Celtic cross

Celtic cross
A simplified Celtic cross.
A simplified Celtic Christian cross.

A Celtic cross (Irish: cros Cheilteach,[1] Scottish Gaelic: crois Cheilteach, Manx: crosh Cheltiagh, Welsh: croes Geltaidd, Cornish: crows geltek, Breton: kroaz geltek) is a symbol that combines a cross with a ring surrounding the intersection. In the Celtic Christian world it was combined with the Christian cross and this design was often used for high crosses – a free-standing cross made of stone and often richly decorated.[2] With the Celtic Revival the shape, usually decorated with interlace and other motifs from Insular art, became popular for funerary monuments and other uses, and has remained so, spreading well beyond the British Isles.


Christian usage

Ireland and Great Britain

A Christian high cross with a Celtic cross design at Monasterboice in Ireland

In Ireland, it is a popular legend that the Celtic Catholic cross was introduced by Saint Patrick or possibly Saint Declan during his time converting the pagan Irish, though there are no examples from this early period. It has often been claimed that Patrick combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross, to give pagan followers an idea of the importance of the cross by linking it with the idea of the life-giving properties of the sun. Other interpretations claim that placing the cross on top of the circle represents Christ's supremacy over the pagan sun.

A distinctive Insular tradition of erecting monumental stone high crosses began by the 8th century, and possibly earlier. They probably followed earlier versions in wood, perhaps faced in metalwork. Some of these 'Celtic' crosses bear inscriptions in runes. Standing crosses in Ireland and areas under Irish influence tend to be shorter and more massive than their Anglo-Saxon equivalents, which have mostly lost their headpieces, and therefore perhaps required the extra strength provided by the ring. Irish examples with a head in Celtic cross form include the Cross of Kells, Ardboe High Cross, the crosses at Monasterboice, and the Cross of the Scriptures, Clonmacnoise, as well as those in Scotland at Iona and the Kildalton Cross, which may be the earliest to survive in good condition. There are surviving free-standing crosses in Cornwall, including St Piran's cross at Perranporth, and Wales.[3] Other stone crosses are found in the former Northumbria and Scotland, and further south in England, where they merge with the similar Anglo-Saxon cross making tradition, in the Ruthwell Cross for example. By about 1200 the initial wave of cross building came in to an end in Ireland.

A Celtic cross in a 16th century church in Hiiumaa, Estonia

The Celtic Revival of the mid-19th century led to an increased use and creation of Celtic crosses in Ireland. In 1853 casts of several historical high crosses were exhibited to interested crowds at the Dublin Industrial Exhibition. In 1857, Henry O'Neill published Illustrations of the Most Interesting of the Sculptured Crosses of Ancient Ireland. These two events stimulated interest in the Celtic cross as a symbol for a renewed sense of heritage within Ireland.

New versions of the high cross were designed as fashionable cemetery monuments in Victorian Dublin in the 1860s. From Dublin the revival spread to the rest of the country and beyond. Since the Celtic Revival, the ringed cross became an emblem of Celtic identity, in addition to its more traditional religious symbolism.[4] Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie, working on the Isle of Iona in Scotland from 1899 to 1940, popularised use of the Celtic Cross in jewellery.[5]


There are similar crosses in France, that cannot be really considered as Celtic crosses[citation needed], even if some specialists think they are influenced from the British Isles.[who?] Their design is different, but all the French examples are quite analogous in shape to each other. They are found mainly in the western part of France, in Normandy, Britanny and Limousin as far as Auvergne in the centre. Most of them were made around the 15th century.

In Lower Normandy, in Cotentin, many churches have kept their tombstones decorated with a Celtic cross.[6][7]


In Galicia Celtic crosses are usually found atop horreos, granaries, as a protective measure against any kind of evil.[8] They can also be found atop churches, and since the beginning of the 20th century in cemeteries, but they are unusual in cruceiros (high crosses). A very characteristic Galician style combines a Celtic cross with a Celtic simple knot.

Other usage

Since its revival in the 1850s, the Celtic cross has been used extensively as grave markers. This was a departure from medieval usage, when the symbol was more typically used for a public monument. The Celtic cross now appears in jewelry, T-shirts, tattoos, coffee cups and other retail items. Both the Gaelic Athletic Association and the Northern Ireland national football team use versions of the Celtic cross in their logos and advertising.

The Celtic cross is one of the most popular symbols used by individuals and organizations to represent white pride,[9] and is used as the logo for white nationalist website Stormfront.org.

In Germany, the Celtic cross was adopted by a prohibited political party (VSBD/PdA) leading to a ban of the symbol if used within a racist context (cf. Strafgesetzbuch section 86a). Although there were doubts on the constitutionality of the ban[10] it was upheld in a decision of the supreme court.[11]
In Italy there is a similar ban, deriving from Legge Mancino[12] (Mancino Act, from the Minister of Interior who enacted the law), although some example of the use of the Celtic Cross as a Roman Catholic Church symbol in North Italy.

The Zodiac Killer used a Celtic cross to sign his correspondence.

See also


  1. ^ Dictionary of Irish Terms
  2. ^ Werner 98
  3. ^ Langdon, Arthur G. (1896) Old Cornish Crosses. Truro: J. Pollard
  4. ^ Stephen Walker, "Celtic Revival Crosses", Celtic Arts Website, accessed 22 Nov 2008
  5. ^ "A Brief History of the Ritchies", Alexander Ritchie Website, accessed 20 Nov 208
  6. ^ Frédéric Scuvée, Les croix nimbées du Cotentin in Heimdal n°2, 1971.
  7. ^ Stéphane Laîné, Baligan ou les avatars d’un émir », in Remembrances et Resveries, Recueil d’articles en hommage à Jean Batany rassemblés et édités par Huguette Legros, Denis Hüe et Joël Grisward, Orléans, Éditions Paradigme.
  8. ^ Mariño Ferro, Xosé Ramón (2010). Dicionario de etnografia e antropoloxía de Galiza (1 ed.). Vigo: Nigra Trea. p. 212. ISBN 9788495364845. 
  9. ^ "Hate Symbols: Celtic Cross - From A Visual Database of Extremist Symbols, Logos and Tattoos", Anti-Defamation League, accessed 23 Jul, 2010
  10. ^ Andreas Stegbauer, "The Ban of Right-Wing Extremist Symbols according to Section 86a of the German Criminal Code", German Law Journal, No.2, 1 Feb 2007, accessed 22 Nov 2008
  11. ^ Pressemitteilung Nr. 209/08
  12. ^ Legge 205/1993


  • Werner, Martin (1990). "On the Origins of the Form of the Irish High Cross". Gresta (Gesta, Vol. 29, No. 1) 29 (1): 98–110. JSTOR 767104. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Celtic cross — n. a Latin cross having a wheel like circle around the intersection of the bars …   English World dictionary

  • Celtic cross — noun a Latin cross with a ring surrounding the intersection • Hypernyms: ↑Cross * * * ˌCeltic ˈcross 7 [Celtic cross] noun a cross with the vertical part longer than the horizontal part and a circle round the centre   Culture …   Useful english dictionary

  • Celtic cross — noun Date: 1873 a cross having essentially the form of a Latin cross with a ring about the intersection of the crossbar and upright shaft see cross illustration …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Celtic cross — a cross shaped like a Latin cross and having a ring that intersects each segment of the shaft and crossbar at a point equidistant from their junction. See illus. under cross. [1870 75] * * * …   Universalium

  • Celtic cross — Celt′ic cross′ n. rel a cross shaped like a Latin cross and having a ring that intersects each segment of the shaft and crossbar at a point equidistant from their junction • Etymology: 1870–75 …   From formal English to slang

  • Celtic cross — /kɛltɪk ˈkrɒs/ (say keltik kros), /sɛltɪk/ (say seltik) noun a cross resembling a Latin cross, but having a circle around the upper members centred on their point of intersection …   Australian English dictionary

  • celtic cross — noun a Christian symbol, common in Ireland, which combines the cross with a ring surrounding the intersection …   Wiktionary

  • Celtic cross — noun a Latin cross with a circle round the centre …   English new terms dictionary

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  • Celtic cross stitch — This article is about an ancient embroidery style called Celtic cross stitch. More specific crossed stitches styles and patterns used in the embroidery needlework can be found here, see cross stitches and cross stitchCeltic cross stitch… …   Wikipedia

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