Contents

Preface 7

Introduction - The Celts 9

1 The Historical Background of the Celtic Cross 11

2 Precedents and Origins 22

3 Archaic Celtic Stones 32

4 The Signs of the Land 41

5 Heavenly Columns 50

6 Early Celtic Crosses 61

7 The Evolution of the Celtic Cross 72

8 Form and Pattern in Celtic Art 82

9 British Cross Styles 97

10 Irish High Crosses 119

11 The Fall and Rise of the Celtic Cross 134

Gazetteer 145

Bibliography 153

Index 156

I dedicate this book to my Celtic ancestors, both from the Kingdom of Kernow and of the Race of Diarmid.

The three principal endeavours of a Bard: One is to learn and collect sciences, The second is to teach, And the third is to make peace and to put an end to all injury; for to do contrary to these things is not usual or becoming to a Bard.

The Triads of Britain preface

The Celtic Cross is known throughout the world as the emblem of Celtic Christianity, and in many ways it can be considered the symbol of Celticness itself. In this book, I present an overview of the rich spiritual ground from which grew the Celtic Cross as we know it, celebrating its forerunners and the Celtic Cross itself through the diversity of historical designs and as a continuing manifestation of the living tradition of Celtic art.

Nigel Campbell Pennick Bar Hill Candlemas Eve 1996

Author's Note: I use the terms bce and ce to denote years 'Before the Common Era' and 'Common Era'. The terms bc (Before Christ) and ad (Anno Domini - the year of the Lord) are specifically Christian, while bce and ce are ideologically neutral.

Introduction -The Celts

The Celtic tradition is one of the most recognizable elements of contemporary European culture, and it is also one of the most ancient. Celtic tradition can trace its roots back over 2,700 years. The ancient Greeks gave the barbarian peoples who lived to the north of them the name Keltoi. Although these central European Celts were not a genetically coherent ethnic group, or a political union, nevertheless they formed a specific, recognizable culture, with shared elements of language, religious beliefs and artistic outlook. Around 650 bce, the Celts were influenced by Greek and Etruscan culture, and, by adding and adapting these elements to the Hallstatt culture, the characteristically Celtic style of art came into being. The first recognizably Celtic civilization emerged around 500 bce in northeast France and the middle Rhine, which is called the 'early La Tene period', after the place where the characteristic artefacts of the period were discovered. Early in the fourth century bce, the Celtic tribes expanded westwards into what is now France and the British Isles. They moved southwest into the Iberian peninsula, south into northern Italy and east through the Balkans into Asia Minor.

This expansion of the Celts was not permanent, for, from the first century bce onwards, they suffered reverses. They were expelled from eastern Europe by Slavic tribes, and conquered by the Romans first in northern Italy and then in the rest of Gaul, modern Switzerland, southern Germany and Austria. In the first century ce, the Romans conquered most of Britain. In the third century ce, the Celts in southern Germany were overwhelmed by the Alamannic peoples. Today, many centuries later, despite many further historical vicissitudes, Celtic Opposite: The archetypal culture has not been eliminated from Europe. It has left its mark in Ccltic Cross as sunwheel. England, France and Switzerland, parts of Austria, Germany, Hungary,

Spain and northern Italy, while Ireland, Wales, Scotland, Cornwall, the Isle of Man and Brittany are still predominantly Celtic in culture.

The Celts have always given great respect to the arts, especially the spoken word. In former times, the highest honours were bestowed upon the bards, and the druids taught their doctrines through the techniques of a highly developed art of memory. The Celtic worldview was non-literalistic: it was expressed through a complex series of symbols and metaphors that gave access to the invisible inner nature of things. Even when they were conquered, the Celts never lost their exceptional abilities. Under Roman rule in north Italy, Celtic families produced many outstanding men of letters in the Latin tradition, among them Cato, Catullus, Varro and Vergil. Later, in the north, Irish, British and Breton bards laid the foundations of the medieval literature of western Europe, and the tradition has continued unbroken until the present time. Celtic writers of the twentieth century have been among the most pre-eminent, among them William Butler Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Seamus Heaney. As a medium of the intellect, Celtic art crystallizes the essential infinity of the cosmos and gives expression to it in physical form.

The religion of the Celts was an integral part of the culture of everyday life, was nature-venerating, polytheistic, and recognized goddesses as well as gods, which were represented both aniconically and iconical-ly. According to the best accounts, Pagan Celtic spirituality recognized the cyclic nature of existence, which involved reincarnation of individuals, and immediate continuity between the material world and the otherworld. The druidic teachings, which have come down to us through Welsh tradition, tell of an integrated relationship between humans and nature, expressed through a vast body of natural lore concerning the seasons, the stars, matter and existence. Celtic spirituality has always recognized that there is an unseen world that interpenetrates the visible world. Everything exists on several simultaneous levels: human consciousness interprets them as the physical, the spiritual and the symbolic. Celtic religion understood the course of nature as the will of the Gods. In accordance with this, they venerated both local and general deities, which they saw as being present in natural sanctuaries, especially in ensouled places in the landscape. So their main places of worship were at holy hills, springs, rivers, lakes, trees and in woodland. Thus, Celtic culture was integrated with nature, expressed through the multiple possibilities of life itself. Most of this traditional lore is still known and preserved in Celtic folk-tradition.

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