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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Celtic Cross

The most enduring symbol of the Christian religion is the cross. In reality, of course, the cross is much more than a mere symbol, but it’s representation graces many things—from churches to hospitals and ambulances, to fine chains hung around the necks of people around the world.
One of the most beautiful representations of cross symbology is the Celtic Cross. Most distinctively, a circle is centered around the intersection of the cross. Examples hundreds of years old exist in abundance across England and Ireland. Many symbologists have found examples of the basic shape (cross over the circle) from even pre-Christian times, but the ornate versions we call Celtic Crosses have their genesis in the earliest days of Christianity in Wales, Scotland and Ireland.
Also called High Crosses (presumably because many were carved from tall standing stones left by the Druids and other ancient societies), there are still examples dating back to the 7th Century, such as the Cross of the Scriptures (pictured left) on the banks of the Shannon River in Ireland.
Characteristic of Celtic art is a highly ornamental style, with an avoidance of straight lines and, even occasionally, symmetry. While some Celtic crosses do incorporate frescoes, most display runes or symbolism that is undecipherable, far from the classical tradition of the Greeks or Romans.

Many traditions exist as to why this particular shape of cross has come to be associated with the Celtic tradition, with explanations running the gamut from pagan symbol to navigational aid. In the absence of consensus, perhaps the favorite one of native sons will suffice: It is said that St. Patrick, preaching to some soon-to-be-converted pagans, was shown a standing stone marked with a circle, symbol of their moon goddess. Partick drew the sign of the Latin cross across the circle and blessed it, making it the first Celtic Cross.

W. S

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