The Celtic cross is a symbol of both culture and faith. The true origins are unknown but there are many theories and legends.
Two cultures combined
One Christian legend says that the first Celtic cross was formed by St Patrick while bringing Christianity to the Druids. The Druids used to worship a large circular stone. St Patrick, on seeing the significance of this stone, drew a large cross through the middle of it in order to bless it.
From this act, the two cultures combined to form the Celtic cross. The cross represents Christianity and the circle is the Celtic representation of eternity, no beginning and no end.
The Celtic Cross predates Christianity
However, there are many different meanings. One suggests that the cross represents the four directions of north, south, east and west or the four elements; earth, fire, air and water.
This would suggest that the symbol of the cross predates Christianity and indeed it does appear in many ancient cultures. Carvings of crosses can even be found in caves dating back to the Stone Age.
Sun Cross to Cetlic Cross
Before Christianity came to Ireland, the Gaelic people worshipped a number of different gods. One of these gods was Taranis, God of Thunder, who was often represented holding a thunderbolt in one hand and a wheel in the other.
During the Bronze Age this wheel was often depicted on Celtic coins or worn as jewellery. It usually had four spokes and was known as the Sun Cross. The two symbols are very similar which suggests the Sun Cross may have evolved into the Celtic cross over time.
Symbol of Celtic heritage
The origins may be pagan but it was championed by Christianity in the form of the High Crosses around the countryside and in the illuminated manuscripts.
The majority of the people who use the Celtic cross symbol today are Christian but many people also wear pendants as a symbol of their Irish (or Scottish or Welsh) heritage.