Celtic Impact on Europe’s history, culture, and art

"Ancestor" by Dean Reganess
“Ancestor” by Dean Reganess

The Celts consisted of a variety of tribes whose origins cover central Europe that shared a similar language, religious beliefs, traditions and culture. Te Celtic culture is believed to have started as early as 1200 B.C. The Celts migrated throughout western Europe, including Britain, Ireland, France and Spain. Their legacy is most prominent in Ireland and Great Britain, where remnants of their language and culture are still prominent today.

According to the History Channel, “The existence of the Celts was first documented in the seventh or eighth century B.C. The Roman Empire, which ruled much of southern Europe at that time, referred to the Celts as “Galli,” meaning barbarians. However, the Celts (pronounced with a hard “c” or “k” sound) were anything but barbarians, and many aspects of their culture and language have survived through the centuries . . . Across Europe, the Celts have been credited with many artistic innovations, including intricate stone carving and fine metalworking. As a result, elaborate Celtic designs in artifacts crafted from gold, silver and precious gemstones are a major part of museum collections throughout Europe and North America.”

Among the more intricate stone art was High Cross Sculpture. From Malcolm Seaborne’s book, Celtic Crosses of Britain and Ireland  (2009), ring-headed crosses of impressive height and intricate design were first erected in Iona near Scotland and Ireland from the eighth century onward. These High Cross sculptures were commissioned by local monasteries, replacing previous wooden structures. Some commemorated an event, were objects of veneration, or served as reference points. Many are still visible today in Ireland and were created during the period 750-1150 C.E.. Yet, the early 10th century was its zenith. These crosses are classified into two basic types: relief scenes from scripture or the lives of the Saints; and abstract Celtic designs. From the Fall of Rome and Florentine Renaissance, these High Crosses represent the most important work of free-standing sculpture. These crosses offer one of the greater visual arts contributions to the history of Ireland.

Among many visible across the landscape, these High Crosses are some of the more famous examples. Muiredach’s Cross at Monasterboice, the Cross at Castledermot and the Ahenny High Cross.