the style of the zoomorphic designs, which are similar to those on the Kells Crozier.[1]

While well preserved (a number of the plates were damaged, and its last major cleaning and refurbishment was carried out between 1971–2)[52] and studied to that point, the crozier was "almost entirely destroyed" in 2009 when St Mel's Cathedral was decimated in a fire.[46][53] In the aftermath, over 200 recovered objects, including stained glass windows by Harry Clarke and St. Mel's crozier, were taken to National Museum of Ireland for assessment and restoration, although such was the extent of devastation that many were "beyond help".[46][54]

The Lismore Crozier, c. 1100, NMI

The Lismore crozier is dated to 1100 AD and was rediscovered, along with the 15th century Book of Lismore, in a blocked doorway in Lismore castle in 1814.[55] It is 115cm high[6] and built from wood, silver, gold, niello and glass. It is almost fully intact and in good condition with little modern reworking.[55] Its crest contains a procession of animals that continues to a head at the end of the crook. The crook has three small, probably secondary (i.e. added later) reliquaries located in the animal heads and in the drop. The crook is further decorated in both sides with blue glass studs set in set in gold collars, and holding white and red millefiori glass insets.[5][55][43] It is now in the collection of the NMI.[55]

Inscriptions on the metalwork record that it was produced by "Nechtain the craftsman" and commissioned by Niall mac Meic Aeducain, a bishop of Lismore who died in 1113.[56][57] The inscription read "OR DON IAL MC MEICC AEDUCAIN LASAN[D]ERNAD I GRESA" ("Pray for Nial Mc Meicc Aeducain for whom this was made"), and OR DO NECTAICERD DO RIGNE I GRESA" ("Pray for Nechtain, craftsman, who made this object").[57][58] Nechtain placed the inscriptions in a very narrow space and so had to use abbreviations, and in some instances omitted a letter (for example "Niall" is spelled with only one "l", and the central "d" is missing from "Lasandernad").[59]

During a 1966 refurbishment, two small relics and a linen cloth were found inside the crook.[43]

Drawing of the Clonmacnoise Crozier showing the crook, drop and interlace patterns

Thought to be associated with Saint Ciarán,[60] the Clonmacnoise Crozier is dated to the late 11th century. It is 97 cm long, and contains copper-alloy, silver, niello, glass and enamel. The crozier is 13.5 cm high and 15.5 cm wide, and decorated with round blue glass studs and white and red millefiori insets.[61] Snake-like animals are arranged in interlocked rows along the sides,[62] and there are large animal heads in high relief at either side of the base of the crook. The openwork crest was cast contains a row of five crouched dog-like animals.[63] The zoomorphic and interlace patterns are in the Irish Ringerike style and bears strong resemblance to late 11th century additions to the Bearnan Chulain bell shrine, and the early 12th century Shrine of Saint Lachtin's Arm, suggesting a possible origination in Dublin.[24]

The shaft has three large copper-alloy and richly decorated knopes, the largest of which contains a crest and measures 7.5 cm. The other knopes hold crests and are separated by blue studs formed from glass. The central knope is less decorated compared to the other two, but has inlay bands and silver lining. A collar below the upper knope is made of copper-alloy, and contains relief designs of two large cat-like animals facing each other.[63] Clonmacnoise is also the location where the Stowe Missal was discovered.[24]

The Clonmacnoise Crozier is often described as the finest of the surviving examples, in both craftmanship and design.[62]


The drop of the Coigreach, with St Fillan’s Crozier to the right, National Museum of Scotland

While a number of Scottish Insular croziers (or "quigrichs") survive, there are only six extant early Christian examples (the Bachul Mor fragment, the crosier of St Fillan, two drops found at Hoddom, Dumfriesshire, and two unidentified drop now in the British Museum.[64] Their likeness to Irish examples is indicative of the close contact between Scottish and Irish craftsmen, while it is known that a number of Irish metalworkers settled in Scotland.[65] The similarities include methods of construction and their style and decoration. The Scottish croziers are characterised by their angular crook shape with separate abstract drop, with most dated to before the mid-11th century.[66] The designs and patterns on the crook are typically of the Irish or West Highland type.[67]

Both the St. Fillan’s Crozier (11th and 15th centuries) and the Coigreach (13th century) are associated with the Irish hermit monk St. Fillan, who lived in Glendochart in Perthshire, central Scotland.[67] The Coigreach contains silver gilt, filigree.[68] St Fillan’s Crozier is of bronze plates decorated with niello.[69]

The Bachul Mor (English: "Great Staff" or "Great Crozier", sometimes known as "The Crozier of St Moluagh")[70][71] is in very poor condition having lost most of its metal casing and suffered damage to both its crook and ferrule.[72] It remains in the possession of the Duke of Argyll, its hereditary keeper, on the Isle of Lismore, and is thus understudied.[73]

Other well preserved Scottish insular croziers include the St. Donnan's crozier (Eigg), and the Kilvarie Bar-a-Goan (Kilmore, Skye).[74] The Cath Bhuaidh ("Yellow Battler" or "battle victory"),. found in Iona, is traditionally associated with St. Colmcille and thought to have been used as a talisman in a 918 battle between native picts and Viking invaders.[75] In addition fragments have been found in Galloway, Loch Shiel and in a bishop's grave at Whithorn.[67]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Moss (2014), p. 312
  2. ^ Often spelled as "crosier", including by Irish art historians
  3. ^ Murray (2007 a), p. 81
  4. ^ a b Murray (2007 a), p. 89
  5. ^ a b c d Moss (2014), p. 310
  6. ^ a b c Murray (2007 a), p. 82
  7. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), pp. 35–46
  8. ^ Murray (2007 a), p. 80
  9. ^ Moss (2014), p. 312-315
  10. ^ Murray (2021), p. 1
  11. ^ a b c d Lucas (1986), p. 9
  12. ^ "The Lismore Crozier, AD 1100". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved 18 August 2021
  13. ^ Lucas (1986), p. 18
  14. ^ Stuart (1877), p. 12
  15. ^ Lucas (1986), p. 8
  16. ^ O'Carroll; Condit (2000), p. 24
  17. ^ a b O'Carroll; Condit (2000), p. 25
  18. ^ Murray (2021), p. 24
  19. ^ Murray (2021), pp. 113–114
  20. ^ a b Moss (2014), p. 315
  21. ^ Moss (2014), p. 311
  22. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), p. 38
  23. ^ a b Murray (2007 a), p. 79
  24. ^ a b c Moss (2014), p. 314
  25. ^ Bourke (1985), p. 151
  26. ^ a b c Ó Floinn; Wallace (2002), p. 220
  27. ^ Bourke (1985), p. 153
  28. ^ a b Murray (2007 a), p. 88
  29. ^ The other three are the St Dympna's, Prosperous and Ardagh croziers, see Murray (2007 a), p. 88
  30. ^ Ó Floinn; Wallace (2002), p. 221
  31. ^ Ó Floinn; Wallace (2002), p. 235
  32. ^ "Kells Crozier". British Museum. Retrieved 19 August 2021
  33. ^ Murray (2008), pp. 114–116
  34. ^ Murray (2007 b), p. 146
  35. ^ Mitchell (1996), p. 6
  36. ^ a b c d Bourke; Hook (2017), p. 136
  37. ^ Bourke; Hook (2017), p. 134
  38. ^ Bray, Allison. Priceless 'Prosperous Crozier' goes on display to public". Irish Independent, 14 November 2014. Retrieved 28 August 2021
  39. ^ Bourke; Hook (2017), p. 133
  40. ^ a b "The Prosperous Crozier". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved 28 August 2021
  41. ^ Bourke; Hook (2017), p. 135
  42. ^ MacDermott (1956), p. 167
  43. ^ a b c Murray (2007 a), p. 85
  44. ^ Murray (2007 a), p. 83
  45. ^ a b Moss (2014), p. 313
  46. ^ a b c Halpin, Andrew; Gordon Bowe, Nicola. Irish Arts Review, volume 31, No 4, 2014. "From the ashes". Retrieved 29 August 2021
  47. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), p. 40
  48. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), pp. 35, 37, 41
  49. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), p. 38
  50. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), p. 34
  51. ^ McIntyre; Oddy (1973), p. 42
  52. ^ a b McIntyre; Oddy (1973), p. 35
  53. ^ Hogan, Louise. "Bishop promises St Mel's will return to glory following fire". Irish Independent, 29 December 2010. Retrieved 21 August 2021
  54. ^ O’Reilly, Colm. "Recovery of Diocesan Museum Artefacts: Statement Issued on behalf of the Very Rev. Colm O’reilly, D.D., Bishop Of Ardagh and Clonmacnois". Roman Catholic Diocese of Ardagh and Clonmacnoise. Retrieved 21 August 2021
  55. ^ a b c d "The Lismore Crozier". National Museum of Ireland. Retrieved 21 August 2021
  56. ^ Moss (2014), p. 315
  57. ^ a b Michelli (1996), pp. 5, 23
  58. ^ Henry (1980), p. 44
  59. ^ Mitchell (1996), p. 10
  60. ^ Frazer (1891), pp. 206–214
  61. ^ Murray (2021), p. 3
  62. ^ a b O'Toole, Fintan. "A history of Ireland in 100 objects: Clonmacnoise crozier, 11th century". The Irish Times, 10 December 2011. Retrieved 20 August 2021
  63. ^ a b Murray (2021), p. 6
  64. ^ Michelli (1988), p. 216
  65. ^ Michelli (1986), p. 375
  66. ^ Michelli (1986), p. 384
  67. ^ a b c "Crozier and Coigreach of St Fillan". National Museum of Scotland. Retrieved 20 August 2021
  68. ^ "Reliquary, known as the Coigrich". National Museum of Scotland. Retrieved 20 August 2021
  69. ^ "Crozier head of St Fillan of Glendochart". National Museum of Scotland. Retrieved 20 August 2021
  70. ^ Michelli (1986), p. 39
  71. ^ "Adventures of Edmund O'Cleary (Continued)". Royal Irish Academy. Retrieved 1 October 2021
  72. ^ Michelli (1986), p. 376
  73. ^ Michelli (1986), pp. 376–377
  74. ^ Michelli (1986), p. 377
  75. ^ Stuart (1877), p. 21


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