Trinity Knot History & Meaning
The trinity knot is also commonly known as the triquetra which is Latin for a three-cornered shape. The symbol is formed from a single strand that loops to form a triangle shape consisting of 3 vesicae Piscis (a shape formed by the intersection of two circles). Despite its complex appearance, it is one of the most simple Celtic knots. However, it can be incorporated into more complex knots that use multiple triquetras, for instance, the Carolingian Cross:
The trinity knot is an ancient Celtic symbol that has been adopted by atheists and various religions to take on a variety of very different meanings.
The History of the Trinity Knot/Triquetra
The exact origin and date of the creation of the trinity knot are widely debated. Depictions of the triquetra have been found in many locations including Indian heritage sites dating back 5000 years and in Northern Europe on germanic coins dated to the 8th century AD as well as in Ireland.
The triquetra was first seen in Celtic culture in the 7th century. It was developed in the Insular Art Period: a period of art that developed in post-Roman Britain and Ireland. The word insular comes from the Latin insula, meaning Island. During this period Britain and Ireland developed a style of art distinct from the rest of the world. The major distinctive feature was the extensive use of interlace; designs made up of extensively crossed and woven strands. In Ireland, Celtic Christianity dominated art.
The Book of Kells (depicted below) is possibly the most well-known use of the Trinity Knot from the Insular Period, dated to the 9th century.
Celtic knotwork remained popular for quite some time, but its use declined during the Norman invasion. Its popularity fluctuated until the 19th century; the time of the Celtic revival. Jewellery and items using Celtic imagery became very popular during this time, and have remained so to this day.
Different groups have proposed different stories of the origin for the trinity knot, each claiming to have used it first.
Christians claim Monks first used the trinity knot when converting the Celts from paganism to Christianity. Celts claim to have created it themselves but the presence of trinity knots in India years prior to its use by Celts and Christians suggests otherwise.
To this day, we are not certain when the trinity knot was created, where it was created or by whom.
The Many Meanings of the Trinity Knot
The trinity knot means many different things to many different people.
Celts believed that the most important things come in threes: the three domains (land, sky and sea), the three elements (earth, water and fire), the three stages of a woman’s life and many more. Celts believed that each point of the trinity knot symbolises one part of each of these important trios.
There may also be a lunar-related meaning to the trinity knot as the trinity knot is commonly seen next to lunar symbols in Celtic excavations.
Christianity & The Trinity Knot
In Christianity, the three points of the trinity knot symbolise the holy trinity; the father, son and the holy ghost. There is often a circle added to the knot in Christian imagery to symbolise the unity of the three forces. The trinity knot can be seen in a number of Christian sculptures, stained glass and paintings.
Similarities of the Triquetra and the Ichthys (the fish image you can see below, commonly used in Christian art) and St Patrick’s Clover have been drawn, further cementing the relationship of the trinity knot and Christianity.
Paganism & The Trinity Knot
In Celtic paganism, the trinity knot symbolises the trio of goddesses; the mother representing creation, the maiden representing innocence and the crone representing wisdom. Modern neopagans maintain this belief.
Germanic paganism also uses the triquetra. It is similar to the Norse valknut symbol. Both have been associated with the Norse god Odin.
Popular Culture and the Trinity Knot
The trinity knot has made a number of appearances in movies, on TV and in music.
The triquetra features in the movie National Treasure (spoiler alert); Nicolas cage finds the treasure within the Trinity Church as a result of seeing the trinity knot on the flag. The knot makes a more mystical appearance in Constantine in which the wearer of the knot is defended against attacks by spirits.
Possibly one the trinity knot’s most famous appearances is in the TV show Charmed in which it appears on the front of the Book of Shadows and represents the unity of the three witch sisters. More recently it has appeared on Vampire Diaries and symbolises the presence of three doppelgangers.
The trinity knot appears on the cover of Led Zeppelin’s fourth album and is the symbol representing the Bassist John Paul Jones.
Modern Uses of the Trinity Knot
The name ‘trinity knot’ is often recognised not as a Celtic knot, but as an intricate type of tie knot. The trinity knot is also a popular decoration for jewellery, particularly wedding bands. The series of trinity knots, featuring the circle, represent the eternity of love and faith.
Check out our range of items including trinity knot rings at Carrolls Irish Gifts.