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An Enduring Celtic Cross

Enormous Celtic crosses dot the landscape of the green rolling hills of Ireland. I can see it in my mind's eye. A vision I can only imagine, having been all over Europe but somehow missing the country of my O'Hara’s and Hastings homeland. But someday ... I hope to see that vision in person.

These crosses, these famous Celtic crosses; they are stately, they are stout, they are intricately and uniquely carved, and they symbolize an enduring message, an infinite reminder to those of Irish blood and to those who are not. Perhaps there is no other symbol more notoriously Irish than that of the Celtic cross.

It's moving to me, how symbols endure the ravages of time and weather and wars … and humans. I'm reading through the early Old Testament again and am struck once more by the pillars and the monuments erected during that time. Monuments of stone and rock meant to mark specific times and places and events. A visual reminder of God’s movement in their lives. Tangible proof. Irrefutable.

Celtic crosses are similar. We’re unsure when they were first used and why. Some indicate they were merely property markers used by local parishes, rarely used in gravestones as we associate them today. While popular legend would like to have St. Patrick introducing these symbols into the folklore of Ireland, it is now known they began appearing in Great Britain and in Ireland as early as the 7th century.

While those in Great Britain were generally taller and slimmer, those in Ireland were much stouter and intricately carved with notable biblical scenes.

There is much discussion today on the origins of this cross. Those of New Age and Pagan belief try to claim it for their own. Christians the world over know intimately the meaning of the cross and know first-hand of its source.

Popular opinions regarding the symbolism of the circle surrounding the cross include these beliefs:

•A symbol of eternity that emphasizes the everlasting life.
•The circle symbolizes the world for whom Christ was crucified.
•The Eucharist. Early Crosses in Scotland suggest this.
•A crown of thorns.
•A halo.

The earliest known Celtic Cross is the St. John’s Cross of Iona Abbey, which is located on the Isle of Iona, just off the Isle of Mull on the West Coast of Scotland. Iona Abbey is one of the oldest and most important religious centres in Western Europe with its origins dating to 563. The abbey was a focal point for the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland.
To view images and read more about Iona Abbey and St. John’s Cross, click here.

Today is March 8th, 9 days from St. Patrick's Day. And while my house will begin to sprout all things green and my oven will bake green four-leaf clover sugar cookies, and Irish linens will grace my table, and we will partake of Irish foods like cabbage and potatoes and salmon, perhaps the most meaningful expression I can give my family of our Irish roots will be the reminder of the Celtic Cross; what it stands for, how it has survived, and why.

Image: National Geographic, Chris Hill. A Celtic cross at Clonmacnoise in County Offaly, Ireland

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