Catholic Company® Good Catholic™ Catholic Coffee™™ Morning Offering™

What is the Celtic cross?

How did a pagan symbol help spread the Catholic Faith?

If you have enjoyed roaming the rugged Irish countryside, you may have stumbled upon a Celtic cross.

These crosses, ranging from small, simple grave markers to 20-foot-high landmarks, some intricately carved by artisans, others roughly hewn by commoners’ hands, are spread throughout Ireland.

But what are they, what do they represent, and how did they become such cultural symbols, both in Ireland and worldwide?

In Ireland, it is a popular legend that the Christian cross was introduced to the island by St. Patrick. Prior to that, there was a variety of Celtic religious imagery on the Island. The Celtic cross is the beautiful combination of these images, Christian and Celtic, into a unity that relays profound realities of our Faith.

The distinctive Celtic cross is usually mounted on a circle, a Celtic representation of the sun and the circle of life, and often features Celtic knotwork or other symbolism.

Tradition says that St. Patrick, desiring to evangelize the Celtic people, was inspired to use religious concepts they were familiar with, so as to explain the realities of the Faith in an accessible manner. In this tradition, it is said that St. Patrick combined the cross of Christianity with this circle to give the pagans an idea of the life-giving Cross of Christ.

By linking the Celtic circle, which evoked eternity and the life-giving properties of the sun, with the Christian cross, the Celtic cross helped the people of Ireland conceptualize the stunning reality of Christ’s life-giving gift of eternity, given to us through the Cross.

Other interpretations claim that placing the cross on top of the circle represents Christ’s supremacy over the pagan sun. The cross symbolizes the God-man’s death and Resurrection and therefore His power over all of creation.

Utilizing these striking symbols, already deeply rooted in Celtic culture, Christianity was able to spread rapidly throughout Ireland. Although there was not widespread literacy in Ireland at the time, these symbols told a powerful story to the Celtic people without the use of a single word. Through these symbols, stories of the Bible and the tenets of Christianity were communicated, making the Celtic cross a silent yet eloquent preacher of the Faith.

In contemporary times, the Celtic cross is far more than a relic of the past. It stands as a proud emblem of Irish heritage and the Catholic Faith. Whether in the form of jewelry, decor, or gravestones, the Celtic cross remains a popular symbol, a testament to the resilience and adaptability of the Faith through the ages.

Bring home your own piece of this incredible Irish tradition with an Irish Blessing Box! Engraved with the traditional Irish Blessing, a beautiful Celtic Cross, and your family name, this box will be a powerful reminder of your own family’s tradition of faith. Order your Irish Blessing box today and receive it before St. Patrick’s Day!

You may enjoy...

Load More