Monday, June 10, 2013


As I discussed in my earlier article, The Crown and the Cross, the cross today is recognized as one of the strongest symbols of Christianity, but this symbol is ancient and can be found across different cultures and originates long before the rise of the Christian faith.

The word "cross" comes from the Latin word "crux" which was a Roman torture device. The word "cross" was introduced to the English around the 10th century as the term for the instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels of the New Testament, gradually replacing the earlier word "rood". The Cross is simplistic in shape, usually two intersecting beams, a vertical one intersecting a horizontal one, but may vary depending upon the religious denomination. There are basically four forms from which most other crosses stem. They are the Latin Cross, the Greek Cross, Saint Andrew's Cross, and the Tau Cross.

R-L: Latin, Greek, St. Andrew's, and Tau crosses
The Latin Cross

The Latin Cross, or Crux Immissa, is a type of cross in which the vertical beam, or stipe, sticks above the crossbeam. It is also referred to as "Crux Capitata" which translates into "cross with a head." In Christianity, this cross reminds us of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ as it is said by this instrument he died upon. This cross was not widely used during the first two centuries of Christianity as many followers were reluctant to use it as an icon as they saw it as the gruesome method by which the Savior was slain as well some early church leaders condemned its use due to its pagan origins. It wouldn't be until around the 4th century that the cross would become more and more used over the previously used Lamb and Fish (Ichthys). For centuries the Latin Cross was also used as the basic floor plan of churches and cathedrals. The Latin Cross is also seen outside of Christian sects and has been found in Etruscan, Tiryns, Mycenaean, and Cretan cultures.

The Greek Cross

The Greek Cross, (also known as Crux Immissa Quadrata or Cross of the Earth) is similar to the Latin Cross except that all four arms are of equal length. It is said this is the most ancient of the cross symbols used and with many interpretations that were used around the world.

Saint Andrew's Cross

St. Andrew's Cross, or Crux Decussata, is in the form of a diagonal cross (like the letter X). This cross also resembles the Greek letter Chi which is represented as 'X' which is one of the symbols Constantine saw in a dream which led him to victory against Maxentius at the battle of Saxa Rubra, and which led Constantine to his legendary conversion to Christianity. This cross is named after Saint Andrew as it is said that he was martyred on such a cross. This design is also referred to as a saltire since the intersecting lines do not meet at 90° angles.

The Tau Cross

The Tau Cross, or Crux Commissa, is a cross named after the Greek letter it resembles, but is believed to have originated with the Egyptians and adopted among other cultures. Christian use of this cross came about with St. Anthony of Egypt who bore a cross in the form of a tau on his cloak. The Tau Cross is sometimes referred to as the Old Testament Cross, the Anticipatory Cross, the Egyptian Cross, the Advent Cross, and Saint Francis's Cross.

The tau in ancient times was regarded as a symbol of life. It was also used as a symbol for those acquitted of a crime or honorably returning home from battle. We also see the use of it in the Bible wherein it is written in the Book of Ezekiel:

And the Lord said unto him, Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and set a mark upon the foreheads of the men that sigh and that cry for all the abominations that be done in the midst thereof.
Ezekiel 9:4

The mark was said to have been the Tau.

From these four basic crosses comes a myriad of crosses that have been used by just as numerous of groups. The following crosses will be classified and grouped accordingly from which of the four previous crosses they stem from.

Latin Variations

Starting out with the simplest variation of the Latin Cross, the Cross of St. Peter is an inverted Latin Cross. The origin of this cross comes from the tradition that Simon Peter was crucified upside down and since Catholicism believes that the Pope is the successor of Peter they are often represented by the Cross of St. Peter.

The Patriarchal Cross is the Latin Cross, but with two cross bars, a smaller one above a larger one, both placed near the top. This cross is also known as the Archiepiscopal Cross, Archbishop’s Cross, or Metropolitan Cross. This cross may appear with a short slanted crosspiece near the bottom, but usually this appears in Byzantine Greek and Eastern European iconography. The top beam is said to bear the inscription of "INRI" which is an acronym of "Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum" or "Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews." There are other interpretations of this cross such as that the smaller beam represents ecclesiastical power and the larger beam secular power. Others believe that one beam represents the death of Christ and the other his resurrection.

This cross started appearing around the 10th century in the Byzantine Empire and is thought to have originated out of Hungary as the two-barred cross is one of the main elements of the coats of arms of the Kingdom of Hungary since the 9th Century.

This cross is important in Masonic Templary as it is used as the insignia of all the officers of the Grand Encampment below the Most Eminent Grand Master.

Similar to the previous cross, the Lorraine Cross is a two-barred cross laid upon a vertical bar and the two horizontal bars are usually of equal length, but not always. Sometimes the Lorraine Cross can sometimes be the same as the Patriarchal Cross, but the Cross of Lorraine was originally a heraldic cross. It originated with René d’Anjou, Duke of Lorraine, and would be used by Godfrey de Boullion during the capture of Jerusalem. This cross would be carried around during the Crusades and, for a time, was associated with the Knights Templar.

Next is the Budded Cross (also known as the Apostle's Cross, Disciples Cross, Bottony Cross, or Cathedral Cross) which is the Latin Cross fixed with three circles or discs, also known as trefoils, at the end of each arm. To the Christian the trefoils represent the Holy Trinity, but the use of the discs or circles may have originated from the Celtic Druids where they represent the 3-dominions: earth, sky, and sea. Some have interpreted the cross as emblematic of someone new to the faith as the buds represent a flower yet to fully bloom. It is also referred to as the Apostles or Disciples Cross due to the 12-buds represented on the cross (3-buds on each arm).

The Celtic Cross and/or High Cross are both crosses found in the now United Kingdom which were either Latin or Greek cross over a circle, made of stone or wood, and engraved with intricate designs of knot-work, interlace, and vine-scroll. It is said that this was done to show the supremacy of Christ over the sun which pagans had previously worshiped, but the circle has long been a symbol of eternity. It is thought that these crosses were introduced to the natives and pagans by such men as St. Patrick or St. Declan. There are slight differences between the Celtic and High Cross, usually in size, but are very similar.

The Orthodox Cross is a variation of the Christian or Latin Cross and is often referred to as the Byzantine Cross or Russian Cross. It has three horizontal beams with the bottom beam slanted downward. This one is also in close relation to the Patriarchal Cross with the tradition of the upper beam corresponding with the inscription "INRI". Some believe that the slanted bar at the bottom represents the possibility that Jesus was not nailed foot over foot, but stood upon a footstep. Others speculate that it was due the efforts of St. Andrew that Christianity was introduced into the Russian region and that the slant is to commemorate him.

The Cross of Salem or also known as the Papal Cross or Pontifical Cross, is a Latin cross, but with 3-horizontal beams where it is seen that the top and bottom beams are shorter than the middle or main beam; sometimes there is a variation in that the horizontal beams increase in size going from the top down. It is referred to as the Pontifical Cross as it often carried before the Pope.

There are several symbolic interpretations of this cross. This cross is to represent the Pope's triple role as leader of worship, teacher, and community leader as well as representing the 3-main titles of the Pope: Bishop of Rome, Patriarch of the West, and Successor of St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles. It is also said to represent his temporal, spiritual, and material powers and responsibilities. In masonry these can also correspond to the virtues of Faith, Hope, and Charity as well as the Holy Trinity in Christianity.

This cross reserved for the insignia of the Most Eminent Grand Master and Past Grand Masters. In the Scottish Rite, this cross slightly slanted is the insignia of the Sovereign Grand Commander of the Supreme Council of the Ancient & Accepted Scottish Rite.

As a primary symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church, the St. Nino's Cross (also known as the Grapevine Cross or Georgian Cross) has been used since Christianity became the official religion of the Kingdom of Iberia in the 4th century. This cross is recognized by the unique horizontal beam that "droops" or rather each of the horizontal arms angles downward from the intersection with the stipe.

The legend is that St. Nino was a Cappadocian woman who preached Christianity in modern Georgia early in the 4th century. Early on she carried a normal Latin Cross, but she said she received in a message from the Virgin Mary the Grapevine Cross. However its appearance wasn't until modern times, but this is said to be due to the oppression by the Ottoman and Persian empires.

The Mariner's Cross or Anchored Cross is a stylized Latin cross in the shape of an anchor. The Mariner's Cross is also known as St. Clement's Cross in reference to the way he was martyred. This cross is used to signify 'fresh start' or 'hope'. As Christians, we should ever remember that Jesus is our Anchor in any storm.

Greek Variations

The first of the variations of the equal armed crosses is the Maltese Cross. It also known as the Amalfi Cross which is an 8-pointed cross with four "V" shaped arms joined together at their tips. It takes its name from the island of Malta and the Knights Hospitallier who would become to be known as the Knights of Malta. This cross is first seen in the 16th century on coins commissioned by the Grand master of the Order.

Symbolically the 8-points represent the 8 lands and languages of the original order as well as the 8-points of courage: Loyalty, Piety, Generosity, Bravery, Glory and honor, Contempt of death, Helpfulness towards the poor and the sick, and Respect for the church. It also has been interpreted to represent the Eight Beatitudes.

The next cross is somewhat controversial by its use in recent times and, yes, I am referring to the Swastika. It is an equilateral cross with four arms bent at 90 degrees and is an ancient symbol. It has long been associated with Eastern religions, but in recent times was used by the Nazis and thus has earned a poor reputation as being associated with Nazism, fascism, and supremacy movements.

The word "swastika" comes from the Sanskrit svastika and translates as "to be good" or "being with higher self."

Similar the Maltese Cross, the Templar Cross, or Cross Formée Patée, is composed of 4 equilateral triangles whose apexes meet at a common center.

Symbolically such crosses like the Templar Cross, you can also see a liberal representation that the four equilateral triangles symbolize the 12 Signs of the Zodiac.

In Templary this cross is used to designate Grand Commandery officers and Past Grand Commanders.

As I live in Boise and this city is considered a sister region to the Basque community Europe, let's look at the Basque Cross also known as the Lauburu. This cross is composed of four comma-shaped heads similar to the Japanese tomoe (an archaic swirl that looks like a comma). Some say it signifies the "four heads or regions" of the Basque Country, but this cross does not appear in any of the seven coats-of-arms of Basque Country.

It is seen as a symbol of prosperity and many use it as a talisman or symbol displayed over the doorway.

Etymologically Lauburu means "four heads", "four ends" or "four summits" in the Basque language.

Another ancient cross is the Sun Cross or Wheel Cross which is a Greek Cross within a circle and was found predominately in prehistoric cultures all over the world.

St. Andrew Variations

One of the most famous variations of cross, the Chi-Rho is one of the earliest forms of Christogram (an abbreviation for the name of Jesus Christ). It is made famous by the Roman Emperor Constantine the Great who converted and this is one of the landmarks in Christian history. It is said that he received a message in a dream that if his men bore that divine symbol on their shields that he would have victory against Maxentius at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. After the time of Constantine, the Chi-Rho became a part of the imperial insignia.

The Chi-Rho was also said to have been used by pagan Greeks to mark valuable passages in literature. Similar devices were also seen on currency in the time of Ptolemy III.

In Christianity, if someone uses a wreath around the Chi-Rho it is to symbolize the victory of Christ's Resurrection over death and is an early visual representation of the connection between the Crucifixion of Jesus and his triumphal resurrection.

Tau Variations

Known for its use in ancient Egyptian cultures, the Ankh is a tau cross with a teardrop atop the "T" with the point down. It is also known as the Key of Life, Egyptian Cross, Key of the Nile, and Crux Ansata (or rather "Cross with a Handle"). The ankh appears frequently in Egyptian tomb paintings and other art, but the origins of this device are unknown.

In ancient Egypt it was used a hieroglyph that meant "eternal life" and the gods were often portrayed carrying it by its loop. It is also thought to be a combination of symbols representing both the male and female, and would also, therefore, represent conception, strength, and health.

The Coptic Cross or Gnostic Cross has its origins with the ankh, but varies slightly with a circle instead of a teardrop atop the "T". The circle represents the eternal and everlasting love of Almighty God. The full cross symbolizes Christ's death by crucifixion and Resurrection.

The Furka Cross is a forked cross that looks like the letter "Y". It is also sometimes referred to as the Thieves or Robbers Cross, Yoke Cross, Vestment Cross, or Pall (meaning robe, cloak, or draped cloth) Cross.

The Furka Cross is referred to as the thieves or robbers cross as it is believed that in Roman-controlled Judea criminals were crucified on a forked cross, but such crosses would be costly to build so it is unlikely it was actually used. The three arms of this cross remind us of the Holy Trinity and the attributes of God: omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence.

This forked cross also resembles the Greek letter Upsilon which capitalized looks just like the English letter "Y". The Greek Upsilon is often called Pythagoras' letter as it is said he used it as a symbol to demonstrate human life where the two horns of the letter represent the two paths of vice and virtue. We all travel down a road in life, but it is not always the easy road and we come to a split into the road where we must choose where we will take our life. Will it be down the road of virtue or the one to ruin?

These are just some of the variations of the four basic types of crosses, but there are many more like the cross used in the Order of Christ, Bolnisi Cross of Georgia, Florian Cross, Pisan Cross, Occitan Cross, Calvary Cross, Canterbury Cross, and the Cross of St. Thomas. The cross has been used, adapted, and varied since the beginning of time and like all symbols has been used or and were interpreted for just as many reasons as there are types and variations of crosses.


1. Anchored Cross. n.d. 

2. Ankh. n.d. 

3. Budded Cross. n.d. 

4. Celtic Cross. n.d. 

5. Chi Rho. n.d. 

6. Christian Cross. n.d. 

7. Christian Crosses. n.d. 

8. Coptic Ankh. n.d. 

9. Christian Symbols. n.d.

10. Coptic Cross. Wikipedia. 

11. Cross. n.d. 

12. Cross. n.d.

13. Cross. n.d. 

14. Cross Designs and Styles. n.d. 

15. Cross of Lorraine. n.d. 

16. Cross of Tau. n.d. 

17. Crosses. n.d. 

18. Forked Cross. n.d. 

19. Gold, Campbell M. The Cross. 2011. 

20. Grapevine Cross. n.d. 

21. High Cross. n.d. 

22. Lauburu. n.d. 

Luthern Symbols and Crosses. n.d. 

Maltese Cross. n.d. 

Marshall, George L. "The Crosses of Templary." Knights Templar magazine, January 2010: 24-28.

Newell, Barry E. Symbols of Royal Arch Masonry, Pt. 1. April 2012.

The Crown and the Cross. September 2012.

28. Orthodox Cross. n.d. 

29. Papal Cross. n.d. 

30. Greek Cross (Cross Imissa, Cross of Earth). n.d.
31. Patriarchal Cross. n.d. 

32. Saltire. n.d. 

33. Sun Cross. n.d. 

34. Swastika. n.d.

35. Upsilon. n.d.

The Cross Symbol. n.d.

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