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Where did the "Celtic" crosses come from in ancient churches?
Where did the "Celtic" crosses come from in ancient churches?

On ancient Novgorod churches, you can find crosses with circles, traditional for the Celts. What is it really?

In one of the oldest cities in Russia, Veliky Novgorod, the oldest stone churches have been preserved. Some of them have one strange feature: crosses are depicted on the facades, inscribed in a circle - an unusual phenomenon for the Russian eye. After all, the familiar Russian Orthodox cross is made up of four lines - two perpendicular (the cross itself) and two additional ones.

Russian Orthodox cross

The nuance is that unusual crosses are common in Novgorod and very few in neighboring regions, while in other regions they are not. How did they get here?

Novgorod crosses

Until the unification of the Russian lands into a single state at the end of the 15th century, the Novgorod land for three centuries was an independent republic with electoral power, while in most other Russian places there was a princely hereditary power. This explains the fact that in the XIV-XV centuries Novgorod developed its own church architecture and its own unique church symbols. In addition, the Tatar-Mongols did not reach Novgorod, therefore it is in Novgorod that the most ancient churches with these symbols have survived.

The four-pointed cross, on which the circle is superimposed, is even called "Novgorod". In the city you can also find "worship" crosses in a circle, they stand alone, sometimes even on the roads. These were often dedicated to memorable dates or military victories. They could depict scenes from the Gospel, and they were almost 2 meters high.

The venerated Alekseevsky cross of the XIV century is kept in the main temple of the city, St. Sophia Cathedral

Also, many crosses are laid in niches on the facades of churches. These were installed in memory of the dead.

Church of the Transfiguration of the Lord on Ilyina Street, XIV century

It seems to many that such a "design" resembles the famous "Celtic cross", a symbol of the Celtic tribes of the British Isles, especially Ireland, and France, widespread in the early Middle Ages. The circle means the pagan symbol of the sun, such continuity was important for the Celts who had just adopted Christianity.

8th century stone cross on Islay, Scotland

In support of the hypothesis of the Celtic origin of the crosses, various sources offer the most incredible legends. One of them, for example, suggests a "Celtic-Varangian" origin of Russian statehood. Allegedly, Rurik had Celtic roots … Indirectly, this could confirm the presence of several crosses in the circle in Izborsk (where Truvor went to take Rurik).

However, it is not clear why the tradition of erecting Celtic crosses in Northern Europe has been known since the end of the 8th century, while Russian stone “crosses in a circle” appeared only in the 14th – 15th centuries. In addition, the shape of the "Novgorod" cross differs from the shape of the "Celtic" one. In Novgorod, the wedges of the cross are more like blades and protrude less because of the cross itself.

Left - Novgorod cross, right - Celtic cross

Moreover, there are varieties of "Novgorod crosses", which turned out to be completely inscribed in a circle and are not at all similar to the Celtic ones.

Church of Saints Peter and Paul in Kozhevniki, early 15th century

Similar crosses were also found in Izborsk, the Pskov land and in the area of ​​Lake Ladoga, as well as in Europe - in the former territories of the Livonian Order. The Livonian and Teutonic orders repeatedly attacked the Novgorod lands, which gave historians the opportunity to assume that such crosses are the influence of Germanic, and not Celtic, culture.

The fact that Novgorod traded with Europe and was a member of the Hanseatic League (a large political and economic union of cities in northwestern Europe, existed until the middle of the 17th century) can also speak of the influence of German culture.

Church of St. John the Evangelist at the Turn of the XIV century

And yet, most researchers are inclined to believe that there is nothing to society with the Celts, British and any other Western Europeans, these crosses do not.

For the first time, historians tried to study unusual Novgorod crosses back in the late 19th - early 20th centuries - and decided that the crosses resemble the tradition of Byzantium, from where Orthodoxy came to Russia. "The shape of the described crosses comes, one must think, from the usual Byzantine crosses in a circle, which can mean, closest of all, a halo, or maybe a crown of thorns," wrote the historian A. Spitsin in 1903. This theory is also supported by modern local historians.

By the way, already in the 16th century, the "fashion" for round crosses in Novgorod faded away: historians believe that either because of wars and epidemics there were no craftsmen, or the strengthened Moscow government decided to ban Novgorod from using its regional distinctive symbols.

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