The cross, found in many cultures and religions of the world, is an ancient human symbol that has become closely connected with the religion of Christianity, where it is associated with the crucifixion of Jesus. Generally, a cross is a geometrical figure consisting of two bars that run perpendicular to each other. Usually, these bars are represented vertically and horizontally; if they run diagonally (for example, "X") then the design is technically termed a "saltire." This geometrical figure has numerous uses in architecture, mathematics, art, religion, and culture.
During the Roman Empire, the cross was an instrument of capital punishment. In Roman times, both criminals and dissenters were hung on crosses in public places to inspire fear of authority and respect for law and order. The early Christians, believing that Jesus died on the cross for humanity's sins, transformed the symbol of the cross into a sign of God's love, grace and ultimate sacrifice. In this manner, the meaning of the cross metamorphasized from a Roman instrument of capital punishment into something positive and redemptive. Nevertheless, for some, the cross remained a disturbing symbol due to its macabre associations with death and torture.
Even though the cross is the most well known symbol of Christianity, there are many varieties of crosses found throughout the Christian world. For example, the cross used in Eastern Orthodoxy is distinct from the Roman Catholic crucifix (a cross that includes a representation of Jesus' body on it). Over time, the cross (in its crucifix form) became the symbol of the Roman Catholic Church.
In Christian theology, the cross symbolizes God's self-sacrificing love (agape). The vertical and horizontal axis of the cross also represent the two most important teachings of Jesus: that one should love of God (represented by the vertical dimension of the cross) and one's neighbor (represented by the horizontal dimension). Nevertheless, despite its sublime theological meaning, it remains a fact that the Christian cross still evokes mixed reactions in the world today, and continues to be interpreted in different ways. It should not be forgotten that the cross has negative associations among certain groups, who link it to violence and imperialism. The cross sometimes evokes memories of the crusades against the Muslims and Cathars, racism by the Ku Klux Klan, and aggressive missionizing in many parts of the world.
The word cross was introduced to English in the tenth century as the term for the instrument of the torturous execution of Christ (gr. stauros', xy'lon), gradually replacing rood, ultimately from Latin crux, via Old Irish cros. Originally, both "rood" and "crux" referred simply to any "pole," the later shape associated with the term being based in church tradition, rather than etymology. The word can nowadays refer to the geometrical shape unrelated to its Christian significance from the fifteenth century. "Crux" in Latin means cross, and it was a Roman device of torture on which they nailed a person to a wooden cross, an act called crucifying, and let the person die of asphyxiation while hanging from the cross.
It is not known when the first cross image was made. The cross-shaped sign, represented in its simplest form by a crossing of two lines at right angles, greatly predates, in both East and West, the introduction of Christianity. It goes back to a very remote period of human civilization. There are many cross-shaped incisions in European cult caves, dating back to the earliest stages of human cultural development in the stone age.
Another ancient cross-shaped symbol is the swastika, which may originally have represented the apparatus used in kindling fire, and thus a symbol of sacred fire or as a symbol of the sun, denoting its daily rotation. The swastika has also been interpreted as the mystic representation of lightning or of the god of the tempest, and even the emblem of the Aryan pantheon and the primitive Aryan civilization.
In ancient Egypt, the ankh, or crux ansata, often appears as a symbolic sign in the hands of the goddess Sekhet, and appears as a hieroglyphic sign of life or of the living. In later times, the Egyptian Christians (Copts), attracted by its form, and perhaps by its symbolism, adopted it as the emblem of the cross (Gayet, "Les monuments coptes du Musée de Boulaq" in "Mémoires de le mission française du Caire," VIII, fasc. III, 1889, p. 18, pl. XXXI-XXXII and LXX-LXXI).
The fifth century B.C.E. tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran, are carved into the cliff side in the shape of a cross. They are known as the "Persian crosses."
Thus, various cross shaped symbols were used in different cultures not only for their ornamental value, but also with religious significance.
During the Bronze Age, increased depictions of crosses were found in the art of different parts of Europe used to adorne many objects such as fibulas, cinctures, earthenware fragments, and on the bottom of drinking vessels. The French archaeologist Gabriel de Mortillet is of opinion that such use of the sign was not merely ornamental, but rather a symbol of consecration, especially in the case of objects pertaining to burial. In the proto-Etruscan cemetery of Golasecca, every tomb has a vase with a cross engraved on it. True crosses of more or less artistic design have been found in Tiryns, at Mycenæ, in Crete, and on a fibula from Vulci.
During the first two centuries of Christianity, the cross may have been rare in Christian iconography, as it depicts a purposely painful and gruesome method of public execution. The Ichthys (fish symbol) was instead used by early Christians. Additionally, the Chi-Rho monogram was adopted by Constantine I in the fourth century as his banner, as another early Christian symbol. However, the cross symbol was already associated with Christians by the second century, as is indicated in the anti-Christian arguments cited in the Octavius of Minucius Felix, chapters IX and XXIX. Additionally, by the early third century, the cross had become so closely associated with Christ that Clement of Alexandria, who died between 211 and 216, could without fear of ambiguity use the phrase τὸ κυριακὸν σημεῖον (the Lord's sign) to mean the cross, when he repeated the idea, current as early as the Epistle of Barnabas, that the number 318 (in Greek numerals, ΤΙΗ) in Genesis 14:14 was a foreshadowing (a "type") of the cross (T, an upright with crossbar, standing for 300) and of Jesus (ΙΗ, the first two letter of his name ΙΗΣΟΥΣ, standing for 18), and his contemporary Tertullian could designate the body of Christian believers as crucis religiosi, that is, "devotees of the Cross." In his book, De Corona, written in 204 C.E., Tertullian tells how it was already a tradition for Christians to trace repeatedly on their foreheads the sign of the cross.
The Jewish Encyclopedia says:
The cross as a Christian symbol or "seal" came into use at least as early as the second century (see "Apost. Const." iii. 17; Epistle of Barnabas, xi.-xii.; Justin, "Apologia," i. 55-60; "Dial. cum Tryph." 85-97); and the marking of a cross upon the forehead and the chest was regarded as a talisman against the powers of demons (Tertullian, "De Corona," iii.; Cyprian, "Testimonies," xi. 21-22; Lactantius, "Divinæ Institutiones," iv. 27, and elsewhere). Accordingly the Christian Fathers had to defend themselves, as early as the second century, against the charge of being worshipers of the cross, as may be learned from Tertullian, "Apologia," xii., xvii., and Minucius Felix, "Octavius," xxix. Christians used to swear by the power of the cross (Apocalypse of Mary, viii., in James, "Texts and Studies," iii. 118).
The cross reminded Christians of Jesus' victory over sin and death, since it was believed that Jesus' death and resurrection had conquered death itself. In this way, the meaning of the cross was rehabilitated from a Roman instrument of capital punishment to symbol of love, atonement and Christ's sacrifice at Calvary—"the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
The veneration of crosses as relics and the wearing of crosses on one's body became an important part of Christian practice in the ancient world. One of the twelve great feasts in the Eastern Orthodox Church is the Exaltation of the Cross on September 14, which commemorates the consecration of the basilica on the site where the (allegedly) original cross of Jesus was discovered in 326 C.E. by Helena of Constantinople, mother of Constantine the Great. The Catholic Church celebrates the feast on the same day and under the same name ("In Exaltatione Sanctae Crucis"), though in English it has been called the feast of the Triumph of the Cross. Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Anglican bishops place a cross [+] before the name when signing a document.
The shape of the cross also influenced the development of Christian architecture. For example, the great Cathedrals and Abbeys that were built in Europe during the Middle Ages were usually designed in the shape of the cross.
However, despite the tremendous influence of the cross on the history, theology, and art of Christianity, it is also true that the cross has been associated with episodes of violence, slavery, and racism. Ever since Emperor Constantine I first instructed his soldiers to put the cross on their shields, the cross was also viewed as a popular medieval weapon—the sword—and became associated with the Crusading knights and colonial imperialism. Crusading Kings were ordained by the sword, and they believed that the cross would protect them in battle, as did future Christian empires. Thus, began a long history of the cross' association with battle.
The cross has also been viewed by some as a symbol of slavery and oppression. For instance, during the time of the inquisition, the Catharis were forced to wear a yellow crosses on their clothes to represent their "heresy."
In modern times, the Ku Klux Klan was notorious for using burning crosses to terrorize African-Americans.
As a result of the cross' tarnished history, some modern groups, such as the Jehovah's Witnesses, reject the cross as essentially pagan in origin and dispute its early usage by Christians. They hold that the "cross" on which Jesus died was really a single-beamed "stake."
Nevertheless, the cross remains a powerful symbol in most forms of Christianity today including, Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, and Anglicanism, among others, which continue to make the sign of the cross upon themselves.
In modern times, many predominantly Christian countries have adopted flags with crosses, including all the nations of Scandinavia, and many nations in the Southern Hemisphere. The Flag of Switzerland since the seventeenth century has displayed an equilateral cross in a square (the only square flag of a sovereign state apart from the Flag of the Vatican City); the Red Cross emblem was based on the Swiss flag. The flag of Georgia displays a red Jerusalem cross, and can also be described as a St George cross accompanied by four crosslets.
The cross is often shown in different shapes and sizes, and in many different styles. It may be used in personal jewelry, or used on top of church buildings. In Roman Catholic countries, crosses are often erected on the peaks of prominent mountains, so as to be visible over the entire surrounding area. It is shown both empty, and with the body of Christ (corpus) nailed to it, in which case it is typically called a crucifix, though this word, in its original sense, denotes the body affixed to the cross. Roman Catholic and High Anglican depictions of the cross are often crucifixes (see picture inset), in order to emphasize Jesus' sacrifice. Many Protestant traditions depict the cross without the corpus, interpreting this form as an indication of belief in the resurrection rather than as representing the interval between the death and the resurrection of Jesus. Crosses are a prominent feature of Christian cemeteries, either carved on gravestones or as sculpted stelas. Similarly, the insertion of small crosses is sometimes used in countries of Christian culture to mark the site of fatal accidents, or to protest alleged deaths.
Also known as the Key of the Nile, the Looped Tau Cross, and the Ansated Cross. It was an Ancient Egyptian symbol of life. Sometimes given a Latin name if it appears in specifically Christian contexts, such as the crux ansata ("handled cross"). Shaped like the letter T surmounted by an oval or circle. Originally the Egyptian symbol for "life," it was adopted by the Copts (Egyptian Christians). Also called a crux ansata, meaning "cross with a handle."
Used in the Anglican Churches. It has four arms of equal length, each widening at the outer end in a hammer shape so that their rims form a near circle. Each arm bears a triangular panel incised with a triquetra symbolizing the Trinity. In the center of the cross is a small square. The Saxon original dates from c. 850 C.E. and was excavated in 1867, in Canterbury, England. A stone replica can be found in Canterbury Cathedral and in several other Anglican cathedrals around the world. Canterbury cross. A cross with four arms of equal length which widen to a hammer shape at the outside ends. Each arm has a triangular panel inscribed in a triquetra (three-cornered knot) pattern. There is a small square panel in the center of the cross. A symbol of the Anglican and Episcopal Churches.
Also known as the Latin cross or crux ordinaria. It is the most common symbol of Christianity, intended to represent the redeeming martyrdom of Jesus when he was crucified on the True Cross in the New Testament.
A small circle from which emanate four arms of equal length, with angled T shapes in the corner, cross-pieces outward, representing the nails used in Jesus' crucifixion. This cross receives its name from Coptic Christianity, which centered around Alexandria, Egypt.
|Original Coptic Cross||
The original Coptic cross used by early Gnostic Christians in Egypt.
The Coptic ankh is the Ankh related pre Original Coptic cross of the early Gnostic Christians in Egypt.
Also known as the crux immissa quadrata. Has all arms of equal length.
Used in the Eastern Orthodox Church. The top line is said to represent the headboard, and the bottom, slanted line represents the footrest, wrenched loose by Jesus' writhing in intense agony. The letters IC XC found at the end of the main arm of most Eastern Orthodox Crosses are a Christogram, representing the name of Jesus Christ.
|St. Brigid's Cross||
This cross is found throughout Ireland. It is told that the cross was made by Brigid, daughter of a Pagan King from reeds to be used as an instrument of conversion. However, Brigid's name is derived from Brigit (also spelled Brigid, Brìghde, Brìde, and Bríde), a Celtic Goddess of fire, poetry, and smithcraft, and today the cross is used to protect houses from fire. This is an example of the integration of religious traditions. The cross itself derives from the Indo-European Swastika, or Solar Wheel
Constantine I's Labarum is also known as a Chrismon, Chi-Rho (from the two Greek letters that make it up), or a monogram of the name Jesus Christ. Several other forms of Chrismons exist.
|Lebanese Forces Cross||
Inspired from the eastern crosses, it symbolizes three things:
Used in heraldry. It is similar to a patriarchal cross, but usually has one bar near the bottom and one near the top, rather than having both near the top. Is part of the heraldic arms of Lorraine in eastern France. It was originally held to be a symbol of Joan of Arc, renowned for her perseverance against foreign invaders of France.
Used in flags descended from the Dannebrog.
Based on the counts of Toulouse's traditional coat of arms, it soon became the symbol of Occitania as a whole.
The three cross-bars represent the Roman Catholic Pope's triple role as Bishop of Rome, Patriarch of the West, and successor of St. Peter, Chief of the Apostles.
Similar to a traditional Christian cross, but with an additional, smaller crossbar above the main one meant to represent all the Orthodox Christian Archbishops and Patriarchs. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, this cross is sometimes seen with an additional, slanted bar near the foot of the cross (see Byzantine Cross). This cross is similar to the Lorraine Cross and the Caravaca Cross.
Used by Presbyterian denominations.
Used as a symbol for medical care in most of the world, the Red Crescent being used in Islamic countries and the Magen David Adom in Israel.
|Cross of Sacrifice||
A Latin cross with a superimposed sword, blade down. It is a symbol used by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission at the site of many war memorials.
|Royal Flag of Georgia||
Used in Georgia as national flag, first used by Georgian King Vakhtang Gorgasali in the fifth century and later adopted by Queen Tamar of Georgia in the 13th century. The flag depicts a Jerusalem cross, adopted during the reign of George V of Georgia who drove out the Mongols from Georgia in 1334.
|St. Nino's Cross||
Also known as a "Grapevine cross" and traditionally ascribed to Saint Nino, the fourth century female baptizer of the Georgians, it is used as a symbol of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
|Saint Andrew's Cross||
Used in Scotland's national flag and the naval ensign of the Russian Navy, it is also called the Saltire, the Boundary Cross (because it was used by the Romans as a barrier) and the crux decussata. Saint Andrew is believed to have suffered a martyr's death on such a cross, hence its name. The cross does not have to be at this particular angle to qualify as a saltire; the symbol X can also be considered a St. Andrew's Cross. Saltire or crux decussata. An X-shaped cross associated with St. Andrew, patron of Scotland, and so a national symbol of that country. The shape is that of the cross on which Saint Andrew is said to have been martyred. Also known as St. Andrew's Cross or Andrew Cross.
|St George's Cross||
Used in England's national flag.
|Saint Peter's Cross||
An upside-down Latin cross, based on a tradition that holds that Saint Peter was martyred by being crucified upside-down. Today it is often associated with anti-Christian or Satanic groups and some heavy metal artists, such as King Diamond.
|Skull and crossbones||
Not a cross as such, but a saltire made of bones, with an overlaid skull. While traditionally associated with pirates, it was actually relatively rarely used by them, each ship having its own design, often involving an hourglass.
Also known as the Sunwheel, solar cross, or Odin's cross, because Odin's symbol in Norse mythology was a cross in a circle. Used throughout Native American culture to represent the great Medicine Wheel of life.
Also known as the Furka Cross. The fork, shaped like the letter Y.
|Order of Christ Cross||
Cross originally used by the Portuguese Order of Christ. Since then it has become a symbol of Portugal, used on the sails of the carracks during the Discoveries Era, and currently by the Portuguese Air Force.
These crosses are ones used exclusively or primarily in heraldry, and do not necessarily have any special meanings commonly associated with them. Crosses that are used in heraldry but also commonly in other contexts are not listed here.
|The cross as heraldic "ordinary"||
A simple heraldic cross (the default if there are no additional specifying words) has arms of roughly equal length, artistically proportioned to the particular shape of the shield, which extend to the edges of the shield. Illustrated is the blazon "Azure, a cross Or" (that is, a gold cross on a blue shield).
A cross which does not extend to the edges of the shield is humetty, in heraldic terminology.
A stylized cross in the shape of an anchor. Also known as the anchored cross or mariner's cross.
Also known as the cross barby or arrow cross, this symbol consists of two double-ended arrows in a cross configuration. Best known today for its use by the fascist Arrow Cross Party in the 1930s, the symbol actually dates to ancient times and was used by Hungarian tribes in the Middle Ages. In Christian use, the ends of this cross resemble the barbs of fish hooks, or fish spears. This alludes to the Ichthys symbol of Christ, and is suggestive of the "fishers of men" theme in the Gospel.
A cross with the ends of the arms bottony (or botonny), that is, shaped like an architectural trefoil. It occurs counterchanged on the flag of Maryland.
A cross which, opening at the ends, turns round both ways, like a ram's horns.
A cross with the ends of each arm crossed.
Also known as the Jerusalem cross. This cross was the symbol of the Crusader Kingdom of Jerusalem, which existed for almost two hundred years after the First Crusade. The four smaller crosses are said to symbolize either the four books of the Gospel or the four directions in which the Word of Christ spread from Jerusalem. Alternately, all five crosses can symbolize the five wounds of Christ during the Passion. This symbol is also used in the flag of Georgia.
A cross with the ends of the arms flory (or fleury), having a shape like a fleur-de-lys.
One form of the heraldic cross fourchee (fourchée, fourchy) or cross fourche (meaning "forked").
Upright cross with truncated bent arms
A variant of the Crusaders' cross with cross potent. It is also the logo for the Knights and Dames of the Holy Sepulcher of Jerusalem.
With arms which narrow towards the center, and are indented at the ends. The "eight-pointed cross" (with no curved lines).
In a cross moline, the ends of the arms are split and curved back.
A cross patonce is more or less intermediate between a cross pattée and a cross flory (or fleury).
A cross pattee (pattée, patty) has arms narrowing towards the centre, but with non-indented ends. See also Iron Cross.
A cross pommee (pommée, pommy) has a circular knob at the end of each arm.
This cross has a crossbar at the end of each of its arms. "Potent" is an old word for a crutch, and is used in heraldic terminology to describe a T shape.
A cross with a square at the intersection point.
|Cross triple parted and fretted||
In heraldry, a "cross triple parted and fretted" (or "treble parted and fretted") is interlaced. Here, a version which is "Or on an Azure field" (gold on blue) is shown.
A "cross voided throughout," also known as the Gammadia, can be seen as a Greek cross with its center lines removed, or as composed of four angles (L shapes) separated by a thin space. So the name "gammadia" refers to its being made up of four shapes similar to a capital Greek letter gamma; the word gammadion can also refer to a swastika.
|Cross of St James||
The Cross of St. James,, similar to a Cross Flory Fitch, is formed by a Cross Flory, where the lower part is fashioned as a sword blade (fitched)—making this a cross of a warrior. It is most frequently depicted in red. (The version depicted here is the one used by the order of Santiago.)
Other forms of the Christian cross (not shown here) include:
Written crosses are used for many different purposes, particularly in mathematics.
A cross is often used as a check mark because it can be clearer, easier to create with an ordinary pen or pencil, and less obscuring of the text or image that is already present than a large dot. It also allows marking a position more accurately than a large dot.
A large cross through a text often means that it is wrong or should be considered deleted.
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