There are many places in the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland where you will see large numbers of Celtic crosses. Many people confuse the Celtic cross with the High Cross and the Irish Memorial Cross, but it is completely different. The image of this cross is that of a conventional Latin cross with a circle connecting the stem and the arms. One usually associates this as a symbol of the Irish missionaries, but since they are found in England, Scotland and Wales as well as Ireland, it is really seen as a symbol of early Christianity. During the Dark Ages all of these locations did have contact with Ireland.
No one knows for sure how the cross came to be or what it really symbolizes. Some scientists have suggested that the ring inside the cross represents the halo of Christ and others believe it has its roots in the pagan religions of the Celts and Druids who worshipped the Sun. The crosses were erected in sacred places and were used to declare adherence to the beliefs of Christianity. Still other interpretations of the cross see the straight lines representing man and the circle representing woman. This is because a similar symbol exists in Hindu tradition representing the union of man and woman.
The early churches were very small, and since there was always a cross in the churchyard, religious celebrations often took place with the people gathered around the cross. Based on the location of these crosses, though, not all of them were erected for religious purposes. Some may have been landmarks to show the way for travelers on foot and others may have been used as landmarks for those at sea either telling them that an area was safe for landing or to denote dangerous areas around the shoreline.
There are examples of this cross that date back 5000 years or more. According to legends, St. Columba introduced this cross to Ireland and others say that St. Patrick drew the circle in the cross to show a connection between the pagan religion and Christianity. The first crosses were on large rocks that laid flat on the ground. The four arms of the cross could also denote the four points of the compass.
The cross was decorated with carved designs and intricate geometric shapes. Free-standing crosses were very elaborate and were often made from four pieces of stone - the base, the shaft, the head and the upper cross arm - all of which were held together with mortar.
Celtic jewelry, displaying the cross, began to be made in Ireland in the mid-1800's. Many people wore this jewelry as a symbol of their faith. They were also being placed in cemeteries and churches all over the United Kingdom by 1890. Today, they rarely have any religious significance as they are worn for their beauty. The Celtic symbol of the cross is also used to denote ancestry as being from the Celtic countries. Whatever the original, it is clear that these early crosses were the work of highly trained craftsmen.
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