The nave of the church is the oldest surviving part of the abbey, and it reflects the simple architectural tastes of the Cistercian order. Under the patronage of the Butlers of Ormond, the abbey underwent a major restoration in the 15th century, and most of its outstanding architectural features date from this period.
The ribbed stone vaulting over the transept and chancel is a marvel of stonework and bears numerous marks of the masons who carved it. The elaborate sedilia, seating places for the abbot and his deacons have been referred to as the most outstanding piece of medieval church furniture in Ireland. On the west wall of the north transept there is a mural depicting a hunting scene, an unusually secular scene within a church. Other architectural highlights of this spectacular site include ‘the waking monk’s bier’, the east window, rose window, night stairs (which connected the monks’ dormitory to the church), chapterhouse door and cloister.
The last Cistercian monk in Holy Cross died in the 1730s and the abbey, already in a state of disrepair, fell into ruin. In the late 1960s a major initiative to bring Holy Cross back to life as a place of worship began. Led by local priest Willie Hayes, and with the support of Archbishop Thomas Morris and the OPW, careful restoration and conservation work began in 1970, taking over five years to complete. On the traditional parish feast day of Michaelmas, 25 September 1975, the abbey was consecrated and Mass was celebrated at Holy Cross once more.
Today it still serves the local community as a place of worship. And this atmospheric, architectural gem is a reminder of the power and patronage of the Kings of Thomond.