Celtic crosses, claddagh, and harps are some of the most recognizable symbols that come to mind when you hear “Ireland”. There are still many ruins throughout the country that have Celtic crosses standing that were constructed in the early centuries of the current era. Where they have come from, who made them and why they exist in the first place are all mysteries shrouded in the past, however there are a few ideals that still hold weight with the common populace.
A Variety of Celtic Crosses
There haven’t really been many of the original Celtic crosses constructed since the 12th century C.E. and despite what many think, they have never been used for grave markers. The original task they withheld seems to be that of a boundary marker. For instance, you may find a Celtic cross at the intersection of two parishes or even as monuments near a monastery or cathedral. A resurgence of these types of crosses came about in the 19th century and it was at that time that they were used as gravestones.
Intricate designs with symbolic meanings decorate the Celtic crosses of old. The construction of the cross itself has specific meaning combined with conjecture that make them enduring to many people in many cultures. The structure of the High Cross, or the Celtic Cross, has four major components: the cross base, intersection, ring and capstone.
The base is usually construction out of stone that had a previous life as perhaps a millstone and the cross is seated within by a tenon joint that holds it in place for, well, hundreds of years at least. The ring encompasses the cross in ancient crosses and the ring lets the cross pierce through on those constructed later by the Christians. On the vertical axis, the cross is part of the heavenly world and with the horizontal, the cross is part of the earthly world; together they unite for eternal life. Some of the earliest Celtic crosses were carved out of stone slabs. Some have not fared as well as others. Sandstone and granite were the materials used that have withstood the test of time from their ancient births.
The Celtic cross actually predates Christianity in Ireland; therefore its birthright comes from the ancient religions of perhaps the Druids. How the circle became a part of the cross has a varying history. One legend states that Saint Patrick himself added the circle to the cross when he wiped the “snakes” from Ireland and brought in Christiandom. It is said that the symbol he chose was to combine the sun or moon with Christianity, using the circle from the ancient religion to keep the inhabitants turned towards the new religion. The sun wheel from the pagan rites had the circular form that would become the circular form on the Celtic cross. Popular Christian belief thinks that the circle on the cross indicates the crown of thorns worn by Christ or the Chi Rho.
The panels on the Celtic crosses largely depict Biblical scenes. One side would show us stories from the Old Testament, while the opposite would show the New Testament. On the ancient crosses you will find Celtic knot designs, art depicting a simple story or perhaps a major event that had taken place. There can also be found animal patterns, spirals and key patterns such as the floral Tree of Life on the ancient cross.
These ancient guardians show eternal life, no matter where the initial design came from. You can find them in several counties in Ireland including: Tyrone, Louth, Meath, Offaly, Tipperary, Wicklow, Clare and Kildare. Contemporary usage of the Celtic cross includes symbolic heritage, new age jewelry and a Christian High Cross.