November 21



The Celtic knot is a very popular symbol in Irish art and design but, as often as it’s seen, it’s very unusual to meet someone who knows the full history and meaning behind it.

What is it?

The Celtic knot is not just one design, it’s actually called Icovellavna, and Celtic knots include a variety of different knots and stylized representations of them. They were used for decoration, especially in the Celtic style of Insular art. This form of art originated in rural monastic settlements throughout Ireland from 400 A.D. to 1,000 A.D., a period known as the “Age of Saints and Scholars.” At this time, Insular art was used to illustrate many of the illuminated manuscripts produced by Christian missionaries. It was a new approach to illustration where the book was considered to be a person that needed ornamentation to honor its significance.


Artistic influences from Celtic civilization which began in Ireland around 500 B.C. can still be felt in Irish society today. While there are a variety of Celtic knots, all of them share some key characteristics. For instance, they have no beginning or end and feature complete loops. They are said to represent eternity, including loyalty, faith, friendship, or love. Only one thread is used in the design of every Celtic knot, which symbolizes that eternity and life are interconnected. The designs themselves are very complex and can be used for jewelry sets or printed on mugs, clothing, plates, or even cutlery.

The Origins

Understanding how the Celtic knot came to be requires a review of ancient history. Most of the information about the Celtic knot began around 450 A.D. when Christian influence began to take hold on Celtic civilization. Early Christian artwork and writings feature many Celtic knots.
A few historians believe that the origins of the Celtic knot can be dated back to 500 B.C., although this is still a challenged viewpoint due to the lack of evidence surrounding this belief. However, historians have confirmed that the designs were used as early as the third century A.D. One of the most historic early uses of the Celtic knot design can be seen on Roman floor mosaics. Other examples include the book illumination of the Byzantine Empire, Ethiopian art, Russian book illumination from the Medieval Era, and Islamic art.

Why They Are Difficult To Date?

One of the primary reasons why it is so challenging for historians to date the Celtic knot to a specific time period of origin is because of a lack of written records. While many art works have been found featuring the Celtic knot, prior to this, oral history was the primary source of knowledge transfer so it wasn’t until a certain time period that the Celtic knot was written about, even if it was used before then. Prior to Christianity, it is believed by many historians that Celts drew Celtic knots because the Celtic religion was similar to Islam in that they were not allowed to draw realistic depictions of living creatures. Being forbidden, this may have led to the birth of the Celtic knot, much like such restrictions led to the creation of Arabic calligraphy.

How They Spread

Before it made its way to Ireland, northern Italy was one of the first places to begin using “true knot work” back in the seventh century A.D. True knot work is a term given to broken and reconnected plait work, and it was also used by Northumbrians and Picts, along with many other civilizations.
As it traveled across regions, you can guess that Celtic knots began to be slightly adapted and influenced by different areas. As an example, Irish works that featured Celtic knots always featured unending loops. However, Roman and Germanic adaptions of the Celtic knot occasionally showed loose ends and other adaptions to the design. The Celtic knot’s “Golden Age” lasted until the 11th century A. D. and the Norman invasion. However, the tradition of the Celts continued in Gaelic areas supported by wealthy aristocrats who paid for ornaments decorated with Celtic knots.

The Patterns

There are many patterns and adaptions of Celtic knots that can be seen both today and throughout history. However, here are some of the most common patterns:
Said to represent the interconnection of life and our place in the universe, Knotwork Interlace continues to be one of the most popular patterns. Examples of this include the Lover’s Knot and the Trinity Knot.
Another popular pattern is the Celtic Spiral, which represents an individual’s accomplishment to balance his outer and inner self. It also reflects personal spirit and is said to represent the heavens, cosmos, and water. A single spiral was a representation of the sun in ancient Celtic culture, while a double spiral represented the equinox. Basic knot patterns, according to famous archaeologist John Romilly Allen, consisted of eight patterns that were based on three- and four-chord plaits.
Step patterns, on the other hand, were considered to represent the development and progression of life. They could also represent the realms of Heaven and Earth and their connection. Maze and step patterns can be found in the ancient Mayan, Aztec, and Egyptian civilizations.

Popular Designs Today

Some of the most popular Celtic knot designs today include the Trinity Knot, or the Triquetra. Others include the Celtic Spiral Knot, the Celtic Love Knot, the Sailor’s Knot, the Dara Knot, the Shield Knot, and the Celtic Cross. In the end, Celtic knots have maintained their widespread influence across time and region. While many adaptions have been made to them since they were first recorded in ancient times, the original designs still prevail through modern day art and jewelry, and in the study and admiration of artwork and architecture. While the original time period in which the Celtic knot originally came to be will likely never be known due to lack of written history before a certain date, it is for certain that the Celtic knot will continue to be a staple in design and culture.


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