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BellaOnline's Irish Culture Editor


The Celtic Cross

Guest Author - Mary Ellen Sweeney

Celtic Cross with Knotted Desings, 7th Century, Ireland

This Celtic Cross with knotted designs is from 7th-century Ireland. It's held up well out in all that weather for all that time. There are more legends about the Celtic crosses than there are truths, but one truth remains clear: they are important icons to a spiritual people across the ages, (European time, when an age really is an age.) and they should be protected and given the respect they merit.

There's one not too flattering legend about Saint Patrick and some reluctant Irish converts. The Irish were attached to their ways, after all, and they argued that the phallic burial stones they used were simply too important to give up. These were free-standing phallic symbols, representing the Druid moon goddess of fertility with a circle surrounding her head. When Patrick modified the pagan symbol by adding a cross to represent Christ on the Cross, the pagans all went along with the new religion and gave up their old ways. Right.

There is very little hard-core evidence whether any of the stories associated with this famous Irish symbol are true or false. As with so many things in Irish history, there are so many stories of their origin and evolution that the stories can carry little weight or authenticity. So much for a great imagination.

However, there are some things that we do know about the Celtic Cross---most of them to date around the 9th century or thereabouts, and are found in Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. These were used as gravestones, the early ones laying flat on the grave as a marker, and then tilted upright as they are typically found. The grave markers were originally solid and embellished with inscriptions and carvings in the stone. Over time, the extraneous rock was worn away, leaving the Celtic Cross as we know it today.

The phallic symbols are common in many ancient cultures and have been claimed equally to represent the beliefs of both paganism and Christianity. The outstretched horizontal and soaring vertical arms have been said simultaneously to represent the pagan four parts of man, the four elements, and the four points of the compass, and then there is the familiar Crucifix, which demonstrates the love of God through Jesus Christ on the cross (the outstretched arms and the head looking upwards towards Heaven) and the circle, as on the Celtic Cross, reminds us of the eternal love of God for His frail creation or of the power and majesty of the sun god.

Celtic Cross PhotoThe Celtic Cross is found all through the British Isles, not only in Ireland---but then, so were the Celts! It is also known as The Cross of Life, for the ring circling round the cross, which is likely a Celtic addition to the Christian cross.

And there you have it. As a symbol of love and power and an attempted glimpse into things eternal, the Celtic Cross is another of those mystical Irish things that enraptures by its elusive beginnings. The only real truth is that the Celtic Cross is enjoying a renewed interest all over the world and that its origins will continue to be debated and argued for as long as the sun continues to rise.

Irish Easter Eggs. (Link to eggs on left-hand side of page. Hurry! They go fast!
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Content copyright © 2014 by Mary Ellen Sweeney. All rights reserved.
This content was written by Mary Ellen Sweeney. If you wish to use this content in any manner, you need written permission. Contact Bee Smith for details.


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