Cross_ArticleThe Celts were a people originally documented in the fifth century BC, who lived in a broad area of Europe north of the Alps. A key reason they’ve remained interesting to us in the modern world is that they worked hard to create images that expressed spiritual concepts. Celtic images – crosses, dragons and knots in particular – still seem to evoke strong feelings in us centuries after they created, perhaps more than any other type of religious art (paganism, remember, is actually a type of religion).

Celts believed the world revolved around a universal order, and many of their symbols suggested a central element like a tree being the axis of three other elements: the Heavens, the human world and the world of roots beneath our feet.

A cross containing a circle appears to be the earliest symbol of these four cosmic pieces. Crosses with circles appeared on ritual spoons before they became ubiquitous on stone monuments – particularly in Ireland.

A more sophisticated view of Celtic crosses gradually evolved, where the Celts saw the points of the cross symbolizing the sun’s four daily events: sunrise, zenith, sunset and an equal zenith underneath the earth. Some historians have suggested that the circle on these crosses suggests an unbreakable bond between the sun and the daily circle of time.

Early Christian crosses in Ireland may be been based on these Celtic designs, using a dragon symbol or sun design at the center of the cross before the central image of Christ became universally accepted.

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