Celtic Cross Tattoo Meaning

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The Celtic cross tattoo is an immensely popular tattoo design. It is often seen as a symbol of faith and spirituality, with its four arms that represent the four directions of the compass, or even the progression of life from birth to death. The center circle represents eternity or infinity, while some interpretations see it as symbolizing the sun or the moon.

Celtic cross
Celtic Cross of Equal Proportions

A Brief History of the Celtic Cross

The traditional Celtic Cross, sometimes also known as the Wheel Cross or the Ring Cross, began to appear in Europe during the early Middle Ages (or early Medieval period), beginning as early as the 5th century. Although today in tattoo designs it is typically an ornate symbol of Christianity, it likely derived from much earlier pagan symbols.

What is the meaning of Celtic Cross tattoo designs?

These types of Celtic symbols were probably associated with fertility — the cross, or more literally a simple “plus sign”, standing for the male generative power and the circle for the female. Also linked with fertility in agriculture, these two symbols sometimes stood for the sun, hence the name sun cross.

In addition to religious beliefs and spiritual significance, the Celtic cross is also associated with a number of other meanings. It can be seen as a symbol of Irish descent, Celtic heritage, and Irish pride; a Celtic cross tattoo may represent loyalty, friendship, or fidelity; or it could be used to symbolize the wearer’s connection to a loved one who has passed away.

Ultimately, each Celtic cross tattoo carries a personal meaning for its wearer. Some may view it as a reminder to stay true to their beliefs, while others may use it to express their commitment and loyalty to someone special.

Celtic crosses
Old Celtic Cross in Glendalough, Wicklow mountain, Ireland 

The Irish Celtic Cross

Early on however, as Christianity began to spread throughout Europe, the plus sign was elongated into a cross and the symbol was adopted and placed in churches and graveyards. In Scandinavian countries, it was erected in locations where accidents or acts of violence had occurred and it was also used in front of farmhouses.

Today its more common use is in the form of gravestones in, for example, Ireland, where Celtic roots go deep. The Celtic cross naturally melds with the Christian cross as well as Christian faith in general, particularly in the person of Saint Patrick.

Celtic Cross Tattoo Knots

In tattoo designs, the Celtic Cross is typically depicted with the most famous of the art motifs associated with that region, intricate knots. Knots are a constant theme in Celtic art, especially in Irish illuminated manuscripts. The fantastic illuminated books that have survived for us today began to be produced in the Celtic west sometime after about 500 AD.

Book of Kells
The Book of Kells

Religion managed to survive the Middle Ages in monasteries, where artist monks labored to produce the intricate designs of Christian manuscripts known today as the Book of Kells, the Lindisfarne Gospels, or the Book of Durrow, as a few examples. In fact, much of Celtic tattoo art is modeled on ornamentation from these manuscripts and the Celtic Cross is no exception. It’s no wonder Celtic cross tattoos are also known as an Irish Celtic cross or simply an Irish cross.

Celtic cross in stone
Traditional Celtic Cross

The Meaning of Celtic Knotwork

Knotwork designs are a timeless symbol of constant motion — the developing, coiling, and intertwining of human and cosmos, in an eternal cycle. It is thus particularly apt in Celtic Cross tattoos, a meaningful symbol of the intertwining of heaven and earth.

Ornate Celtic cross
Christian Celtic Cross

Celtic Cross Tattoos

If you’re considering getting a Celtic cross tattoo, taking the time to research the rich history, design features, and symbolism behind it is a great place to start for your new body art. You may find that its message resonates with your own beliefs or experiences. With its deep spiritual roots and diverse meanings, the Celtic cross can be an inspiring addition to any body art collection.

February 24, 2023