Triquetra: the history and meaning of the triple knot

You have probably admired this iconic Celtic symbol in artwork and jewellery. But what does it mean? Delve into the history and meaning of the Triquetra: the ancient triple knot.

The Triquetra is, without doubt, one of the most popular and enduring triple knot designs. The word literally means ‘three-cornered’, and the symbol is composed of three interlaced arcs.

The line is unbroken and never-ending and is said to represent many things, such as unity, protection, and everlasting life.

Variations of the symbol have endured throughout history, adorning architecture and artwork for millennia. Its current form has become a common feature in tattoos and jewellery in Ireland and beyond.

The triple knot is something you have probably encountered many times throughout your life, but what do you know about its history and meaning? Find all you ever wanted to know about the Triquetra below.

History of the Triquetra – a historical debate

The Triquetra: triple knot is an important Irish symbol.
Credit: Flickr / Margaret Almon

The origins of this popular design have been the subject of some debate by historians. While some claim it to be of Celtic heritage, others view it as much older.

The triple knot can be dated as far back as the Iron Age, but such symbols became frequent from around the 4th-century BC appearing on animated ceramics of Anatolia and Persia, as well as on early Lycian coins.

It has also been found on runestones in Northern Europe and on early Germanic coins, as well as on Indian heritage sites that are over 5,000 years old.

The symbol is often found in ‘Insular Art’. Also known as Hiberno-Saxon art, this is art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Britain.

If you have ever had the pleasure of seeing the iconic Book of Kells at Trinity College Dublin, then you may have spotted the Triquetra in its ancient pages.

Uses and meanings of the Triquetra – a versatile symbol

The Celtic knot features in the Book of Kells.
Credit: @thebookofkellsofficial / Instagram

The Triquetra has had many uses throughout history across countless cultures.

In Ireland, it has sometimes been used in a Christian context to represent the holy trinity, similarly to the shamrock. Because of this, it is often referred to as the ‘trinity knot’.

In its original form of vesicae pisces, the design incorporates the fish, a popular Christian symbol. Occasionally, you may see the Trinity knot enclosed within a circle as a means of emphasising unity or eternity.

Some neo-pagans and groups practising new age spirituality also use the Triquetra in their spiritual practice. The number three is a significant number for these people, as it is said to represent life, death, and rebirth; the three trimesters of pregnancy; or the elements of earth, fire, and water.

The Triquetra can also represent concepts such as the neo-pagan triple goddess; past, present, and future; body, mind, and soul; or the Celtic concept of land, sea, and sky.

Some believe that the symbol can offer protection against malevolent forces. If you are the superstitious type, perhaps it is not a bad idea to incorporate this into the home if you wish to dispel any negative energy.

Use today – decorative and superstitious

Triquetra: triple knot as a tattoo.
Credit: Flickr / Shylah Anderson

In recent times, the popularity of the triple knot has seen a massive resurgence. In Ireland and Britain, as well as North America, many people have used the symbol as a way of reconnecting with their Celtic heritage.

The Triquetra has been incorporated into jewellery, often found as a design element in claddaghs and other wedding or engagement rings. Some people have also chosen to take a more permanent approach, choosing the design for a tattoo.

You might also recognise the symbol from the popular 90s TV show Charmed. The show centres around three sisters with supernatural powers and this symbol adorns their ‘Book of Shadows’, which contains their spells and lore.

The Triquetra on the mountainside in County Sligo.
Credit: Facebook / Kevin Warren

If you ever get the opportunity to visit County Sligo, you may spot the Triquetra in a beautiful man-made design in natural surroundings.

The sylvan Trinity Knot is an impressive example of woodland art and was planted by the McCabe family in the 1980s. It can be viewed from the nearby N16 Sligo to Manorhamilton road on the slopes of the Tomór mountain.

The prominence of the Triquetra triple knot illustrates just how significant the symbol has been for Irish people and the influence of Celtic culture and imagery has managed to enjoy impressive longevity here.

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Born in County Down, Lewis Sloan is a writer who has a passion for Irish travel and history. While studying toward a Master's in English Literary Studies at Queen's University Belfast, he held the role of Features Editor for The Gown, Belfast's largest independent student newspaper. When not writing, he can be found practicing yoga or petting every cat he meets on the street.