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History Of The Celtic Cross

Elaborate high cross monuments stand tall all over Ireland. They are adorned with magnificent etched work detailing, which run all the way through the cross. These striking crosses induce awe in us for their sheer size and craftsmanship – no doubt a long work of love from the creator. It is no surprise that these wonderful monuments which celebrate the Christian faith have become so ingrained into Irish culture. Love for the crosses have spread across the pond with many countries producing various Irish Celtic inspired items. They have become sort of a trademark of Ireland reminding us of the land of saints and scholars, the missionary's, our faith and of the incredible level of talent that has enhanced & shaped our Irish heritage.

These fascinating monuments are thought to be the work of Saint Patrick. Theories have flowed that St. Patrick was careful not to overstep on the pagans believes and blended the Cross and the pagan symbols together to guide them gradually to the Christian faith. A theory that is most probable as he was creative with his teaching of the Christian faith. Other theories suggest that it was St Columba or St Declan who commissioned the work. Historians also believe that the symbols could have been incorporated to strengthen the stone from the elements such as high winds and rain – they argue that it was a necessary work to prevent breakage of the stone. Whatever the reason, these beautiful crosses are a testament to the faithful in the time gone past.

The Tree Types of Crosses

High Cross

A cross must be over 800 years old and must be ornamental in order to be called a high Cross. The easiest way to distinguish the high cross from a Celtic cross is to analyse the circle around the cross. The circle is close to each end of the cross and the cross does not overstep the circle boundary by much. On the other hand a Celtic cross has over stepped the circle boundary significantly in comparison.






Celtic Cross

A Celtic Cross is more of a territorial indicator. They will date from the 12th century and they are often confused for a high cross because of the height – but they are not the same thing. By the time most of these crosses were commissioned the majority of Ireland would have been Christian. This seen an increase in illustrations from the gospel.

Memorial Crosses

Usually seen in remembrance of the dead such as a grave. This cross was popularized in the 1960's in Ireland and there was an explosion of the use of the Celtic Cross. A memorial cross will usually have some explanation of its existence in honour of someone or a group of individuals who are remembered for something great or tragic.

Extraordinarily, while the symbols originally are pagan symbols they have a remarkable similarity in nature. They Trinity Knot, for example was one symbol, but had three sides and a never ending cycle and the Christian faith has a similar dogma – the Holy Trinity (three in one) and never ending life. The Celtic Knot has fabulous knotwork and also has never ending cycles. Often a High cross will have a circle around the top of the monument. It has been debated that this circle was used to symbolize the sun and its shape was adopted onto the cross to show the eternal sacrifice Jesus Christ made for human kind. As Ireland moved on from the pagan culture, Celtic crosses began to pop up across Ireland. These beautiful monuments featured scenes from the gospel mixed with the Celtic symbols. In the 1960's, Ireland had a huge revival of the Celtic knot stone work. Memorials and grave stones became popular for the Irish and the Knot work was once again flooding the country.

Are you visiting Ireland? Why not check out these Celtic crosses for yourself. Sandstone was used during the making of some of the crosses, these crosses have been placed in museums to protect them from the weather. Others are still visible throughout the country in different areas. Currently, there are fourty five crosses visible in different locations including Co. Kilkenny, Sligo, Donegal, Meath, Fermanagh, Tipperary, Wexford, Tyrone, Down, Clare & Westmeath. Check out our Celtic Crosses online, which are inspired by these famous monuments covering our beautiful little island.


Read our blog on how Irish Jewellery is a tribute to Ancient Ireland.