St Lurach, Maghera

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Feature Sets (4)


A long, rectangular church separated into nave and chancel by a broken cross-wall, extant only at ground level on the S side. This marks the foundations of the E wall of an earlier church.


The monastery was probably founded in the 6thc. by St Lurach. The Annals mention the deaths of some of its abbots and its ruination in the 9thc. It was also burned in 1135. It is listed by Cardinal Papero after the synod of Kells (1152) as a diocesan centre and suffragan of Armagh. In 1245 its bishop, Germanus, was chosen to be the Irish candidate for the vacant see of Armagh. The church was repaired a number of times following its damage during warfare in 1688. It fell into disuse and was eventually abandoned in 1819 when it was dismantled. Some of the stones were used to construct the new church. A major conservation programme was completed in 1984.


Exterior Features


W doorway

Square-headed doorway, now inside the tower of the church, with carved jambs and lintel.

Jamb: constructed from seven blocks of sandstone, described from bottom up.

1. Extremely worn with traces of a raised band along the outer vertical edge of the face (height 0.38 m x width 0.13 m x depth 0.18 m). 

2. Very worn. Traces of interlace in the uneven surface of face and reveal, but too worn to be certain. Mortice (height 0.10 m) cut into lower W angle of reveal (height 0.19 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.28 m).

3. Very worn, but with traces of interlace on the upper section of the face, apparently continuing the pattern of the stone above. Worn, raised bands on both inner and outer arrises. The reveal has traces of what could be a foliate motif on the upper section (height 0.59 m x width 0.16 m x depth 0.14 m).

4. The face is carved with a panel of interlace consisting of two broad bands arranged in a figure of eight loop entwined with finer strands of similar loops. Five knop terminals are visible in the design, suggesting that the interlace may be zoomorphic, however, the detail is too worn to be certain. Inner and outer arrises are carved with raised bands. The reveal is carved with a foliate design centered on a vertical stem with varying spiralled leaves arranged symmetrically upward (height 0.27 m x width 0.15 m x depth 0.16 m).

5. Relatively well preserved. Decorated as stone 4. (height 0.47 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.18 m).

6. Worn. Traces of ornament remain which appear to continue the design of stones 4. and 5. (height 0.18 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.19 m).

7. The face is carved with interlace ornament as stone 4. The reveal is carved with the figure of an ecclesiastic. The figure wears a conical hat (probably representing a mitre) with a circular top. The head is oval, with large projecting ears and a straight nose and mouth. The figure is clothed in a long robe with waved hem, a chausible and a pallium. In his right hand he holds a crozier with spiral head and two visible knops. The stem of the crozier narrows to a point at the base, and rests on the back of a beast, which turns back to look up at the figure. The scene is framed by a narrow, raised band on all but the lower edges (height 0.44 m x width 0.15 m x depth 0.20 m).

Jamb: constructed from eight blocks of sandstone, described from bottom up.

1. Extremely weathered. No carving remains (height 0.24 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.16 m).

2. Very worn. Traces of carving on the face and reveal, but too worn to read. A mortice (height 0.12 m x d. 0.05 m) is cut into the lower W angle of the reveal (height 0.37 m x width 0.13 m x depth 0.15 m).

3. Very worn (height 0.22 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.17 m).

4. Very worn (height 0.35 m x width 0.12 m x depth 0.17 m).

5. The face is carved with panel of interlace composed of two broad bands arranged in a figure of eight loop, entwined with smaller figure of eight loops. The outer edge is marked by a narrow raised band. The arris is damaged but appears to have been carved with a similar band. The reveal is carved with an S-curl with spiral, trumpet and foliate offshoots. A raised, narrow band runs along the inner edge. There is a mortice (height 0.04 m x width 0.05 m x depth 0.06 m) on the upper E angle of the reveal (height 0.37 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.18 m).

6. Damaged. The face is carved with a panel of interlace comprising broad S-bands entwined by narrower figure of eight loops (less symmetrical than the interlace on the S side). The reveal is very worn, there are possible traces of what appears to be foliate carving (height 0.30 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.18 m)

7. The face is carved with interlace similar to stone 6. The reveal has a foliate motif comprising a central spiral surmounted and partially enveloped by three trumpet terminal leaves. The stem below this has a hairspring trumpet terminal (height 0.28 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.18 m).

8. The face is carved with interlace as stone 5. The reveal is very worn, and is carved with what appears to be a seated figure with a bare head, holding a Tau crozier (height 0.40 m x width 0.14 m x depth 0.18 m).

depth of lintel 0.53 m
height of lintel 0.65 m
width of lintel 1.69 m

The doorway is set in an arched recess with inclined jambs. The tympanum is plain. A substantial part of the N jamb has been reconstructed.


The lintel is constructed from three separate pieces of sandstone. A rebate on the underside of the lintel shows the original width of the door head to have been 0.86 m. The lintel is carved on the face only with an elaborate Crucifixion scene. The depth of the carving on average is 0.015 m except for the central figure of Christ which is 0.05 m deep. The crucified Christ occupies the centre of the composition, flanked by Longinus and Stephaton. Five further figures stand to the left, and another six to the right. There are two angels, one on each side of the vertical shaft of the cross, above the upper projections. A small, long projection above Christ's head may represent a bird or Manus Dei. Christ is shown against a plain cross, the arms of which are very long, extending for 0.91 m. Christ's arms in turn are disproportionately long (about 0.71 m) and are extended almost straight with a slight sag at the elbow. The head is badly damaged and no facial features remain, but two long strands of hair fall over the shoulders. The chest is naked and slightly modelled. He wears a perizoneum, which appears to have been short, although much of the carving below the knees has been obliterated. The legs presumably would have stretched down beyond the lower edge of the composition into the frame (as at Raphoe). Blood flows in two streams from Christ's side as the lance pierces it. Visible between Christ's wrists and the arms of the cross are two small figures, their heads in profile facing Christ, their bodies hidden behind Christ's arms. McNab has suggested that these represent the Two Thieves. They appear to stand on the heads of Stepheton and Longinus. Longinus and Stephaton are both shown in profile, each kneeling on one knee, with the other leg bent upward and the thigh horizontal. Their feet rest flat on the ground. The hair of both is swept back into a curl at the nape of the neck. To Longinus' left is a small, squat figure wearing a long robe, with an almost triangular torso. McNab suggests that this figure may represent Mary, or Mary Magdelene. Further to the L are four figures arranged in two pairs. The first two are quite small, and arranged close together. The second pair are larger and hold a staff between them. Above this group is an inserted block with two raised, square panels  and a swooping angel.  This could be an unfinished carving. To the right of Stephaton is a figure, with knees slightly bent, facing Christ, holding a staff (or whip) over his head. Further to the right is a row of five figures facing outward, one holding what could be a book, another wearing a hat. Above this group is an inserted block with raised square panels and a swooping angel. The lower edge of the lintel is framed by a band broken into five panels of interlace. Only the detail of the outer two panels is now readable. This has a what appears to be a five-strand pattern based on a figure of eight. All of the strands are of equal width.


Reset windows

i-v) Five reconstructed Romanesque windows: Three on the N wall; one on the W wall; and two on the N side of the tower.

Exterior Decoration


Quoin shaft

One section of an exterior three-quarter angle shaft remains in the NE corner of the building. A similar feature is found at Teampull Mór, Devenish.

depth 0.18 m
diameter of roll 0.14 m
height 0.19 m
width 0.55 m

Reset fragments

i-iii) Built into the arch of the N doorway of the tower are several re-used pieces of cut stone. Three of the stones are slightly arched and carved with an incised groove. They may have come from the rear arch of a window.

Three fragments of pilaster carved with roll and fillet

iv) Built into N cross wall.

v) Built into S doorway of tower.

vi) Built into third storey of tower.

vii) Section of circular engaged shaft (diameter 0.25 m) used as rubble in the S wall, 8.3 m from the interior face of the E wall.




Rough dressed tub font with smooth dressed upper rim.

diameter of basin 0.45 m
height 0.50 m
total diameter 0.57 m



Two stones from an aumbry in the S corner of the E wall remain. The edge and sill stone are both carved with a double roll moulding on the inner vertical faces.

depth 0.37 m
original width 0.36 m

Loose Sculpture


i-iii) Three multi-scallop capitals, previously lying loose in the Church, now in store.


In structural terms the W doorway at Maghera is closely paralleled by the W doors at Banagher (Derry) and Aghowle (Wicklow), although neither have the elaborate sculpture found at Maghera.

The Crucifixion scene is the most complex to survive in Ireland from the 12thc. The inclusion of elements such as the Scourging of Christ and the apparent inclusion of the Two Thieves have no parallels in Irish art. However, the figure style, particularly that of the representations of Stephaton and Longinus is deeply rooted in Irish tradition, finding close parallels in the Tynan group of crucifixion plaques (Hamlin and Haworth, 1982). The closest parallels for interlace and geometric ornament are found on the Soisceal Molaise, a book shrine, originally from Devenish in Co. Fermanagh.


  • O. Davies, 'Maghera Old Church', Belfast Natural History and Field Club Report and Proceedings, 2, Series 2, Part 1 (1942), 17-22.

  • E. Dunraven, Notes on Irish Architecture, Dublin, 1875, I, 115.

  • A. Gwynn and R. N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious Houses, Ireland, London, 1970, 93.

  • A. Hamlin  and R. Haworth, 'A Crucifixion Plaque Reprovenanced', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 112 (1982), 112-16.

  • P. Harbison, 'The Biblical Iconography of Irish Romanesque Architectural Sculpture', in From the Isles of the North; Early Medieval Art in Ireland and Britain, ed. C. Bourke, Belfast, 1995, 271-280.

  • F. Lockwood, 'Abstract of a Paper on the Crucifixion and other Sculptures at the Ruined Church of Maghera, Co. Derry', Belfast Natural History and Field Club Report and Proceedings, 2, Series 2, Part 1 (1882), 50-1.

  • S. McNab, 'The Romanesque Figure Sculpture at Maghera, Co. Derry and Raphoe, Co. Donegal', in New perspectives; Studies in Art History, eds. Fenlon, J., Figgis, N. and C. Marshall, Dublin, 1987, 19-33.

  • S. McNab, Irish Figure Sculpture in the Twelfth Century. PhD Thesis, Trinity College Dublin, 1986, 403-10.

  • M. Ward, 'Drawing of a Band of Ornament from the Architrave of the Doorway of the Ancient Church at Maghera', Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, 5, Series 4 (1881), 505-6.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
C 855 002 
now: Derry / Londonderry
pre-1973 traditional (Ulster): Derry / Londonderry
medieval: St Lurach
now: St Lurach
Type of building/monument
Report authors
Rachel Moss 
Visit Date
12 August 1998