Pagan And Christian Images

In the early Christian period, the distinction between what constituted a Pagan and a Christian image was unclear. In every age, Celtic artists have juxtaposed suitable elements from different sources. They have never adopted images haphazardly, but always in an appropriate way that reinforced whatever archetype of primordial holiness was required by the spiritual scheme they sought to portray. Thus, on Celtic Crosses, we find representations that can be interpreted equally as representing different myths. So there is the image that can be interpreted as the archetype of the hunter, Daniel amid the lions, or the hero or god, such as Odin, who overcomes or else is devoured by the beasts. Many Celtic images that were made after Christianity was introduced show no discrimination between Pagan and Christian images. Rather, Pagan and Christian elements are juxtaposed in such a way that emphasizes their similarities rather than their differences. So, instead of bringing division, they reinforce the archetype of holiness that is represented by a specific character from the Christian canon. Thus, traditional Celtic sacred elements which originated in the Pagan La Tene era appear alongside images of Christian priests and themes from Christian mythology. They are a continual reminder that in the Celtic lands there was no break, but a gradual, seamless transition between Pagan and Christian culture.

However, images depicting specifically Christian subjects in Celtic art are different from Pagan ones. This is not because of any noticeable difference in artistic or stylistic treatment, but because without exception they illustrate episodes and themes from written Biblical texts. Although they also follow iconographical conventions, Pagan images illustrate an oral narrative of sacred stories. In general, Pagan images represent the pictorial language of myth, while Christian ones come from a literate structure. Thus, the Pagan images are nearer to folk art than are the Christian ones. While the church sought to edit the scriptures to produce a definitive text of the Christian stories and doctrines, in the Pagan, oral culture, there was no rigid narrative. Because the druids committed nothing to writing and relied on memory, there was no orthodoxy in the sense of 'religions of the book'. Oral myth lives in action, word and image, not in books. This is why it is often rather difficult to identify images of Pagan goddesses and gods, whose artistic attributes may be based upon oral traditions that are lost now, such as the episodes from the life of Loki on several Manx crosses.

A number of ancient Celtic churches contain some quite remarkable images within their fabric or churchyards. Close to the high cross at Cardonagh in Donegal is a stone pillar with an image of a priest with a bell. His form is similar to earlier Pagan images that exist in situ in Brittany, such as the twin images at Elven, Morbihan, called Jean and Jeanne Babouin. Standing in a line inside the unroofed twelfth-century church on Boa Island in Lower Lough Erne, County Fermanagh, is a splendid colection of seven stone humanoid figures that date from around the year 900. They are both Pagan and Christian, including a sheela-na-gig, a seated man holding a book, an abbot or abbess with crozier and bell, and a squat figure in the cross-legged Celtic sitting position often associated with the antlered god Cernunnos. This figure has a large, horned, two-faced head. He appears again on a humanoid pillar-stone at Cardonagh, County Donegal, while a similar, squatting, antlered figure is present on the north cross at Clonmacnois.

At Rougham in County Clare stands another pillar-stone. This is in the form of a tan cross, the symbol of St Anthony of Egypt favoured by medieval stonemasons. It is carved with Celtic heads on the upper side. The churchyard of Caldragh has a two-faced janiform stone image which has a depression, perhaps for libations, between the heads. A curious stone preserved in the Margam Stones Museum in south Wales

Because the druids committed nothing to writing and relied on memory, there was no orthodoxy in the sense of 'religions of the book'.

dcpicts an ithyphallic man. In his hands he holds two small phallus-shaped staves. Although the actual names and sometimes the meanings of these figures are forgotten in many places, the old Pagan deities are still remembered occasionally. One such instance is at Kirk Conchan, near Douglas on the Isle of Man, where there is a dog-headed image depicting the Manx Celtic god, Conchem, who has been assimilated with the Christian saint, Christopher. A number of stone crosses with dog carvings are known from this place.

The Celts were known for their cult of the human head, in which they decapitated their enemies and preserved their heads as sacred objects. The Celto-Ligurian shrines at Roqueperteuse and Entremont in Bouches-du-Rhone in the south of France are among the best documented of the Celtic head shrines. Because these sacred structures were destroyed in antiquity by the Romans, the cult skulls were preserved in the ruins. There, archaeologists discovered human heads placed in niches of the stone pillars that flanked the shrines. Stones with carved heads were also found at Entremont, and those that appear on later Celtic pillar-stones and stone crosses are representations of the real heads that once graced Celtic settlements. A Celtic head is integral with the head of the cross at Trevean in St Erth parish, Cornwall. According to ancient Celtic belief, the head contains the essence of the individual, and, by preserving the head, this part of the soul remains present after death. Although it is of Pagan origin, the Celtic cult of the head did not cease in Ireland or Scotland with the advent of Christianity. Until the seventeenth century, it remained the common practice to behead all of those slain or captured in battle. Also the heads of famous priests and monks were preserved as relics. Many Celtic churches contain human skulls still. The cult is recalled by the remarkable panel on Clonfert Cathedral, which demonstrates the Pythagorean number system known as the tetraktys by means of ten stone heads set in a triangular panel.

Enneagram Essentials

Enneagram Essentials

Tap into your inner power today. Discover The Untold Secrets Used By Experts To Tap Into The Power Of Your Inner Personality Help You Unleash Your Full Potential. Finally You Can Fully Equip Yourself With These “Must Have” Personality Finding Tools For Creating Your Ideal Lifestyle.

Get My Free Ebook


  • baldassarre
    Is celtic cross pagan or christian?
    7 years ago
  • adaldrida baggins
    Is a cross a pegan image?
    8 years ago

Post a comment