Celtic Knot Origins and Use in Art Through the Years

Celtic knots are well established but were you aware that they are not exclusive to the Celts? They in fact turn up earlier in the past in Roman mosaics and were also used by the Vikings and Saxons. They stand for patterns made by threads or ropes, intricately woven, not inevitably in the form of a knot. Sometimes they are unbroken, i.e. without any free ends, and are then called Gordian knots, named after the legendary knot that Alexander the Great tried to unknot. When he was unsuccessful, as he must be as the knot had no end, he took his sword and sliced it through, cutting it in two pieces in order to bring into being two ends.

Early Examples of Knotwork

Intricately patterns are found in designs from the Roman Empire chiefly during the 3rd and 4th A.D., mainly in floor mosaics. Before the Christian influence on the Celts, i.e. prior to in the region of 450 A.D., Celtic art work included key patterns, spirals and step patterns. Early Christian manuscripts from the Celts show these patterns plus more decorative work depicting animals, plants and other images from life. In the beginning these knotted patterns of intricately woven plaits were also found in various other places and times. The very earliest instances of Celtic knots can be seen in the Gospel book which was created in Northern Britain in the 7th century and is at present in the collection at Durham Cathedral.

The Earliest Plaitwork

Plaitwork refers to an uninterrupted woven thread and appears in earlier work previous to the development of authentic Celtic knots. The first designs distinctive of Celtic knots were seen in southern Gaul and northern Italy and  they reached Ireland by the seventh century. Although we associate this kind of knot with the Celts they were also used in other parts of the British Isles and from there carried to other countries of Europe by wandering monks. In this day and age Celtic knots are associated with Ireland, Scotland or Wales.

The Triquetra

A famous type of Celtic knot, today called the triquetra or Trinity knot, is often seen originally in very old Germanic coins and runes from the northern region of Europe where it was employed a pagan symbol, perhaps linked to Odin the Norse god. The Trinity knot is linked to the Insular art phase of Celtic and was used in decorated manuscripts, for instance, the celebrated Book of Kells, and on metalwork. It was generally used beside other types of Celtic knots and very seldom used on its own. Although we don’t know if the triquetra had any symbolic meaning to the Celts more recent interpretations have given it a particular significance as a symbol of things that are threefold, for example, as the Holy Trinity, the past, present and future, or mother, daughter and granddaughter.

Celtic Knots in Modern Jewelry

In the present day the Celtic knot is a popular design in both gold and celtic knot silver jewelry. Lots of designs are created and Celtic knots are found on rings, earrings, wedding bands, pendants and anklets. The Trinity knot is a fashionable design and the intricate knots so loved by the Celts are similarly admired by wearers of Celtic knot jewelry nowadays.