The Celtic Cross Symbol - 'Cros Cheilteach'
The Cross is ultimately the most well known Christian symbol ever! Crosses are the Christian symbol or seal that people all over the world recognise no matter what their religion is and remind Christians everywhere that Jesus died on a cross. Celtic Crosses are beautifully decorated crosses and are found all over Ireland, they are commonly found in church grounds, holy ground and in graveyards all over the country. Celtic crosses feature many different patterns, such as spirals, interlaced ribbons and knots. Unlike Celtic manuscripts they are unlikely to feature mythical animals or plants and instead may have some Christian symbols such as the chi-rho which was originally a pagan symbol adopted by Christians.
Celtic Crosses were carved in stone, a material that is able to stand the test of time. Unlike many other forms of Celtic art such as manuscripts that were lost particularly during the Viking wars of the 9th and 10th centuries some of the stone crosses remain and Muiredach's High Cross (also known as the South Cross) which can be found in the ruined monastic site of 'Mainistir Bhuithe', Buithe's monastery, Monasterboice, County Louth, Ireland is undoubtedly the largest and best preserved ancient cross in Ireland. The Muiredach High Cross is thought to date from the 9th or 10th century.
Celtic Cross Symbol - Images
Although some Celtic Crosses are plain others are highly decorated and despite being centuries old, the fact that they were carved in stone has allowed us to appreciate them today, hundreds of years after they were built. Unlike many other examples of Celtic art such as manuscripts and wooden objects that have been lost forever, the stone Celtic crosses have stood the test of time, a few examples are shown on this page. The image below on the right is Muiredach's cross. This beautiful example of a Celtic cross is 17ft 8in tall and is carved from a single piece of sandstone. It is a symbol of medieval Ireland and is an example of a High cross which was used to mark Holy ground. Its decoration is extremely intricate and depicts several scenes from the bible, including the Fall, the murder of Abel. the Last Judgement, Saints Peter and Paul in the desert as well as the Arrest and Death of Christ.
Examples of Celtic Crosses
Celtic Cross Symbol - History
Unfortunately the history of this symbol is open to debate! The following table lists some of the theories behind the origins of this beautiful symbol.
Origin Theories - Celtic Cross
Irish Legend credits St Patrick with the Celtic cross, its believed he introduced the Celtic cross to the pagans in Ireland who worshipped the Sun God.
St Patrick is believed to have combined the sun with a normal cross to create a Celtic cross
The Circle was added to the cross to symbolise eternal life
In order to make the cross more structurally stable for the stonemasons to carve, the circle was added
The circle represents the pagan god of the sun
The circle is a symbol of eternity and represents gods unending love
The four arms of the cross represent:
1. Direction, the points of a compass: North, South, East and West
2. The elements: Earth, Air, Fire and Water
3. Man: Mind, heart, Soul and Body
Facts about the Celtic Cross Symbol
Irish legend credits St Patrick with the Celtic Cross. It is believed he combined the pagan sun god (the circle) with a traditional Christian cross to create a Celtic cross
Celtic Crosses and High Crosses are not the same! High Crosses mark holy ground (hallowed ground) whereas crosses were used for gravestones
Celtic Crosses are popular nowadays as Jewelry items. Celtic Cross Pendants are worn by Christians all over the world and ornaments in the shape of this beautiful symbol adorn shelves and mantelpieces in many Christian homes
Many of today's decorative items are inspired by the beautiful Celtic Cross: Artwork, Jewelry, Ornaments to name just a few of the items that incorporate the Celtic designs and knot patterns found on Celtic crosses
The Irish for Celtic Cross is 'cros Cheilteach'
The Celtic cross is also known as the Iona Cross
The circle around the cross symbolises eternity or eternal life
One of the oldest surviving Celtic High Crosses in the world can be found in County Louth, Ireland in the remains of an ancient monastery, the cross dates from the 9th or 10th century and is known as Muiredach's cross or the South cross
No-one is sure about the origins of this beautiful symbol! Regardless of its origin, the fact remains it is a truly amazing symbol which the Celtic people of Ireland have claimed for their own and feel proud to display it to mark the graves of their loved ones.