“The cross was built in my father’s workshop in Murphy over
the course of most of 2005. Early
efforts produced considerable progress, but slowed when my work week went to
60-80 hours over the summer. While I was
at work, my father managed to produce all of the Celtic knots using a scroll
saw and hand chisels. He could easily
have finished the balance of the hand carving, but I pleaded to him that I was
trying to learn something about relief carving.
He managed restraint and I learned a little. We joke that the Celtic knot side of the
cross is ‘his’ and the tree of life is ‘mine’.
We also experienced a bit of a construction delay during Dad’s bypass
surgery. Fortunately, someone knew he
had more work to do. Short a couple of
coats of shellac, we hurriedly finished just in time for Christmas Eve
“The body of the cross is hollow and is built using a box
(or finger-joint) almost as strong as dovetailing, but much easier to execute
on this small scale.”
“The stand is constructed of the same materials as the
cross. The stretcher design is intended
to reflect the Celtic knot work of the cross; and the three legs (Trinity) to
give some continuity with the font design. Lastly, the cross and stand were
built with much of my father’s wood, his tools, and I hope, some small measure
of the skills I have learned from him.
Engraved on the top of the stand is “Molann an obair an saor”, Gaelic
for “The work recommends the craftsman.”
A more modern interpretation might be judge a man by his work; it is for my father.”
We chose three materials to work with:
“Black walnut was used for the body of the cross and the Celtic
knots. It is a hardwood native to North America with a variety of color tones and, while relatively
hard, it can be carved with minimal surprises. Its color contrasts well with the other woods we chose.”
“Morado (or Brazilian rosewood)
was used for the edging and volutes (the ‘holes’ at the intersection of the
cross’s arms). It is a very hard, dense
wood with a beautiful grain and a subtle red color that finishes as well as any
material I’ve ever used. It can almost be polished without use of any oil or varnish finish.”
“Flame maple (also fiddle-back,
or sometimes tiger maple)” was used
for the halo of the cross. This wood “is just hard maple with a rare and
peculiar pattern perpendicular to its grain. This was a case of the material driving the design. I originally
wanted just clear hard maple for the sun symbol (or halo) with more rosewood trim, but when I saw the flame
pattern, I felt it would seem to radiate from the center of the cross.”
“I started an Internet search to determine exactly what
makes a cross a Celtic cross. I will not testify to the accuracy of the info,
but I found numerous references and examples, with most referring to an origin
While early instances may have been carved in wood, the earliest surviving
examples were carved into ground level stone outcroppings about 1000 years ago.
These led to examples that were carved free of the bed rock and then raised
“A common feature of
these Celtic crosses is their extensive use of ornamentation and the
‘sun-symbol’ or halo at the cross apex. Most examples are decorated on all
surfaces. Ornamentation often reflects local styles and symbology, but recurring themes are of Celtic knots, and in
some examples, mural-like religious scenes. Celtic ‘knots’ are thought to have their origins in the weaving
traditions of local peoples. They are comprised of a single strand with no beginning or end.”
“One example referenced in many of the sites I visited is a
cross at an ancient monastery on the island
of Iona attributed to its
founder, Calum Cille (KA-lum Kill). This
translates to ‘Dove of the Church’ in Irish Gaelic. He is more commonly know as St. Columba, and
brought Christianity to the British Isles. ‘Callum’ in Scots Gaelic is ‘disciple of St.
Columba’ and evolved to ‘ma-Collum’, or ‘Malcolm’. I had found my design inspiration.”
Celtic knots were a given. The smaller ‘trefoils’, or three lobed knots, are
references to the Holy Trinity. The descending dove often symbolizes the
descending Holy Spirit, but the tie-in to St. Columba is also worth mentioning.
The ‘tree of life’ emerging from the chalice, with the symbolic reference to
life springing from the Sacraments, is also a common Christian theme, as can be
seen in the banners in our sanctuary. In
the case of the processional cross, my Gaelic ancestry, with no small measure
of artistic license, caused the tree of life to evolve into Scottish thistle
(the national flower of Scotland).
Thistle is held in high regard and attributed with great ‘power’ in Scotland.
A Danish raiding party was attempting a midnight assault on the king of Scotland’s
castle when they blundered into a patch of thistle (and its thorny armament).
Guards were awakened. Scotland
medallion, engraved with ‘ihs’, was intended as a monogram for Jesus, although
references to other interpretations can be found. Similarly, the Greek
‘chi-rho’ references Christ. The other center medallion was a late addition.
Well into the construction, it came to me that we could combine a simple Celtic
knot with a few thorns and have the crown
Front & back views of processional cross
(Bill and Malcom McLeod are also the designers and crafters for
the West Plano Presbyterian Church baptismal font stand)