Well known for its appearances in the ancient book of Kells and its regular use in insular art, the Triquetra (or Trinity Knot) is a three-arched symbol that has become almost synonymous with Celtic culture.
Quite possibly one of the most popular Celtic Knots, the trinity knot has weaved its way into many cultures and time periods, even being used for jewelry, tattoos, and Celtic accessories in our modern-day world.
So, let’s look deeper at the history of this famous ancient Celtic symbol and find out the Celtic Trinity Knot’s meaning and symbolism and how it has been used throughout the centuries.
What Is The Celtic Trinity Knot?
Contrary to popular belief, the Trinity Knot is not only a Celtic design. It actually did not make its first appearance in Celtic history until around the 7th Century when it was used to decorate the ancient Book of Kells, a manuscript created around 800 CE that contains the four gospels of the Christian New Testament.
The Book of Kells was highly illustrated, with insular Celtic art style symbols, depictions, and Celtic knotwork borders.
The Triquetra symbol is believed to be over 5,000 years old and, although it is not of Celtic origin, it can be found in many different cultures all over the world. Each culture had its own symbolism and beliefs tied to this symbol that features three intertwined arches.
What Does The Celtic Trinity Knot Symbolise?
The Triquetra symbol was a particularly important ancient symbol to the Celts and it held some of their most important beliefs within its simple knotted design.
It may be an emblem held dear by many different cultures with multiple meanings but here are four trinity knot meanings that are widely accepted when it comes to the Celts.
Symbol Of Three
It cannot be denied that the Trinity knot represents threes. Its distinct three arcs are believed to celebrate and symbolize a group of three. The ancient Celts believed that everything important came in groups of threes, it was a highly revered number to them.
This is a belief that we have seen flow through other cultures that have also adopted the trinity knot. The Christians believe in the holy trinity of the father, the son, and the holy spirit, then we have Wiccans who believe in the maiden, the mother, and the crone.
Whereas the Pagans may have used the Trinity Knot to symbolise the three domains of the earth; The earth, sea, and sky.
For some Celts, it may have even symbolized the mind, body, and spirit. Nowadays, many believe the Triquetra symbolizes the past, the present, and the future.
Like many other Celtic knot designs, the Triquetra features an unending line that weaves around itself. So, not only does the Trinity knot symbolize the three stages of life; life, death, and rebirth but it is also used to represent eternal life. That life has no beginning and no end.
The idea of eternal life was something that the Ancient Celtic people believed in. In fact, many of their symbols and religious depictions celebrated this life as eternal.
Symbol Of Eternal Love
Whether the Celts used the trinity knot as a symbol of eternal love, we are not sure, but this popular design has evolved with its use over the years, and now it is a symbol of unending love two people can share.
The unending Irish love knot is seen as a beautiful symbol of unity, love, and the commitment two people make to one another.
Many who use this symbol as part of their wedding ceremonies do so because they believe the trinity knot’s three points represent their vows to love, honor, and protect each other. Even if this is just a modern interpretation of this ancient image, it is still a beautiful one.
Is The Trinity Knot Pagan, Catholic, or Christian?
In short, it is all of the above and none all at the same. The Trinity knot has appeared in many different cultures and religions, including Paganism, Christianity, and Catholicism just to name three. Each religion and culture draws different symbolic meanings from the trinity knot.
No one actually knows where the trinity knot design first appeared or who can be celebrated for its creation but what we do know is that it has been important to many people and societies for thousands of years.
Pagans And The Trinity Knot
Paganism was one of the original religions of the ancient Celtic people. Celtic Paganism revolved around the number three, much like the design of the Trinity Knot. Many Pagan deities are balanced by coming in threes. This triplicity is where a deity is believed to have three different forms.
Although the first depiction of the Trinity Knot that we have found comes from that period when Christianity and Paganism began to blend in Ireland, the trinity knot is itself far older than that and would have also been part of the Celtic Pagans and their belief system.
Unfortunately, Celtic Pagans did not have written records. Much like their ancestors before them, important stories were passed from the mouth of one person to the next. Sometimes this was through song and also poetry but most of the Pagan artefacts we have are limited to a few stone carvings.
Christians And The Trinity Knot
Around 400 CE Christians began to insert themselves into the lives of the Celtic people, slowly integrating their religious practices into the Pagan ways of the ancient Irish people. By 700 CE the British Isles and Ireland had their very own religion called Celtic Christianity, and this is how insular art was born.
The Christians began to adopt the delicate and powerful Celtic artwork and weaved it into their own Christian depictions. The Book of Kells is the perfect example of this blending of cultures.
So, it did not take long for them to adopt the Triquetra and give it a little Christian spin. Instead of representing the elements or the nature they were surrounded by. The Irish Christians saw the Triquetra as a symbol of the Christian Holy Trinity; Father, son, and holy spirit.
Even today, many Christians feel connected to this knot design.
Short History About The Trinity Knot
Trinity Knot symbols have a murky and mysterious history. Historians have no idea where this popular symbol first began or even when, although it is generally accepted that the trinity knot is at least 5,000 years old.
The Trinity Knot is one of the most well-known of the Celtic knots and even if we are not sure where it originates let’s look at a little bit of this symbol’s history within Ireland’s ancient culture.
The Iron Age
The Trinity Celtic Knot far predates Christianity and it can be found on many artefacts and seemed to become more commonly used from the 4th Century BC. This prolific symbol has been found on many uncovered artefacts throughout Northern Europe, such as early Germanic coins, ornamented ceramics of the Anatolia and Persia regions, and even metalwork pieces found in ancient riches hoards, like the Ardagh Chalice.
You can still view this beautiful piece and others like it at the National Archaeology Museum in Dublin.
However, it was not until the 8th Century Ad that symbols like the Trinity Knot became part of Irish ancient Celt culture.
Insular Art In Ireland
The actual term Insular Art refers to the art form of the Celts that became popularly produced in Britain and Ireland after the Roman Era. This was a time when Ancient Irish Christianity was left to its own devices and had very little interference from the Roman Catholic Church.
It was characterised by a beautiful blend of Christian belief and its former Ancient Celt artwork in the form of interlaced knots and delicate Celtic patterns.
Beginning around the 7th century, insular art was created right up until the 12th century.
Many of our Ancient Celt artefacts come from this period and you can still find many Christian stone crosses carved with the trinity knot around the island of Ireland. It was also common for these trinity knots to be found on brooches, goblets, and even beautifully decorated manuscripts, such as the famous Book of Kells.
It was around this time that the trinity knot was also used on the coins found in these countries.
How Is The Trinity Knot Used Today?
The Trinity Knot is still a very popular knot symbol today and can be found in many different variations and forms.
One of the most popular ways that we utilize this powerful symbol in Ireland today, and even throughout the rest of the world, is with tattoos.
Over the last couple of decades, there has been a large Celtic revival. Those with Irish Celt ancestry have begun to fall back on some of their ancient beliefs, or at the very least, they want to honor this important culture that came before them.
Whether it is because of the symbolic meaning of the trinity knot, because a person wants to reconnect with their history permanently, or just for the beauty of the Triquetra, tattoos have become a beautiful way to honor Celtic culture.
Ancient Celt-styled jewelry is also another way that the trinity knot has weaved its way into modern society and fashion. You can find them carved into rings, necklaces, and even traditional brooches. It’s also a slightly less permanent way of appreciating the beauty of this type of artwork.
The trinity knot has even made its way into popular culture. In fact, you may not have even realized that the recognizable design of the three Halliwell sisters from the cult classic Charmed was actually a Triquetra. Once again, this symbol was used in the TV show to represent the power of the three sisters.
This symbol, whether you believe in its symbolic meaning or not, is loved the world over for its beauty and simplicity and can be found in all types of accessories, homeware, and even dishware.
People often have a lot of questions about the Trinity knot and what it actually means. Below are a few of the common questions we see from people trying to research trinity knot meaning and symbolism
What Does The Trinity Knot Mean?
The trinity knot, also known as the triquetra, symbolises many things for many different people and its exact meaning is more of a theory that our historians have pieced together from artefacts that have been uncovered. However, some common symbolic meanings are eternal life, eternal love, and the importance of the number three in all of creation, such as the three elements of the pagans and the holy trinity of the Christians.
Is The Trinity Knot Irish?
Although these days the trinity knot is considered and traditional symbol of Ireland, it is actually far older than that. Depictions and examples of the trinity knot have been found all over the world and have belonged to many different cultures. So, although the Celtic symbolism of the trinity knot is far more well-known now, this particular image is not originally Irish.
Is The Trinity Knot Pagan?
Although are no concrete sources that say for sure that the trinity knot is Pagan, it is an artistic design that has been found in artefacts from around that period. So, although we can’t say for sure that this design was used by the Pagans no evidence says it wasn’t and many historians agree that it likely was weaved into their beliefs.
How Old Is The Trinity Knot?
No one knows exactly where the Trinity knot first began and who even created it. So, we don’t know for sure how old it actually is. It is commonly accepted that the triquetra is at least 5,000 years old but it could be even older than that. What we do know is that this ancient design really stood the test of time, making it through many centuries of worldwide change.
I am a British-born copywriter who moved to Ireland over a decade ago and have been captivated by Irish culture, landscape and folklore. I enjoy sharing my passion for Ireland through my writing as a freelancer.