When it comes to Irish culture and Celtic symbolism, there are few more globally renowned emblems than the Celtic Cross. Often referred to as the Irish High Cross, the Celtic Cross stands as the ultimate embodiment of Celtic Christianity across the world.
These breathtaking stone monuments can be found right across Ireland, and their innate beauty is matched by their legend and history. In this article we are going to explore the history of the Celtic Cross, how and why it looks the way it does, and how it earned its esteemed place as a celebrated symbol of Irishness.
What does a Celtic Cross look like?
To fully understand the history of the Celtic Cross, we must first look at its appearance and ask ourselves how and why does the cross look this way? In its most simple form, a Celtic Cross is a combination of a Latin cross with a circle of light (often referred to as a halo) intersecting it.
While it’s very beautiful to look at, the components of a Celtic Cross are rooted in meaning and heavily religious symbolism. The cross itself is an unmistakable representation of Christianity. The circle of light, or halo, is a bit more ambiguous as it dates back to the Middle Ages, and actually predates Christianity.
For centuries, people have derived multiple symbolic meanings from circles. In the case of the Celtic Cross, the circular element means many different things to many different people including the Sun, the Circle of Life, unity, and togetherness.
Keep this symbolism in mind, as we’re now going to dive into the history and legend of the Celtic Cross.
The Legend of the Celtic Cross
It cannot be denied that the history behind the Celtic Cross is just as awe-inspiring as the cross itself. It’s thought that the Celtic Cross was introduced to the people of Ireland by none other than our patron saint, St. Patrick.
It’s believed he used the Celtic Cross to educate Irish pagans in the hope of converting them to Christianity. How did he do this? Well, the pagan Celts were said to have worshipped the Sun. We mentioned earlier that many see the circular halo of the Celtic Cross as a symbol for the Sun. This is because St. Patrick, according to legend, combined the images of the traditional Christian Cross with the circular halo representing the Sun to establish a connection between life, the circle of light, and devoting oneself to Christianity.
Others believe that St. Patrick created the Celtic Cross by laying the Christian Cross over the halo in an effort to show that Christ was more powerful than the Sun God.
What the Celtic Cross means today
The Celtic Cross become synonymous with what it means to be truly Irish and has stood the test of time throughout Ireland’s history. The stone-made Celtic Crosses, often depicting stories from the Bible, date right as far back as the 8th century. These can still be seen throughout the countryside of Ireland today and are a unique attraction for visiting tourists and natives alike.
Rather unsurprisingly, the image of the Celtic Cross has been recreated time and time again in paintings, literature, and in more modern times as tattoos and jewellery. Celtic Cross necklaces and pendants can be found in all shapes and sizes and are worn by people right across the world as a personal connection or reminder of Ireland and Irish culture.
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