Celtic Cross and Traditions

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Christ Church’s building and sanctuary draw people into worship and set the tone of our time in community together.  From surveying the congregation, one gets a strong sense of the value of this space.   Today’s reflection is one of a series that will explore reading our church, looking more closely at the symbols we see each Sunday on our walls, exterior and the stained glass windows.   This week as we approach All Hallows’ Eve and work has begun in restoring one Celtic Cross on the exterior, let’s talk about the Celtic Cross. 

The Celtic Cross first appeared in 9th Century Ireland and at Iona, an Irish monastery in Scotland.  In the 19th century the Celtic Cross became popular beyond these places, and stone Celtic crosses began to appear on churches.   The architect and builders of Christ Church most likely included Celtic crosses on the exterior because they were very popular in the early 1850s when work began on the current structure.  

The cross itself is a more standard Roman cross imposed upon a circle.  The more ornate ones include Celtic designs or letters.   Among the range of views about the design of this cross include:

  • The circle relates to Coptic crosses based on the Egyptian ankh symbol.
  • The circle is the Celtic pagan symbol known as the sun cross and signifies:
    • The cross of Christ is important as is the sun cross; pay attention.
    • Or, the cross of Christ is on top of the sun cross (circle) because Christ is supreme.

The Celtic cross indicates one of the many Celtic pagan influences on Christianity, or rather, how Christianity incorporated symbols, dates, and experience important to Celtic pagans to help them enter into the Christian faith. 

This coming Sunday is All Hallows’ Eve or Halloween.  Its timing originates with the pagan holy day or season called Samhain (sow wane) which marked the start of the darker period of the year.  Notably it was a time when the division between this physical world and the Other or spirit world became particularly thin so that one could relate with those who had died more easily.  Dead relations were thought to go door to door seeking hospitality and a meal.  This translates readily into the seeking of candy to avoid tricks.  It also relates to our holy day of All Saints or All Hallows when we especially remember those who have died and recall the communion of saints which unites us all.  

This day of All Hallows’ Eve I invite us to look closely for the Celtic crosses on the exterior and interior of Christ Church and to remember the Celtic pagan background Christian leaders used to help explain and celebrate the Christian faith.   It is an excellent time to take advantage of the thin space some of our ancestors experienced and to remember those who have gone before.

With every blessing, 

Mother Elizabeth