Knots: History and Symbolism
A large range of knots and some stylized type or knots that are used as
decoration by the ancient Celts are known as Celtic knots. They are
used mainly in decorating church monuments and manuscripts, such as the
the Book of Kells, 8th century St. Teilo Gospels and the Lindisfarne
Gospels. From then on, it spread to different parts of the world.
Interwoven patterns first made an appearance in the handicrafts of the
Roman Empire. In the third and fourth centuries AD, knot patterns were
first seen—an art form that was soon adapted to mosaic floor patterns
too. This art form was used a lot in Byzantine architecture, Celtic
art, Coptic art, Islamic art, etc.
Types of Celtic knots
In or around 450 AD, before the Celts could be influenced by
Christianity, Celtic culture took the form of knots, spirals, plait,
braid, step and key patterns to depict richly symbolic seven creations.
These creations were: man, mammal, plant, insect, bird, fish and
reptile. Just as each of these symbolizes something important, so do
the kinds of Celtic knots.
At first, the patterns were ornate cords or plaits, seen in sixth
century Italy. Broken and reconnected plaits are said to be the genuine
Celtic knots. This originated in North Italy and the south part of
Gaul, and went on to Ireland by the seventh century. Though this style
was predominant all over Europe, these days, it is more or less
restricted to Welsh, Irish or Scottish territories.
Symbolism and history
At its most basic, the Celtic knot symbolizes the sign of the Cross. If
you look closely at knots with crosses, you will find that the knots
hide the crosses between the knot’s ribbons.
Of these, the triquetera knot or the Trinity knot is the most famous.
You can spot it in typical Celtic jewelry. In religious works, it is
used to symbolize the Holy Trinity.
The Celtic spiral knot
In its purest form, it stands for eternal life. Created by the earliest
generations of the Celts in Britain, its origins can be traced back to
2500 BCE. It has a three-sided knot which stands for the forces of
nature—earth, water and fire. The one continuous line stands for unity
and oneness of spirit. This one continuous line is of Scottish origin,
where it stands for love and fidelity in love, and so is known as the
Celtic love knot.
In the Neolithic Age of Europe, it was common to see single and double
spirals on temples and other monuments in Europe and the Celtic
The spiral stands for growth, eternal life and movement in the cosmos.
The whorls of the spiral stand for continuous growth while the gaps
between the spirals stand for the gaps between life, death and rebirth.
Celtic love knots
This stands for the love between two people, depicted by interlaced
knots. Lovers exchange these knots just as couples exchange rings these
days. The Celtic Oval knot is the simplest of all Celtic love knots. It
stands for eternal life and goes back to 2500 BCE when the early
Scottish, Welsh and Irish Celts first devised these knots.
There are many other Celtic knots too, each for a different
purpose—after all, these knots speak for an entire civilization