Irish legend traces the Celtic cross to St. Patrick. Some say Patrick integrated a circle around the intersection made by the traditional cross to draw Irish pagans, some of who worshipped the sun, to Christianity. Some believe Patrick made the connection between the sun and the Light of the World—Jesus. Others say Patrick put the sun-circle behind the cross to show the supremacy of Jesus over pagan idols.
What is the meaning of the Celtic cross? How did the Celtic cross originate?
Other stories have the circle representing a moon goddess or a Druid symbol, or even a phallic symbol. A more practical theory is that the circle, when incorporated with a cross, makes the structure stronger to last longer.
A Celtic cross often has intricate Gaelic patterns on the arms of the cross and sometimes on the circle. Insular art, interlacing bands, often decorate a Celtic cross. This art style is also known as Hiberno-Saxon art and is linked with Celtic Christianity and Irish monasticism. Some of the best insular art is found in the Book of Kells, an illustrated depiction of the four Gospels. Some of the same types of artwork in the Book of Kells is used on Celtic crosses. Other Celtic crosses are more simple, consisting of the two geometric shapes—lines and a circle.
Before most people were literate, Celtic crosses with engravings of Bible scenes were used as teaching tools. Other times, the cross would be set up to communicate the location as the home of a Christian or a town of Christians. When the cross included a long vertical stem, it usually marked a holy site.
In modern times, the Celtic cross is used on gravestones and as a symbol of Irish national pride. Some people wear the cross as jewelry to show their religious devotion, Irish heritage, or simply because they like its style. Some organizations and sports teams incorporate the Celtic cross in their logos in pride of their Irish heritage.
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