1991:097 - Cross Abbey, Cross, Mayo

NMI Burial Excavation Records

County: Mayo Site name: Cross Abbey, Cross

Sites and Monuments Record No.: N/A Licence number:

Author: Suzanne Zajac, Errs Survey, Industrial Estate, Belmullet, Co. Mayo.

Site type: Medieval abbey

ITM: E 519301m, N 755260m

Latitude, Longitude (decimal degrees): 53.541070, -9.217513

In October 1991 funds became available from Mayo Co. Council and the Office of Public Works to conduct a short excavation on the medieval ruins of Cross Abbey. Located west of Binghamstown on the exposed Atlantic seaboard of the Mullet Peninsula, the site is under constant threat from coastal erosion. Reputedly founded in the 9th century by St Brendan the Navigator who had by then founded an ecclesiastical settlement on Inishglora, lying approximately 2 miles west from Cross Point. In the early 15th century Cross became affiliated to the parent house at Ballintuber and took the name of 'Cross Abbey'.

The site is surrounded by a multi-period graveyard and lies adjacent to an extensive shell midden. Aligned east-west the church measures 12m on its long axis by 5.3m north-south. The east gable and side walls survive in a dilapidated condition. Various architectural styles are represented in the surviving remains as well as numerous alterations to the fabric of the church as a whole. The aim of the excavation was primarily to record the last remnants of the west gable before they were completely swept away by the sea but also to investigate the possibility of later extensions as suggested by Westropp (JRSAI 1914, 76) 'The monastic buildings (if ever they existed) have been swept away with the ground they stood upon…'.

Clearance of rubble around the south-west corner of the church revealed the south wall extending seaward beyond the limits of the west gable. A trench laid down external to the north wall uncovered a blocked doorway with foundations extending northwards from it and at one point terminating in a curved wall several courses high. What would have been the north-west corner again revealed further wall faces extending seaward and often superimposed on top of one another. All testify to an extension along the east-west axis of the building as well as a substantial annex to north giving it a T-shaped appearance. The curving wall is likely to represent a steeple. '…Old men recollect when carriage could have driven between the steeple of the church and the bank but now half the steeple has fallen away, the bank having been carried off from under it, and more is giving way day after day…' (Westropp, ibid).Finds were limited to handmade bottle glass and large quantities of broken clay pipes. Burials were uncovered packed against the external face of the north-west corner and fragmented bone was mixed through all soil contexts. At north, the church foundations lay approximately 0.5m below the surface level resting on a rubble fill which in turn lay on sea sand.