The Right Hand of God

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

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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.”

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