For those with Irish roots or even with no direct link to Ireland then celtic jewelry has become a popular fashion accessory to compliment any outfit. But what do the various symbols of celtic jewelry actually mean? and how did these symbols evolve?
Celtic jewelry in Ireland has been traced back to the period between 2000 BC and 550 AD when silver and gold were commonly used by craftsmen to create exquisite pieces of jewelry adorned with various Celtic symbols. Each of these symbols were associated with their own specific Christian meaning or often represented certain metaphors.
As a deeply Christian and Catholic country, the many symbols which adorned Ireland’s celtic jewelry often had a variety of deep religious significance used by missionaries as a useful method of catechesis to spread the new Christian doctrine and convert the indigenous pagan inhabitants.
Just as Christianity gave new meaning to these ancient and formerly pagan symbols, many of these still represent elements of Christian faith to those who wear them. It is for this reason that Irish jewelry has transcended people of Irish or Celtic decent and become universally popular.
What are these various symbols of Celtic jewelry, and what do they mean?
We attempt to unearth of the meaning behind the more popular Celtic symbols which are commonly used in crafting such jewelry. In Part 1 we examine the Trinity and Celtic knot, the Celtic spiral and St. Brigid’s Cross.
The Trinity Knot (also known as the triquetra) is an ancient Celtic symbol comprised of one interconnected line with three distinct ends. Once having pagan meaning, the symbol was adopted by Christians as a good illustration of the Holy Trinity doctrine .
The symbol received its common name, the Trinity Knot, and came to represent the triumvirate of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Sometimes the Trinity Knot is also circumscribed by a circle symbolizing eternity. This symbol often was used as an architectural adornment in ancient monasteries and is today commonly found in necklaces, celtic rings, bracelets, and other celtic jewelry pieces.
There are many varieties of Celtic knotwork, one of which is the Trinity Knot. Celtic knots comprise stylized and woven lines and knots used extensively for artistic decoration. These lines and knots were used to symbolize the interdependence of all life and was often complimented with depictions of animals, plants, or people. Celtic knots were adapted by Christians and used in monuments, such as stone high crosses, and the beautiful ornamentation of illuminated manuscripts which were carefully hand painted by the Irish monks. This form of decoration is now a familiar ornate accessory in the form of celtic knot jewelry and continues to be a popular piece of celtic jewelry.
Not too dissimilar to the Celtic knot, the Celtic spiral represents continuous growth and unity of ones spirit. The spirals are separated by small gaps which represent the spaces between life, death and rebirth. However, the overriding symbolism of the Celtic Spiral is eternal life. There are a number of methods to create the spiral using single, double, triple or quadruple swirls. The importance of the Celtic Spiral can be traced back to when Christianity first came to the island of Ireland, and was adopted by the ancient Christian monks as a decorative motif to adnorn their illuminated manuscripts. Celtic spirals can now be seen on a wide range of celtic jewelry including earrings, necklaces, cufflinks, rings, bracelets, among many others.
St. Brigid’s Cross
St. Brigid has a special place in Irish folklore as she is the patroness of Ireland and accordingly, her cross is a familiar symbol of Irish Christian heritage. It comprises a woven square in the center and four radials tied at the ends. The origins of how this popular cross came into being have passed through into legend with the story being that St. Brigid was making the shape of a cross from a bunch of rushes. According to the legend, her father who was an important local chieftain who lay dying, saw her making the cross and was miraculously converted to the Christian faith. The St. Brigid Cross has remained special for Irish Christians through the centuries, especially around the saint’s feast day when it is displayed in her honor.
In our next blog we’ll examine the origins of the Celtic Cross, Tree of Life, Shamrock and the ever popular Claddagh Ring.