Penal Crosses or more correctly Crucifixes date in Ireland from the 17th and 18th Centuries. They were a form of folk craft produced by local people as a resource for those making the pilgrimage to Lough Derg. Pilgrims purchased these small hand carved crucifixes to bring to Lough Derg as part of their experience of the pilgrimage. Gazing at the symbols of the passion as part of the stations on the island made these very precious reminders of the experience of the three days of fasting and prayer that all pilgrims embraced as part of their spiritual journey at Saint Patrick’s Purgatory.
That these crosses were made at the time that Roman Catholicism was under threat and persecution in Ireland makes them all the more important as part of the story of faith and Christianity in Ireland. Pilgrims took home their own crosses with a deep sense of gratitude to God for the blessing of completing their own personal pilgrimage. They treasured their cross within their own immediate family circle often using the symbols of the passion displayed on each cross as way to teach and appreciate the full story of what Jesus, God’s Son had endured in His love for the world as he died upon the cross.
Friends of the Penal Crucifix is a group of like minded people who have undertaken to display and make known the story of the Penal Cross / Crucifix to people they meet, to family contacts and especially to use as a focus for prayer and spirituality once more. Those registered with the group will be kept aware of articles and news of how Penal Crosses are a special part of our faith story. They in turn undertake to share these with as many others as possible so that in a small way the special Christian focus of our heritage as Irish people may continue to flourish and me known and appreciated. Copies of Penal crosses are available made from compressed turf. Veritas and other shops sell them. One manufacturer is based in Coalisland. On ebay and Amazon you will also find examples for sale.
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