The Right Hand of God

29 July 08 | Posted in Arts and Letters, Bible, Global Catholic


The Dextera Dei, the Right Hand of God, is portrayed on the north face of Muiredach’s Cross, the largests of the stone “high crosses” at Monasterboice in Co. Louth, just north of Dublin. The Hand of God is shown resting on a round carved disk; underneath it two snakes intertwine three human heads. 

The monastery was founded around 520 A.D.  The cross was carved in the 10th century, and is dedicated to an abbot of Monasterboice, Muiredach mac Domhaill. His death is recorded in 923 A.D.

I was in the presence of the cross on a cold, bright spring morning. The ground was still wet with dew. I remained standing by the Right Hand of God long after the other members of my group moved away.  I studied, and looked, and counted, but I couldn’t crack its mystery.

Since I returned home, I have not been able to find any discussion of the iconography of this part of the cross. Are the roots of the artwork in the ancient Irish symbols for the sun, victory and divinity?  The Old Testament? The New Testament? All three? The images portrayed have their roots in both traditions: Life, Death, Kingship, Victory, Divinity. Snakes could symbolize the ancient native religion, Satan or fallen angels.

The location of the cross was in an ancient grove had its own meaning. That gently sloping knoll served as a sacred place to the local people well before the arrival of Christian missionaries and monks.

There are referrences to “right hand of God” throughout the Bible. As the messiah, Jesus is supposed to be seated at the Right Hand of God. 

But the cross of Muiredach pays as much attention to David as it does Jesus, so I think the origin for the symbols come from one of his stories or psalms. 

In my first attempt as a Biblical art detective, I propose the inspiration for the carving comes from Psalm 109.  It begins: “The Lord said to my Lord: Sit thou at might right hand: Until I make thy enemies thy footstool.”

5 Responses to “The Right Hand of God”

  1. John Says:

    It has something to do with Kundalini energy in the meditation of the monks. The snake coil is pretty specific. Maybe the idea is bringing up religious meditative energy for a unity with God experience in Samadhi meditation. They probably wouldn’t have used Samadhi and Kundalini words but I’m pretty certain that’s what it means. The coil may have some reference to a double helix and maybe an evolution of consciousness

  2. John Says:

    Also for snake symbols look up Nāgas. For the halo I assume they mean meditation up to what’s known as “Jhana” or unification of mind. This could be thought of as unification with God maybe. See the similarities with a “Caduceus” symbol. Nagas are often mentioned in connection with extra sensory perception in Eastern systems of practice or not a great term but “psychic powers” that may happen with concerted religious practice and meditation. The fact that it shows 3 monks heads leads me to believe that ghis is associated with actual mental development practice rather than just academic philosophy or debate and therefore someone who has no experience of deep meditation couldn’t interpret it correctly

  3. karen Says:

    John, you offer an interesting explanation and I’m sure there are some links, but it’s a stretch to associate 6th century Irish monks with Nagas imagery. When St. Patrick drove out “the snakes” most people assume it was the practice of the pre-Christian religion incorporating dragons or wyrms, often portrayed as snake-like entities. The spiral designs survived St. Patrick.

  4. John Says:

    Hey Karen. If you saw those spirals around the monks heads in 3 D they would make a double helix type shape. This would appear as a vision in deep meditation. Nagas are what we in the west call dragons but in Asian mythology Nagas Dragons and Serpents are all the same and appear in differing forms as they are varied so then the typical assumption matches what I said but I wasn’t aware that was the standard idea already. I haven’t studied this stuff but I came across the image in “The Mythic Image” Joseph Campbell book while I lived and practiced in a forest meditation monastery and recognised it from my meditation. The Indo-Aryan tribes travelled west and south to both India and across all the way to Ireland so there would have been some similar stories, symbolism and practices between them. Saying its a stretch is just an opinion, there’s no explanation offered by you as to why its a stretch, so one could say its either accurate or inaccurate and give their reasoning. That’s clearly an image or vision(known as “Nimitta” in Asian meditation traditions) from deep meditation in my opinion as I have had one very similar. 3 monks heads in a Kundalini double helix type shape seems very deliberate to me. It seems like a reasonable explanation of the inspiration for carving such as specific design, it has to mean something. If you can suggest where I find more designs exactly like this I would be very interested and might rethink it but if this is unique then I think it adds more weight to my explanation of it being a “Nimitta” inspired design.

  5. John Says:

    Any association I mean with Nagas is more related to their presence kundalini double helix type coil as opposed to suggesting Naga worship I mean. For some reason serpents are used in these symbols, and there is some connection with serpents/Nagas and higher mental meditative development in Asian meditation traditions. I don’t understand what it is exactly but that image is so specific it points to the same sort of thing.

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