The Riasg Buidhe Cross

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There are several historic crosses in the Hebrides, including Islay’s Kildalton Cross and the iconic St Martin’s High Cross on Iona. Most of these are obviously Christian in influence and conform to the familiar design of a traditional cross accentuated with a circle around the intersection. 

The Riasg Buidhe Cross is very different. Not only is it much smaller, it is unique in that it appears to combine an expression of Christian faith with pagan fertility symbols.

One side of the cross shows a distinctive-looking bearded man with prominent eyebrows and a long neck. This is generally believed to represent the figure of Christ, as suggested by the arms (represented by Celtic spirals) forming a cross shape. The figure has a fish-tail, which may point to the way in which Christ was represented as a fish in ancient Christian tradition. Others believe the figure is a cleric, perhaps even one of the Celtic saints. Locally he is known as Dealbh na Leisge (literally, the image of sleepiness).

On the reverse side, which is not as well preserved, as an image generally understood to be a phallic symbol. This points to the possibility of the island being a pluralistic religious community at the time the cross was created. 

The history of the cross is uncertain. It has been dated to the 7th or 8th century, and was previously located in the now abandoned village of Riasg Buidhe, about a mile away from present-day Sgalasaig. It is difficult to be sure of its origins, but the cross spent many centuries in a burial ground beside the Riasg Buidhe chapel. What we do know is that the cross was removed from the village in 1870 and relocated in the gardens of Kiloran House, beside Tobar Oran (the well ofSt Oran) where it has remained since.