Celtic Art dates back thousands of years. While many of the ancient designs had spiritually significant meanings, these have been lost in time. The Celts left very little in the way of records, and most symbols are interpreted by archaeologists and other scholars. Some ancient symbols have changed meaning over time, being influenced by the introduction of Christianity, as well as other cultures. The continual looping of designs suggests themes of eternity and interconnectedness. Knots may have also been created to confuse evil spirits, as with the Native American Dream Catcher.
The Spiral is one of man’s earliest decorative elements, and has been found on every continent on earth. It possibly represents the sun.
The Triskele or Triple Spiral is a common element in Celtic Art. Early examples can be seen at the Neolithic tomb at Newgrange, Co Meath, Ireland, constructed around 3200 BC.
This shows the further evolution of the Triskele. This example comes from the Book of Durrow, the earliest surviving Gospel Manuscript.
The Triquetra, or Trinity Knot is comprised of three interlacing pieces, marking the intersection of three circles. It is one of the most well known knots and is believed to represent the Holy Trinity ~ Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Animal designs generally represent the attributes of the animal depicted. The horse symbolizes fertility and prosperity.
The use of the Cross as a Christian symbol can be traced to the time of the Roman persecution, in the early 200’s AD.
This cross is from a carpet page in the Book of Durrow, a Gospel manuscript dated to the late 7th century.
This design is found as a border decoration in the portrait of St John, in the Book of Kells.
The Celtic Cross combines the cross with a ring surrounding the intersection, symbolizing Christ or eternity.
This cross was adapted from crosses carved on stone slabs at Iona, Scotland and Maughold, Isle of Man.
This design is representitive of many equal-arm crosses found in Celtic Art.
The general rule of thumb in Celtic Art is that the shape of the knot determines the meaning. Circles represent unity or eternity.
This is a detail from a copper harness mount, found in Co Meath, Ireland, dated between the 8th and 9th centuries.
This knot is from the Book of Kells, a 9th century gospel manuscript, located at Trinity College, Dublin.
This knot is found in the centre of the 9th century St Fergus Manse Cross stone slab, Glamis, Scotland.
Square, and four-fold knots are Shield knots, symbols of protection from evil spirits.
This knot appears in many Celtic designs, one being part of the Abraham cross at St David’s Cathedral, in Wales.
This panel is found on the 9th century Glamis stone slab in Glamis, Scotland.
The Claddagh is named for the area outside of Galway, Ireland. The design is attributed to Richard Joyce, who was kidnapped into slavery and later returned to present this ring to his true love. The heart symbolizes love, the hands, friendship and the crown, loyalty.