Celtic Knots, Crosses and St. Patrick

The Celts were people strongly connected to the earth, the sea, dawn and dusk. Originally from Central Europe, they inhabited Ireland, Wales, Scotland and England around 500-150 B.C. after being driven west and north by the Romans.  St. Patrick introduced Christianity to the Celts in 431 AD. He converted the Celts by emphasizing the similarities between their beliefs and those of the Christian faith.

The afterlife, Avalon and Thin Places, are examples of the Celts’ beliefs in the afterlife. The Celts also believed that all things were connected. If you examine the intricate art work found in the tattoo below, you will note that there is no beginning and no end. Like the symbolism in this art, the Celts believed that all of us were holy, that we all contributed to the common good, that all of us neither began or ended.

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Knot patterns first appeared in Roman floor mosaics during the third and fourth centuries. Gradually, these designs made their way to Ireland.  More than 100 High Crosses with Celtic knot patterns were erected in Ireland. Many others stand  throughout the United Kingdom. The picture below is of a Celtic cross in Wales, at Carew Castle near Tenby, Wales, and considered to be one of the finest Celtic crosses in Wales.

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It is a popular legend that the Celtic Christian cross was introduced by Saint Patrick. Many claim that he combined the symbol of Christianity with the sun cross to give pagan followers an idea of its importance. However and whoever designed the Celtic cross, we are blessed to see this high cross with its intricate mystic knot design all over the United Kingdom and Ireland. Celtic patterns are also evident in this magnificent cross at the Rock of Cashel in Ireland. The Celtic knot symbol, is also referred to as the mystic knot, or the endless knot.  Looking into the pattern we are reminded of infinite. God is constant and ever present.

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The Irish High Cross at the Rock of Cashel

According to local mythology, the Rock of Cashel originated when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave, resulting in the Rock’s landing in Cashel. Cashel is reputed to be the site of the conversion of the King of Munster by St. Patrick in the 5th century. For several hundred years prior to the Norman invasion,  The Rock of Cashel was the traditional seat of the kings of Munster. Munster is one of the provinces in Ireland and located in the south. It is famous for its Irish traditional music.

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Thanks to the Romans and St. Patrick, we can enjoy these historic crosses all across the Celtic regions.

 

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Celtic Cross at a monastery near Galway.

Since St. Patrick’s time, the Celtic cross and knot designs have grown in popularity.  Perhaps this is because the cross and the knots convey a message of continuity, connectivity and infinity, or perhaps it is because the symbols themselves connect us to tradition and the blessed St. Patrick.

 

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