||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.
|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
The Celtic Art of Iona
Death and Design in Victorian Glasnevin
The Rediscovery of Ireland's Past The Celtic Revival 1830 - 1930