Celtic Revival Crosses

High Cross Celtic Revival monument to 
Dr. George M. McCormick 
 Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin



This web page is about the rediscovery and use of the Celtic Cross, beginning with the Irish Celtic Revival of the 19th century to the present time. 
Click here for a discussion of the origins and symbolism of the Celtic Cross from a broader historical perspective.

The cross with a circle has been popularly known as a "Celtic Cross" since around 1850. The form itself evolved between the 4th and 9th century. Also known as "The Irish Cross" or "The Irish High Cross" this type of cross is now associated with Celtic heritage. Use of the phrase "Celtic Cross" is an acknowledgement that the form is not only Irish, but was and is shared by Scotland, Wales, Cornwall  and other regions that were influenced by early Celtic Christianity. 

In the 1840s reproductions of historical Celtic jewelry began to be produced and sold in Ireland. This new interest in native antiquities was the beginning of a renewed interest in past Irish cultural achievements and grew into a literary and artistic movement known as 'The Celtic Revival".

In 1853 casts of two historical High Crosses were exhibited with great success at the Dublin Industrial Exhibition. In 1857 Henry O'Neill published Illustrations of the Most Interesting of the Sculptured Crosses of Ancient Ireland. These two events stimulated interest in the Celtic Cross as a symbol for a renewed sense of  heritage. New versions of the High Cross quickly became fashionable cemetery monuments in Victorian Dublin in the 1860s. From Dublin the revival spread to the rest of the country and beyond.

The photo on the right shows one of the last of the circle headed crosses of the medieval tradition. This cross on the Scottish Isle of Iona is known as MacLean's Cross and is dated from the 15th century. Decorated with interlaced design this monument and others like it can be said to represent an unbroken tradition that goes back to the earliest days of Christianity in the Celtic lands. From the time of the Protestant Reformation until the Celtic Revival, interlace decoration continued to be used on jewelry and furniture but appears to have ceased in stone carving. The creation of Celtic Crosses almost ceases between 1516 and around 1850. (The only 2 examples I know of during this prolonged drought are the Clanranald Stone on South Uist, 1572 and a cross at Cruicetown, Co. Meath, 1688.If you know of any others, please email me)

Victorian Pebble Jewelry Celtic Cross. Mid to late 19th century. It is very unusual to see a revival of Celtic interlace on pebble jewelry this early.


Celtic Crosses were also being produced as jewelry and this use continues to the present. The advertisement above is from the Royal Tourist Guides Iona & Staffa 1882. 



MacLean's Cross Iona

MacLean's Cross, 15th c.

Iona Shell Cross
Shell cross 
Sold as a souvenir of Iona
 circa 1880s










Saint Martin's Cross

Iona especially became well known for Celtic jewelry. In 1899 Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie began producing Celtic jewelry and crafts on the island. They soon established a workshop and showroom in the Old Nunnery grounds. Their enterprise was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement and it took advantage of growing tourism and religious interest in the early Celtic Church. The survival of many splendid monuments on Iona served the Ritchies as a pattern book of historical Celtic design.

Crosses by Alexander Ritchie
Silver Celtic Cross pendants by Alexander Ritchie circa 1920s and 1930s, based on historical stone carving on the Isle of Iona.

Click here for Celtic Cross Jewelry

By the 1890s Celtic Crosses began to appear in cemeteries and churches around the world, wherever  there was a Scottish or Irish Diaspora population with pride in their origins. Irish cemeteries now seem to be choked with Celtic Cross monuments. Inspection of the dates inscribed on them shows few are more than 100 years old. Most of the elaborate crosses erected prior to 1900 marked the graves of priests.  After Irish independence a flood of Celtic Cross monuments appear and the majority of the crosses  seen today are from the 20th century.

Celtic Revival crosses are often decorated with Celtic knotwork and other antique decoration but they are also frequently decorated with contemporary religious and national symbols. Harps and shamrocks decorate many of the earlier Celtic Revival examples. Sacred Hearts, messages such as "Rest in Peace" or "IHS" monograms are also evidence that these monuments were not merely imitations of historical sculpture, but have become a traditional form for expressing conventional fashions and sentiments.

In Ireland the majority of Celtic Crosses are created for Catholic patrons, but the Protestant Church of Ireland uses the Celtic Cross as well. Many other Protestants of Celtic heritage, especially those outside Ireland, also make use of the Celtic Cross. The Moderator of the Presbyterian Church USA has, as an  emblem of his office, a silver pectoral Celtic Cross that was acquired on Iona in 1946. The American Presbyterians have used  the Celtic Cross as a logo for many years, reflecting  that denomination's historical connection to the Church of Scotland.

The Celtic Cross is now one of the most popular emblems of Celtic design.  The trend has gone from the impressive  monuments of the early Celtic Revival, that like their medieval prototypes, were public statements of the art of the community, to rendering of the Celtic Cross for for personal expression of faith and heritage. Jewelry has replaced grave stones as the most common expression of this symbol. Craft objects for personal use, clothing and tattoos are all media where new versions of the Celtic Cross are evolving in the continuum of this powerful symbol.

Text and photos by Stephen Walker, copyright  April 2002


Imagining an Irish Past the Celtic Revival 1840 - 1940  
T. J. Edelstein Editor, David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago1992

The Celtic Art of Iona  
by Iain MacCormick The New Iona Press 1994

Death and Design in Victorian Glasnevin
 by Shane O'Shea Dublin Cemeteries Committee 2000

The Rediscovery of Ireland's Past The Celtic Revival 1830 - 1930 
by Jeanne Sheehy Thames and Hudson, London 1980

Iona Celtic Art, The Work of Alexander and Euphemia Ritchie by E. Mairi MacArthur, New Iona Press, 2003

Glasnevin Celtic Cross monuments

Celtic Pectoral Cross, copyright SAW 2002
Silver Pectoral Cross
by Stephen Walker, 2002


Is the Celtic Cross Pagan?

Walker Metalsmiths Celtic Jewelry

Reading List
More articles about Celtic Art