We are pleased to offer a number of Celtic crosses, in sterling silver and 14 kt. gold, from our extensive Celtic jewelry collection. Inspiration for these crosses comes from the stone Celtic crosses found throughout Britain in a wide variety of forms, from the starkly simple to the complex and highly ornamented.
Celtic crosses evolved in Britain from two Christian symbols, the Chi-Rho of the Emperor Constantine of Rome, and the linear cross, the simple rendition of the Roman execution cross. The Chi-Rho, a monogram of chi and rho, the first two letters of Christ in Greek, was incised into flat stone grave markers and pillar stones, large upright stone shafts, in the 4th century.
The early examples had the six arms of the Roman Chi-Rho, but a distinctive style with the chi rotated so that its long arm overlapped the rho soon developed in Britain. The alpha and omega, denoting Christ was the beginning and the end, were omitted, and a circle representing the sun and the endless circle of eternity was put around the Chi-Rho. The top semicircle of the rho was reduced to a hook or omitted entirely.
The linear cross, which came to represent the crucifixion of Christ, was first used on grave markers in the 5th century. The early crosses were very simple. The circle of the sun was later placed around the upper part, forming a design similar to that of some styles of the Chi-Rho. During the 5th and 6th centuries the Chi-Rho and linear cross symbols converged in design, creating the basis for the crosses we now recognize as the Celtic Cross.
The earliest symbols were formed of simple lines cut into the stone face of a slab or pillar. Over time more ornament was added, such as the multiple lines in our Celtic cross, and the recurved hook on our Chi-Rho cross.
Celtic knotwork could be used to form the cross, as shown in our Nanhyfer Cross, or included within the cross, as are the triskeles within our Trinity Cross. Ornamentation could be very complex, as it developed in parallel with the development of the Celtic illustrated manuscripts, incorporating intricate knotwork, scriptural stories, or additional symbols.
The first free-standing shaped crosses appeared late in the 7th century. Early examples were carved as cross heads on a pillar, or with minimal protrusion of the horizontal member, well supported by the circle, as shown in our Croes Hir, or Long Cross. Later crosses developed intricate ornamentation, with scriptural stories, such as our Muiredach’s Cross, which has full ornamentation on the front, back and sides of the cross.
Later crosses developed intricate ornamentation, with scriptural stories, such as our Muiredach’s Cross, which has full ornamentation on the front, back and sides of the cross. The Muiredach’s cross, located in Monasterboice, Ireland is considered one of the finest examples of Celtic high crosses.
The circle of the sun could be shown as a simple plain circle, or could be designed to denote its significance more clearly, as in the Nevern Cross where radial extensions on the circle suggest the sun’s rays. The circle of the sun could be shown as a simple plain circle, or could be designed to denote its significance more clearly, as in the Nevern Cross where radial extensions on the circle suggest the sun’s rays.
St. Brynach’s Cross
Some crosses, such as the St. Brynach’s Cross, had Celtic knotwork on both the cross head and pillar. This style of cross continued to evolve and change through to medieval times, although reaching a peak in the 8th to 10th centuries.
From their early beginnings onwards the Celtic crosses have shown immense variety, and an ability to adapt the symbols of the earlier deities to the new Christian faith. The triskele, denoting the tripartite universe of the Celts came to denote the trinity of the Christians. The Circle of the sun, or of eternity was linked with the cross or Chi-Rho, to form an enduring symbol of the tolerance of the followers of one deity towards those of other deities in earlier times. Within the confines of stone sculptures the Celtic crosses show the widely drawn inspiration and the fertile imagination so evident in the richly illustrated Celtic manuscripts.
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