If you have recently visited Ireland, Scottish terrains, England, Wales, or Europe, among many others, you are likely to have come across the Celtic cross. Let us quickly delve into the meaning and history of the Celtic cross.
The Celtic cross, also known as the Irish cross or the Celtic Sun cross, is a famous symbol that represents Irish heritage and culture. It exists in several forms due to the various cultures and civilizations. Some versions of the cross are quite ornate, while others are simply plain. Over the years, the Celtic cross has been popularized by many jewelry manufacturers, tattoo artists, and clothing designers, among many others. As such, let us find out what the Celtic cross stands for and its history.
What does the Celtic cross symbolism?
The basic design of a Celtic cross consists of a simple cross with a circle at the center. There are three categories of the Celtic cross, depending on their purpose. The earlier forms of the Celtic cross were ceremonial or ornamental and existed about 800 years ago. Mostly referred to as the Celtic High cross, these types of crosses were popular around the 8th, 9th, and 10th centuries. They were inscribed on the rock and often memorialized famous places or people.
Another category of the Celtic cross was when it stood alone and made from rock. These crosses date back to the 12th century onwards, and its original purpose was to mark a particular territory or boundary. They may be quite tall, but they are not to be confused with Celtic High crosses.
When a cross is used to mark a grave or some other type of memorial, the Celtic cross used is considered to be quite modern. These types of crosses are known as the Irish Celtic cross memorials and date back only to the 1860s, after becoming de rigeur for Dublin fashionistas
The most popular form of the Celtic cross is the Irish Celtic cross, which is a famous symbol for faith, despite the belief being Christian, pagan, or any other belief. The circle on the Celtic cross symbolizes various denominations. Some people believe that it stands for Invictus, the Roman sun-god, thus giving the cross the name ‘Celtic Sun cross.’ Other people think the ring in the cross represents the halo of Jesus Christ, while pagans believe it to be a simple holdover due to its roots from the sun symbol.
More importantly, the Irish Celtic cross is an essential symbol of Irish heritage and culture. Hundreds of cemeteries found in Ireland, Scotland, England, and Wales have old Celtic crosses. As such, they are a symbol of national pride and heritage. The people of Ireland attach a sacred and in-depth meaning to the cross, which has been adopted by many throughout the world. Similarly, the importance and meaning of the Irish Celtic cross heavily relies on its origin and history.
What does a Celtic cross mean?
The even-armed Celtic cross has different meanings ascribed to it by various cultures and groups. Some believe it describes the different times of the day; midnight, morning, noon, and evening, while others ascribe it to mean the meeting places of divine self, energy, wisdom, and nature. Some also believe the cross connotes the apparent relations, like north, south, east, and west, or air, earth, water, and fire. Native Americans use this symbol as their Medicine Wheel, while Norse mythology refers to it as Odin’s cross.
Despite being a famous Christian symbol, the Celtic cross does not have any reference in the Bible, meaning it does not have any biblical meaning. Catholic and Presbyterian priests take the Celtic cross to mean eternity for them. It represents the everlasting and eternal love of God, demonstrated by sacrificing his son for our sins on the cross. The cross also means the eternal hope of salvation found in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Generally, the Celtic cross represents the human desire to experience and know the unfolding of life’s mysteries. The arms of the cross indicate four ways to ascension, and an invitation to objectively understand wisdom, nature, self, and god/goddess. The circle in the middle of the cross represents unification, wholeness, totality, and inclusion. As a whole, the cross illustrates how universal energies come and work together. It shows stability, balance, and harmony of sacred and powerful energies, both visible and invisible in our universe.
The Celtic cross may also be taken to symbolize navigation or a symbolic compass. As you face the many tumultuous seas of life, you may use the symbolic cross to re-center your focus and shift your thoughts in the right direction. The Celtic cross offers a solid ground on which our spirit can refocus and find peace. Apart from spiritual navigation, the cross also provides cyclical navigation, as the universe transitions into various seasons, or time navigation, as it delineates day and night.
Celtic cross history
It is not known precisely when the Celtic crosses gained widespread popularity globally. Similarly, there are no records of when ancient Celts began erecting monumental crosses. However, it was definitely a common practice among ancient Celts to have these symbols in various places, long before the introduction of Christianity in Ireland. Celtic historians suggest that the crosses represented trees, which held a sacred position in the life and culture of ancient Celts.
When Christian missionaries arrived in Ireland in the 5th century, they were cautious not to offset pagan beliefs among the Celts. As such, they merged the Celtic cross and Christian cross designs to make a more acceptable and familiar religion. According to Irish culture, many people believe that St. Patrick introduced the Celtic cross in Ireland while he was converting kings to Christianity from paganism. Other records claim that St. Declan is responsible for introducing the cross in Ireland.
It is recorded that St. Patrick is responsible for merging the designs of the Christian cross and the sun, which is an essential symbol among ancient Celts. However, there is archaeological evidence of the Celtic cross, as designed by St. Patrick that predates St. Patrick’s arrival to Ireland. Nonetheless, Christian monks for most of the Celtic cross that remains standing in Ireland to date.
Another popular origin of Celtic crosses is that Christians or missionaries put the Christian cross above the cross to show God is the most Supreme God. Another account records that Christian missionaries carved the crosses from large standing stones that were initially Druid Phallic symbols, to disguise their original form.
Initially, Celtic crosses developed from slab crosses, usually granite with crosses drawn on them. In the 8th century, an artisan knocked out the stone between the arms of the cross, giving rise to the first ‘Celtic cross.’ One of the ancient free-standing stone crosses is St. Patrick’s cross at Carndonagh, Donegal, in Ireland. According to tradition, a monastery or church was founded at this place by St. Patrick and other Irish missionaries in the 5th century.
St. Patrick’s cross is beautifully embellished with both Celtic artwork and Christian depictions to show its early design. It consists of interlacing knotwork patterns, similar to those found in The Book of Durrow, to show the Tree of life. Christian imagery and records depict Jesus in a victorious stance close to the bottom of the cross’s shaft.
Celtic crosses are worn proudly by people from all over the world in the form of jewelry and clothing. You may also notice the crosses on various buildings or tattoo designs. Other than going to Ireland to show your devotion to Ireland’s culture and heritage, you can accent your home or wear Celtic crosses and other Irish symbols as part of your jewelry and clothing.
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