It is believed that the Celtic cross symbolises the bridge to higher energies and planes of existence. The vertical axis (spiritual realm) links the horizontal axis (earthly plane) whilst the circle (the great wheel of life) encompasses all.
History of the Celtic Cross
Following the crucifixion early Christians preferred to avoid using the cross as a symbol of their faith. Instead, in those early years, the fish and peacock were recognised symbols. It was not until the fourth century, when Emperor Constantine abolished the cross as a form of punishment, that the chi-rho monogram became the adopted symbol and many stones were carved with the Greek letter for 'Ch' (X) and 'r' (P). After the seventh century the traditional cross, as we know it, developed and was used to decorate stones across our landscape.
The Picts of Scotland adopted the Christian cross as the main feature of their beautifully inscribed cross slabs. Early crosses were simply inscribed into stones on the ground but later developments led to removing the background material leaving raised sections. Using illustrations from old manuscripts and other sources the stone craftsmen carved various designs in relief.
Not all Celtic crosses have a circle around the cross. In the time of Constantine the cross was a symbol of triumph. Triumph was also celebrated by the Romans using the victor's laurel wreath so it is unclear exactly where the ringed cross originated. However, it became the favoured style in Ireland where so many high crosses were built. Unlike many of their Anglo-Saxon counterparts Irish crosses exhibit intricate swirls of the La Tene style. Common to many crosses from England, Ireland and Scotland are the interlacing knotwork panels and more rarely the use of animals in the designs.
The Celtic cross, as a symbol, had more power than its imagery with all the carving. The typical Celtic cross with its great wheel and five bosses is one of the supreme achievements of early Christian art. The bosses could have represented the head, body and limbs of Christ surrounded in the glory of the wheel. To the Celts, it portrayed a language of symbols which gave it an elemental power.
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