The Celtic Knot: History And Meaning

This Celtic knot is indeed popularly associated with the Celts, which is understandable because they have made numerous innovations in the art. 

However, this Celtic symbol is said to have been around during the time of the Romans, or even as earlier in Byzantine Constantinople.

The Celtic Knot: History And Meaning

Celtic Knotwork

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This interwoven knot only began to appear in Celtic Art around the mid 5th Century. There were no clear accounts as to how and why this knotwork reached the Celts. 

However, as the Irish Celts perfected the knot, they soon developed their own knotwork tradition. This specific knotwork style is called the Ultimate La Tene or Hiberno-Saxon Insular art, and it surfaced around 650 AD.

This was the same time when biblical manuscripts were put together by Gaelic monks in monasteries in Ireland and Britain.

The next centuries became witness to the increasing popularity of Celtic Knots and other designs of its kind.

Numerous examples of the Celtic Knot pattern were featured prominently in early Christian manuscripts as ornamentation.

celtic knot two part circle

An example is the 8th Century Book of Kells, and you can have a look at some pages in the Trinity College Library.

Another manuscript that featured Celtic Knots is the Lindisfarne Gospels from the late 7th Century.

The knots were used as decoration or to adorn the first letters of chapters, as well as for the hair of the apostles.

The Celtic Knot are also seen in the Irish High Crosses built during the 8th to the 12th century.

These Hugh Crosses have designs that feature scenes from the Bible along with various Celtic patterns such as animal figures, network, and spirals. 

What is the meaning of the Celtic knot?

The Celtic Knot is perhaps one of the most recognizable artworks in Celtic history. It is also referred to as ‘endless knots’ or ‘mystic knots’.

A Celtic Knot is made up of a series of overlapping or interwoven knots that don’t have a clear start or end.

These knots have essentially stripped that loop and wind their way over each other, creating a loose weave. The knot is either a single strand that interlaces back and forth over each other or a number of interwoven strips. 

celtic knot

There are different theories and interpretations with regard to what the Celtic Cross represents. The general consensus among scholars is that the Celtic knots hold both religious and secular meanings. 

Its religious purpose evidenced by the Celtic knots adorning Bible manuscripts, crosses, and even jewelry. Since the Celtic knots have no beginning or end, it is said to represent the enduring nature of our spirit.

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Meanwhile, the secular and even the more esoteric interpretation of the Celtic Knot alludes to an uninterrupted life cycle. The infinite path of the interlaced lines is said to represent a life whereof peace and stability.

Another theory states that the Celtic knot also represents the Celts’ belief in interconnectedness and continuity. 

Significance

celtic knot

The Celtic Cross, despite having no clear symbolism, plays an important role in Irish history and culture.

The Book of Kells, for one, is considered one of Ireland’s national treasures. It contains complex and grandiose illustrations that include the Celtic Knot.

This masterpiece of the monks of Kells has brought to us not just one of the oldest books in the world. It also gives a glimpse of ancient Irish art and literature. 

The popular knotwork appears in many High Crosses all over Ireland, with most of them erected during the middle ages. These High Crosses are richly decorated, depict scenes from the Bible combined with Celtic designs such as the famous interlacing knotwork.

Back in the 8th to 12th century, these High Crosses were used by monks to introduce and teach the Gospel to the people of Ireland.  

Today, Celtic knots figure prominently in decorative art and used in jewelry design, body art (tattoo), clothing, and home décor.

Due to its infinite design, the  Celtic knot is also considered a lucky charm as well as a statement piece to symbolize unity and inclusion.

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