Celtic Culture

 

 

The Celtic Cross

Introduction

The Celtic cross is a religious symbol seen all over Britain and is growing ever more popular recently. But what exactly is it, and what are its origins?

Celtic Cross 

 

This cross is basically a regular Christian cross with a circle surrounding the point where the lines of the cross meet in the center. It is so called, because it derives from the British Isles and was first used in the seventh-ninth centuries in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

The History of the Celtic Cross

The earliest versions of the cross were carved onto slabs that lay flat on the ground and were called recumbent cross-slabs. But, they gradually evolved into carvings on upright slabs (Erect cross-slab), sometimes depicted with a slightly rounded top.

Both versions are always decorated intricately with typical Celtic patterns; spirals, knot work, foliage, keys, Biblical tales and animals. The most recent evolution of the Celtic cross's depiction is a free standing, statuesque High cross, rather than being simply a carving on a slab.

 Celtic Cross

The cross was effectively now "freed" from the stone, so these versions are known as Freestanding crosses. And the arms of the cross were made longer, so they extended the circle, with the inner shapes between the arms and the circle being cut away.

This type of cross is most commonly seen in the form of gravestones in Irish churchyards or as war memorials scattered all over Britain.

The different meanings of the Celtic cross

The Celtic cross is widely used as Christian symbol. However, as we can tell from its name, the cross has a history stretching further back than modern Christianity.

For example, its four arms are interpreted as:

  • The four elements (earth, air, fire, water), 
  • The four directions of the compass (north, south, east, west) or 
  • The four parts of man (mind, soul, heart, body), in various cultures and traditions. 

The cross is said to have originally derived from the Chi Rho symbol. That had been popularized by the Roman emperor, Constantine.

"Chi" and "Rho" are the first letters of the word "Christ" in the Greek alphabet, and when these letters are interlinked, they appear similar to the cross at the center of a Celtic cross.

But where does the cross's distinctive circle come from?

The truth is, no one is quite sure. Among ancient races, circles were used to represent the moon and a cross and circle conjoined symbolized the sun.

So, it's likely that the Celtic cross was originally a Pagan sun or moon representation. Then later used by the Romans in order to try to convert the Pagans of Britain to Christianity.

According to Irish legend, St Patrick created the cross by drawing a circle around a Latin cross to represent the Pagan moon goddess. But to Irish Catholics, the circle can represent Christ's halo. Or, as some have theorized, as eternity and the endlessness of God's love.

 

Note: Information provided with kind permission of Victoria Crouch. 

For the location of Celtic high crosses including links to live examples and other educational information please click on the map of Ireland and enjoy the journey. 


View Larger Map

For more details of all the crosses in Ireland you can visit: 

History of Each Ireland High Cross

 

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