The Story of the Celtic Cross

Standing Celtic Cross

Originally posted April 1, 2014

The magnificent High Crosses of the Celts, famed for their craftsmanship, are characterized by the circle connecting the four arms of a standard cross.  Found throughout Ireland and Scotland, Celtic crosses predate Christianity and were first used by pagans in the worship of the sun.  In pagan times, the Celtic cross was known as a Sun Cross or Sun Wheel and was a symbol of Odin, the Norse god. The circle in the cross is now widely known to represent the sun.

celtic-crossInterpretations of the parts of the cross vary.  Some believe that the horizontal portion of the cross represented the earthly world and the vertical portion, heaven.  The joining part represents the unification of heaven and earth.  In other explanations, the number four holds great significance with the four arms of the cross representing north-south-east-west, fire-earth-air-water, and mind-body-soul-heart.

Used by Romans to commemorate battle victories, it was not until the 4th century A.D. with the introduction of the Cult of the Cross by the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine, that the Celtic cross was used to represent Christ’s victory.

During the great conversion of many pagans to Christianity, Christian philosophers adapted the Celtic Cross and taught that the meaning of the circle was to represent Christ, the center of Christianity, as well as eternal life and God’s infinite love.

In Irish legend, St. Patrick is credited with introducing the first Celtic cross.  The Celts told him of the sacred stone they worshiped, representing the moon goddess.  St. Patrick made the mark of a Latin cross through the circle and blessed the stone, creating the first Celtic cross.

Each Celtic Cross is a self-contained monument, some of them as high as twenty feet with their most prominent characteristic being the center circle.  Even today, many believe these Celtic crosses have a protective influence, and are one of the most endearing of Christian symbols.

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