Penmon Cross
Penmon Cross
There are actually two carved crosses at Penmon, though one is by far the more interesting. But before we take a look at the crosses let's cover some background. The priory church of the medieval Augustinian monastery at Penmon now serves as the Penmon parish church. The medieval priory was founded on the site of a much earlier 6th century Celtic priory established by St Seiriol, who is said to be buried on nearby Puffin Island.
Behind the church is an ancient holy well associated with Seiriol, which is said to have healing properties and has been the destination for pilgrims for over a thousand years.

Inside the church is a superbly carved 10th century pillar cross and a second, larger cross. This second cross is quite weathered, and the carving is very worn from exposure to the elements. You can still make out several scenes, including a saint (possibly St Anthony) and what is supposed to be a hunting scene. One theory is that this cross was carved by a team of craftsmen from Cheshire, another that the head of the cross is a replacement, carved by masons from the Isle of Man.

The smaller cross, however, was once used as a lintel in the priory refectory, and was thus far less affected by weathering. As a result, the carving detail on the smaller cross is utterly superb, with gorgeous interlaced patters of geometric design (of the type known as Celtic knot in panel) covering every facet of the stone. There are a pair of carved animal heads on the side of the cross. Our best guess is that both crosses were carved between the 9th and 10th centuries, with a date of 1000 AD commonly mentioned.

Aside from the two crosses, there is a lot to see inside Penmon church. The font is superbly carved, and of similar date to the pillar cross. One theory is that this font once served as a pedestal base for one of the crosses. The column capitals are also richly carved with patterns very similar to those on the crosses.  Also within the church are beautifully crafted arcading that once formed part of the priory church decoration. One of the carved capitals resembles a sheela-na-gig, and a likeness of a beast, possibly a dragon, is carved on the tympanum over the south door. If all that is not enough, there is actually a third cross, probably several centuries later than the other two, standing inside the roofless ruin of the priory refectory.

Our Verdict: The combination of the priory, the church itself, the holy well, and the wonderfully carved crosses makes Penmon an absolute must-see destination!