The Downpatrick High Cross originally stood at the foot of English Street, until 1729 when it was dismantled. It lay in pieces until 1897 when the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club, led by William Fennell and Francis Joseph Bigger, raised funds to reconstruct and erect it outside Down Cathedral.

Francis Joseph Bigger was born in Little Donegall Street, Belfast on 17 June 1863 and as a Protestant Irish Nationalist went on to become a practicing solicitor, pioneering archaeologist, and writer.

He was passionate about preserving the folklore, language, literature, music, art, and monuments of Ireland. In 1897 he became one of the key promoters of the project to reconstruct the Downpatrick High Cross.

In 1889, after setting up his new legal practice in Belfast, Bigger joined and later became President of the Belfast Naturalists’ Field Club and they made excursions all over the North of Ireland exploring sites of botanical and archaeological importance.

Bigger revived the Ulster Journal of Archaeology after an absence of 30 years, and devoted time to restoring a number of medieval buildings in County Down, including Ardtole Church and Raholp Church. Of these, his most ambitious project was the purchase and refurbishment of Jordan’s Castle, Ardglass, in 1911. He fully refurbished the building, installing new furniture and enabling the Castle to become habitable. He also took an active part in the marking of the traditional site of St. Patrick’s Grave at Down Cathedral with a large granite slab in 1900.

By 1891 Bigger was already planning to re-assemble the Downpatrick High Cross however his plans were not realised until 1897. According to reports at the time, it was the ‘sole remaining monument of the early Christian church that [had] been spared’. The eleven-foot-high cross was fitted together with ‘care and precision’ and no attempt was made to restore it. At its re-erection, a glass bottle containing contemporary newspapers, a journal and a commemorative parchment were buried beneath the cross.

Due to continued weathering of the Cross during the 20th Century it was decided that it would be moved to Down County Museum to ensure its future preservation.  It was moved in 2014 and unfortunately the glass bottle time capsule was unable to be recovered due to the thickness of the concrete foundation. The Cross now takes centre stage in Down County Museum’s High Cross gallery whilst an exact replica, made from the same type of Mourne granite as the original, now stands outside Down Cathedral.

Pictured above is a Postcard from the Down County Museum Collection of the High Cross in situ looking down English Street from the Cathedral.  This is where the replica now stands.  On the left is the Old Gaol of Down, now Down County Museum, where the original is now located.