trusted online casino malaysia
Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Art of the Celtic Period

Like God's own creativity.

Irish High Crosses (7)

The leading characteristics of Celtic art of the Christian period are as follows:--
(1) The prominence given to the margin or frame within which the whole design is enclosed.
(2) The arrangement of the design within the margin in panels, each containing a complete piece of ornament.
(3) The use of setting-out lines for the ornament, placed diagonally with regard to the margin.
(4) The use of interlace-work, step-patterns, key-patterns, spirals, and zoömorphs in combination
(5) The geometrical perfection of all the ornament.
(6) The superiority of the decorative designs to the figure-drawing.

 - J. Romilly Allen, Celtic Art In Pagan and Christian Times[1]

Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good. So the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

 - Genesis 1.31

The Celtic Revival sprang suddenly into being in the middle of the 5th century and spread through a wide diversity of tribes, languages, cultures, and geographies. It brought multitudes of people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and revived moribund Christians and their churches throughout Europe.

It began with the work of Patrick and a few intrepid predecessors; took solid hold in Ireland through the creation of Christian communities; and spread from Ireland to Scotland, Britain, Gaul (France), Switzerland, the German lands, and Italy within a little more than two centuries. It brought not only conversions to Christ and hundreds of new churches and monasteries, but also a renewal of culture across many facets: literacy; reforms in law, government, and community life; the eradication of slavery and human sacrifice; the extension of education to multitudes and at various levels; and a proliferation in the arts such as had not been witnessed before.

Irish Christians were steeped in an artistic heritage prior to receiving the Gospel. Art was as much a part of pre-Christian Celtic life as eating, fighting, and procreating. Celtic art was unlike the forms of art that were familiar throughout the Roman Empire. “The use of interlace-work, step-patterns, key-patterns, spirals, and zoömorphs in combination” made everyday objects, sacred vessels and monuments, and even human bodies stand out in striking beauty.

When the Celtic peoples began to become Christians, they simply brought their art with them into the faith, not as a way of Celticizing the Christian movement, but of bringing a heritage of beauty and meaning under the sway of a new narrative. Much like David did in borrowing familiar folk tunes to set various of his psalms (the Hebrew superscription of Psalm 53 has it set to a tune which translates to “sickness”).

Celtic Christian art reflects the creative work of God in bringing “the heavens and the earth and all the host of them” into being (Gen. 2.1). It is wildly diverse in form, includes a variety of patterns and ordering concepts, abounds in animal and plant forms, observes frameworks and boundaries, and tells the story of the ways of God with men.

Consider the various “frames” and “boundaries” in Genesis 1. Heaven and earth. Day and night. Water and land. Plants and beasts. Signs and seasons. Man and woman. Everything in creation takes place in a context appropriate to its unique character and function. The context helps give definition to what exists there, and the same is true for the “frames” and “boundaries” of an Irish high cross.

As in the various panels on the Cross of Muiredach. The top panel represents our heavenly home. The circle section features, on one side, the crucifixion of Jesus and, on the other, His ascension and reign. By these we arrive at our heavenly home. The central panels feature Biblical stories that guide us to Jesus, such as the keening of the three Marys, just below the cross. And the entire cross is solidly “outlined”, just as the work of creation is “outlined” by the Word of God on each of the six days.

As in God’s work of creation, both the impersonal creation—plants, animals, planets—and the world of humankind exist together as part of a single story: God the Creator and sovereign Lord cares for His creation, reconciling it to Himself and bringing it to restoration through the work of Jesus. The combining of various aspects of creation in the work of Celtic art is meant to suggest order, harmony, unity, pattern, and the rule of God over all things. These themes are often reinforced by spirals and lacing, as in the image of Christ exalted in the Book of Kells and elsewhere.

For Celtic Christian artists, the world was a palette from which to draw in painting or carving the story of God’s redemptive work in Christ. Many of the motifs and meanings of Celtic art had already been worked out by pre-Christian artists, but they were brought to greater clarity and significance in the hands of those Christians who adapted their heritage to a new narrative in ink, paint, and stone.

For Reflection
1. How do you use the arts—fashion, decoration, cooking, creativity—to give meaning to your life?

2. Do you have a favorite art form that speaks to you in meaningful ways? Which? Can you give an example?

Psalm 53 (Leoni: The God of Abraham Praise)
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God at all!”
Corrupt are they in whole and part, unjust and small.
Not one of them does good; God sees their wicked ways.
None understands the Word of God or gives Him praise.

Have all these wicked men no knowledge of God’s grace?
The Church they hate with passion and seek not God’s face.
LORD, strike their hearts with fear, where fear was not before.
And scatter all who camp so near Your holy door.

The wicked flee in shame; their ways our God rejects.
Renew Your people in Your Name with great effects!
Let great rejoicing sound once we renewed have been,
and let salvation’s Word resound from us again!

Thank You, Lord, for the arts, and for what I can learn from them about…

T. M. Moore

To learn more about the Celtic Revival, download our free PDF, The Celtic Revival: A Brief Introduction, by clicking here.

Support for Crosfigell comes from our faithful and generous God, who moves our readers to share financially in our work. If this article was helpful, please give Him thanks and praise.

And please prayerfully consider supporting The Fellowship of Ailbe with your prayers and gifts. You can contribute online, via PayPal or Anedot, or by sending a gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 103 Reynolds Lane, West Grove, PA 19390.

All Psalms for singing from The Ailbe Psalter. Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved

[1] Allen, p. 254.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

Subscribe to Ailbe Newsletters

Sign up to receive our email newsletters and read columns about revival, renewal, and awakening built upon prayer, sharing, and mutual edification.