Os grid reference: SC 4005 7814. Inside St Peter’s church on Church Road, Onchan, Isle of Man, there is a collection of carved Celtic cross-slabs from the 7th-12th centuries AD. The present-day church stands on what was quite obviously a religious site back in the Dark Ages, although the first church which was dedicated to St Conchan (Connachan) was established in the 12th century when it was called Kirk Conachan – that dedication lasted for hundreds of years until a re-dedication to St Catherine and, then to St Peter in the 19th century. St Peter’s church is located on Church Road, just off the main A2 (Whitebridge Road), at the south-side of Onchan. The village of Onchan stands on the headland at the north-side of Douglas Bay – the Manx seaside town being 1 mile south, while Baldrine is 2 miles north on the A42.
There are 6 cross-slabs in the church although one shows strong Norse origins, and there is an early Christian gable cross which originally stood on the roof of an ancient keeill, a small early primitive Christian chapel. One of these called ‘Thurith’s Cross’ stands at just over 4 feet tall, is of Norse origin, and dates from the 11th-12th century. It is decorated with a crude cross on both sides as well as ring designs, but of most interest here are the runic inscriptions (both sides). These inscriptions are in short bursts: (front) krus isukrut thurith – ‘Christ / Thurith carved the runes’ (back) asunr raisti ift kui nusina murkiaum – ‘the son erected this cross to the memory of his wife muirkiaum’ and then: ukikat aukrathikr – ‘I examined / read the runes and interpreted etc’.
The Kirk Conchan Cross is a wheel-head cross at just over 2 feet high. It may date from the 9th century. This is a broken slab that has a cross and four rings with plait-work designs and, also interlacing strap-work (in low relief); there are also two creatures that might be dogs – one of which has two heads! And, the Fylfot Cross is almost 5 feet high and is said to date from the 10th century. This cross-slab has a ‘fylfot’ design as its cross, similar perhaps to the swastika symbol. Again we have dog-like creatures at either side of the cross. This slab came from the keeill chapel which stood on this site before to the 12th century church was built.
There are another three slab-crosses all of which are Celtic in origin and date from the 7th-9th centuries. These are broken, but they are still interesting because of the carved crosses, circles, plaitwork, strapwork, spiralls, numerous other Celtic-style designs and, again there are strange animals, including the usual dog-like creatures. Also, there is what is referred to as a ‘gable-end cross’ which is 12th century and supposedly came from the roof of the old keeill chapel. This primitive little chapel stood here just prior to the 12th century church of Kirk Conachan; its remains are still visible in the churchyard.
Encased in the wall close to the crosses is a 17th century silver chalice that is said to have been used by King Charles I at his last communion before his execution in Whitehall, London, in 1649, afterwhich he was revered as King Charles the Martyr, with a cultus in parts of England as well as three church dedications.
There is little if any information on St Conachan, Connachan or Concenn who supposedly became bishop of Sodor and Mann in 540 AD, and has given his name to the village. He is sometimes identified with St Adamnan, the Irish saint who was a missionary in Scotland during the 7th century, and a contemporary of St Columba whose “Life” he wrote, but due to the ‘later century’ in which he lived this would seem not to be the case. To confuse things even more St Christopher, the 4th century Roman martyr was at some point ‘patron’ of the church at Onchan!
Kermode, P.M.C., Manx Crosses, Bemrose & Sons Limited, London,1907.
The Ancient And Historic Monuments Of The Isle Of Man, The Manx Museum And National Trust, Fourth (Revised) Edition, Douglas,1973.