The Celtic Cross
From ancient standing stones erected as public monuments to a later popularity as grave markers, the distinct shape of the Celtic Cross has long been an emblem of Celtic identity. Modern markets have seized the symbol and it can now be found on T-shirts, tattoos, and jewelry–including a full line of beautiful Peter Stone Celtic Crosses –as a mute expression of cultural pride, but for all its beauty, power and popularity, its original meaning is not as clear as some may think.
Roots of Stone
The earliest appearances of the Celtic Cross can be seen today in the massive stone carvings that are still standing, some 12 centuries later. The designs engraved upon the stones vary from runic writing to foliage to stylized knotwork, as well as human figures depicting the crucifixion, depending on the time frame in which they were constructed. These imposing monuments were sometimes dedicated to individuals, an early precursor to the Celtic-Cross-as-grave-marker movement of later history.
Lost in Antiquity
The legend and oral tradition that surround the origin of the Celtic Cross are myriad and varied, making it difficult to sort out the true meaning of this ancient icon, and resulting in a diverse and colorful history shaded as much by belief as by truth. The two interconnected aspects, the cross and the circle, are so fundamental that they exist as symbols in nearly every culture on earth; their combined meanings, however, are not quite so universal, leading to some argument about the true message of the Celtic Cross.
It Depends On Who You Ask
Catholics will likely agree that the inclusion of the circle represents eternity and emphasizes the endlessness of God’s love. Pagan and Wiccans believe that the Celtic Cross is an expansion on the earlier druid-worshipped Sun Cross. There’s a legend that credits St. Patrick with its inception, claiming that he marked a cross through a moon circle carved into ancient standing-stone and blessed the image, blending the Christian and Pagan symbols into one that both cultures could accept.
Scholars tend to shy away from questions of meaning, there being so little written confirmation and so much oral tradition involved that proof is nearly impossible to come by. The most accepted version of its origin seems to be the blending of both Christian and pagan tradition, though St. Patrick’s involvement is a matter of some question.
Undeniably, the circle is present in countless cultures as an emblem of the sun, moon, or eternity–all of which speak to the powerful concept of the endless cycle. The cross is also a fixture in virtually every civilization, usually as a representation of the four corners or elements of earth, or the joining of forces. Eventually, Christianity “trademarked” the cross, so to speak, and overshadowed its prehistoric meaning with the contemporary concept of crucifixion-but the original meaning still has power, and the modern Celtic Cross has evolved to honor a fusion of elements: faith, unity, and the endless cycle.