..earliest one ive seen is circa 6th centurt in Riasc on the dingle peninsula. the more typical ones youd see about, ie the highly decorated carved crosses would be about 900ad (clonmacnoise) or 10th century (monasterboise)
The Celtic Cross is one of many forms of the Cross, and arose in Ireland and Scotland. The symbolism is quite simple. The Cross is a representation of the Cross on which Christ died. The ring which surrounds the upper part of the Cross represents the sun i.e. the Resurrection. Celtic Christians had a tremendous respect for Nature, and like many peoples, saw the sun as a life-giving force. The Celtic Christians continued the pagan tradition of inscribing stones, and Celtic crosses were usually inscribed with scenes from the life of Christ, with saints, or even animals with religious significance (e.g. cockerel).
I do know that the church to which I belong, St Mary's Catholic Church in Peru IL has both the standard Christian cross and the Celtic Cross on the roof of the church. The Christian cross extends high on the steeple and the Celtic cross is above the doors. This parish was formed and the present church built by immigrants wishing to establish an English speaking church as the others in town were either Polish or German. This is presently an endangered church.
A Celtic cross is a symbol that combines the cross with a ring surrounding the intersection. It is the characteristic symbol of Celtic Christianity, though the symbol has older, pre-Christian origins. Such crosses formed a major part of Celtic Art. This design is also referred to as the Irish Cross, or as the Cross of Iona. The exact history of this symbol is slightly ambiguous, and you may get a different answer from everyone that you might ask, but I like the theory that the inner circle is said to represent eternity, and the endlessness of God's own love. Besides the inner circle, the element that distinguishes the Celtic cross from other crosses is the intricate knot work that can be found carved into the stone. One of the most common knots you'll see is the Trinity knot. Other than actually going to an ancient church in Ireland, a great way to see the beauty of these crosses is in ornamental replicas and also Celtic jewelry: http://www.irishcelticjewels.com/crosses.htm
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