Bishops united in celebration as new cross goes up near St Patrick's grave
A replica St Patrick's Cross has finally been erected in Co Down - after a five-month delay caused by the discovery of medieval human remains.
The event at Down Cathedral in Downpatrick had been postponed in March due to the discovery by contractors digging the foundations for the cross in the car park.
Yesterday, however, dozens of people gathered to see the Mourne granite sculpture - standing nearly five metres high and weighing five tonnes - for the first time back on the Hill of Down where the original cross, which dates back to 800AD, once stood.
A faithful reproduction, the cross's location is fittingly yards from where St Patrick is buried.
And Dean of Down, the Very Reverend Henry Hull, who led the interdenominational service to mark the cross's installation, hailed it as a very special day for Christians of both traditions.
"This is a day that has been in the planning for some time," he said.
"The cross is at the centre of our faith.
"It's a symbol of what we have in common, our unity as Christians."
His words were reflected on by Church of Ireland Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller, who said a prayer as part of the dedication service along with his Catholic counterpart, Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor.
The clerics then gathered at the base of the sculpture where they placed their palms over the imprint of a hand in the cross's base.
"Here we have Christian hands together," said Bishop Miller, encouraging other people from all over the world to visit the cathedral to make the same gesture.
Just hours earlier a specialist hydraulic lorry was on site to assist four workers as they carried out the final stage of the installation process.
One of them was Stephen McConnell, whose family stone masonry business in Kilkeel sourced the raw material for the sculpture, as well as carving and engraving its intricate design.
He said: "It's a real privilege to be part of this.
"We started working on this over a year ago, then of course there was the delay earlier this year, so I'm very happy to see it finally erected."
He added: "Look at the backdrop, the Mourne Mountains, you couldn't get a more fitting background."
The dean also stressed that it was fitting that not only had the cross been crafted out of stone quarried from the Mournes, it had been extracted from the same location where the stone for the original had been found, at Bloody Bridge, on the outskirts of Newcastle.
"The original, of course, is not forgotten," he said.
'We have four pieces of the cross on display in the cathedral's entrance."
Meanwhile, a final resting place will also be found for the medieval remains once tests have been completed, the dean revealed.
"We believe they were Benedictine monks living back when there was a monastery on the grounds," he explained.
"The remains will be interred here."