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The Cross - A Brief History

The Cross is the most easily recognised symbol used today in many contexts, both religious and secular. It is one of the more prolific motifs to be found in a graveyard setting. It resembles a traditional cross in every way, but has the addition of a ring around the intersection of the stem and arms. Sometimes the cross is set on a tall base to resemble more closely the traditional Christian cross, and at other times the symbol stands alone. The cross is sometimes nothing more than a simple ‘stick’ drawing on a gravestone or at a religious site.

The Cross is also called the ‘sun cross’ by those who interpret the ring to represent the sun. These crosses are decorated with what is known as ‘Insular’ art, which is characterized by elaborately interlacing bands. This style of art is closely associated with both Celtic Christianity and Irish monasticism. As such, many of these crosses depict scenes from the Bible. Irish legend says that the Celtic cross was first introduced by St. Patrick in an attempt to convert the pagan Irish to Christianity. As many of the pagans viewed the sun as their primary deity St. Patrick combined the Christian cross with the circular pattern of the sun as a way to associate light and life with the Christian cross in the minds of his converts. Another story has St. Patrick marking the pagan symbol of the moon goddess (a circle) with a cross, and blessing the stone, making the first Celtic cross. Others suggest that by laying the symbol of the cross over the symbol of the sun, Christians were illustrating the supremacy of Christ over the sun god or moon goddess.

It is believed that the four arms of the cross may also represent the four elements, that is, the earth, air, fire and water.  They also represent the four directions of the compass, North, South, East and West.  And finally the four parts of man, mind, soul, heart and body.

But perhaps there is a more practical reason for its construction. As the circle connects the arms of the cross to the stem, it results in making the whole design architecturally stronger, thus preventing the stone cross from snapping in half so easily.



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