Celtic Symbols and Art

Whenever I think of the Celtic tribes, I don’t just think of the beautiful, lush and mysterious lands they occupy. Almost without fail, my mind goes to the ancient spirals and knots.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Celtic art is paganistic, and part of that may be true. However, those first Christians, like St. Patrick, in an around Ireland and Scotland, took the existing culture and used it to minister to the natives.

They lived out 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (NIV)

Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

I recall reading an excerpt from an author on Irish heritage about how her grandmother would perform her pagan rituals in the garden, down a scarf and then head to church. It’s what she knew. Yes, on one hand she continued with the old traditions, but on the other she was entering a house of the Lord and hearing the gospel.

Take a look at this picture. Do you see the triangle looking symbol at the bottom of the scroll-work?

That is known as a triquetra. In Latin it means three corners. It was often used by Christians to depict the trinity: Father, Son, Holy Spirit. Three separate, yet connecting, making it whole. This design and its Christian use is quite similar to how St. Patrick used the three-leafed shamrock. The symbol is also known as a trefoil, a shorten version of the Latin word trifolium for three-leafed plant.

The circles in the center connecting the various triangular designs quite possibly represent eternity.

Wikipedia public domain because copyright has expired in United States

Wikipedia public domain because copyright has expired in United States

The most famous of all Celtic works of art is called the Book of Kells. An illuminated book of the four gospels, believed to have been started in a monastery on the isle of Iona. The monks soon fled to Abbey of Kells after multiple Viking raids where they continued their work.

The Book of Kells is known for its illumination, decorative initials, borders and illustrations. It’s known for calligraphy and the Celtic animal-like depictions.

These four images depict Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John as portrayed in the book of Ezekiel. If you look closely you’ll see some of the intricate knot-work in the borders.

This manuscript is absolutely amazing. It resides in Trinity College Dublin where it is on display.

For more images from the Book of Kells go to this link. Don’t just glance at them. Really look at them. Do you find anything interesting? I know I was surprised to find one image of Jesus had a trefoil as part of his hair and resting on his right shoulder.

Writing Prompt: Choose on of the folios and write a short story. Step out of your box. It can be contemporary, historical or science fiction.
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