Cross Types, Symbolic Meaning, and Cultural Significance Through History

What is the Meaning of Crosses?

Recognizes as a symbol of religion and faith universally, is the cross. Faith is strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof. Therefore, so many religious writings focusing on God supposedly are myths. Tales that teach us to have faith in the holy spirit.

2 White Headstone Christian crosses

In any regard, various religions have always served to bring people together and provide hope to the desperate. Believing in something that scientists can’t prove is fascinating. It’s an evidence of a higher power that is unexplainable.

Different types of crosses have been around since before Jesus Christ, each symbolizing something different for the cultures that valued them. There are, nevertheless, various secular implications depending on the different crosses.

Since the beginning of time, Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Europeans, Syrians, and Indians have used the cross to symbolize faith. Some of them also wore it as an accessory, and it was also present in Buddhism and pagan beliefs.

The Difference Between Crosses

The distinction between the religious and heraldic should be certain. Most Christian cross variants were related to Christian religions. During the war, the heraldic demonstrated their faith and helped distinguish their enemies on the battleground.

It’s crucial to understand the various historical origins of all these different types of crosses to appreciate their symbolism and designs.

Ankh, the Egyptian cross

Unlike many other crosses, the Ankh, or Life cross, isn’t linked to Christianity but rather to ancient Egypt. Instead of the uppermost arm, this ancient Egyptian symbol has an upside-down teardrop at the top. It represented the concept of life and was a well-known hieroglyph.

Thought to represent the divine right to rule, life after death, and eternal life. The Ankh is most shown as an offering from an Egyptian god to a king.

According to legend, the Nile River overflowed during the union of Isis and Osiris, bringing fertility to Egypt’s lands. This is the result of the Ankh symbolizing Egypt’s key and why the Life Cross is what it refers sometimes.

The Greek

The Greek cross, which dates to before Christianity, has four equal-length arms.

Some believed the four arms of this symbolized four natural elements: fire, earth, water, and air.

A popular ornamental design found in clothing, structures, accessories, and architecture. Pythagoreans swore their oaths on the symbol, which held significant meaning for them. Egyptians also incorporated this into their designs.

The Eastern Orthodox Church at the beginning years of Christianity widely used this. One can see it in the Red cross banner and the Greek national flag.

Sun

 A Sun cross, known as the Solar cross, and the Wheel cross too, is essentially an equal length four spike one like the Greek’s. The only difference is that a circle surrounds the four arms.

One of the earliest variants in the world is the solar. During the Bronze and Neolithic Ages in Europe, discovered as a sign of ancient religion.

This, however, is not unique to Europe. Many cultures have used it throughout history, including the Indians, Egyptians, Native Americans, and Persians.

People of various faith use this sign to represent the sun, another name for this sign is pagan cross. Egyptian kings treasures it as it represents the sun.

Represents the four seasons of the year and the sun in Wicca. It symbolizes the earth in astrology.

The Latin

The Latin cross, as Christianity’s most well-known symbol, depicts Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and is widely used as the faith’s primary symbol throughout the world.

It is the most distinctive of all the styles of crosses and is used by Catholics. A sculpture of Jesus on the Latin, portraits of saints, or a painting above the cathedral can be found in every Catholic church. 

The Latin cross has an equal top, left, and right arms, though the upper arm may be shorter sometimes and a more extended lower arm. 

Even though some Christians used the Latin cross as an aid in prayer, it was Constantine the Great who, in the 4th century, declared it the main symbol of faith and Christianity.

Many Christians wear this as a necklace or carry it as a trinket to keep it near them to reflect their beliefs. Christians believe it brings them solace, comfort, and peace.

Crucifix

The Crucifix is a Latin cross with the body of Jesus Christ on it. Body in Latin is “corpus”. There are two different types of crosses when it comes to the Crucifix. One is with a three-dimensional body of Christ on it, while on the second, it is simply his painting on the cross.

Crucifixion is a punishment for individuals who are guilty of breaking the law or the faith.

Christ's Cross On Wall

After convicted of crucifixion, they strip and whip Christ with a scourge. Nine leather tails or strong ropes with knotted ends make up this object. Scourging is a type of punishment. After the lashing, he carried his cross to Golgotha hill in Jerusalem, where he would die.

The word crucifix came from the Latin “cruci” and “fixus,” which means “one who is fixed to the cross.” It refers to a somewhat different variant of the Latin cross.

Chi Rho

The Chi-Rho cross is among the oldest Christograms associated with the Byzantine Empire era. It is a symbol created by putting together the letters representing Christ’s name. Using the Greek letters X (Chi) and P (Rho) and superimposing them on top of each other.

These letters were chosen because they are the first two letters in Christos, which means “anointed one” in Greek.

Photo by David Bumgardner on Unsplash

Constantine the Great won the battle by having it drawn on his soldiers’ shields. He made Christianity the Roman Empire’s official religion a few years later. In that regard, the Chi-Rho cross is one of, if not the most important cross symbols in Christian history because its miraculous apparition aided Christianity’s widespread acceptance.

One can see it now in many Catholic Churches and some Protestant ones.

Maltese

The Maltese cross is made up of four V-shaped rectangular shapes that connect in the middle to form a cross with eight points. The overall appearance resembles four arrows coming together in the center.

At the time of the Crusades, the Maltese cross was originally used as the official badge of the Knights Hospitallers. They were based on the Maltese island, from which the cross gets its name.

Although the eight-pointed cross became common in the Middle Ages, research shows the Maltese cross goes back to the Byzantine era in the 6th century.

It is a well-known symbol in Malta today. Included in the logo design of Air Malta, the island’s national airline, for instance.

Also featured on the logos of firefighting departments across the globe, which is a noteworthy observation. The symbol of firefighters’ sacrifice and dedication to save those in need, just as the crusaders did with their eight-pointed cross.

 Patriarchal

The Patriarchal cross has two bars on top of the other and is the traditional heraldic symbol of the Roman Catholic Church and its archbishops.

The name of the one who will be crucified will be written on the highest bar. This portion is generally inscribed with the INRI symbol for Christ, meaning Jesus of Nazareth, Jewish King. The governor who ordered Christ’s execution, Pontius Pilate, set this pattern. The king was angered by Jesus’ declaration of this name.

White and Brown Cathedral

One can spot the Patriarchal cross on various flags, including Slovakia’s and Hungary’s coat of arms, among other places.

Mistaken as the Lorraine and the Orthodox cross is the Patriarchal. It is because of the slight distinctions among the three. In comparison, the placement of bottom bar is noticeably lower on the upright post in Lorraine opposing the Patriarchal.

The Orthodox Cross

Also referred to as the Russian, the Russian Orthodox, or the Slavonic, this emblem is a variant of the Patriarchal and has become the main symbol of the Russian Orthodox church.

The only difference between the Orthodox cross and the Patriarchal is the third horizontal bar at the bottom of the upright post. The first two bars hold the same meaning as the ones on the Patriarchal, while the third one is for the crucified person’s footrest. This is to prolong the torture even more.

Russian cross, Russian Orthodox Cross On Church

Some say the Orthodox’s has a slightly tilted line to memorialize the two other individuals crucified beside Jesus Christ: Saint Dismas and Gestas.

Symbols similar to the Orthodox’s were used in the 6th century by Byzantines, but it was adopted by the Russian Orthodox church sometime in the 16th century.

The Cross of Lorraine

One can notice different variants of the cross of Lorraine, but the most common variant is with two horizontal bars of the same length on a vertical post.

Other names for the cross of Lorraine are the Lithuanian, the double, and the Anjou. Believe to originate in the 4th century in France. The Free French Forces wore this symbol in the Second World War when they fought the Nazis for their freedom.

During the early twentieth century, it is use to commemorate Lithuania’s independence from other countries. Double-cross is the representation of Lithuania’s government branches. The Lithuanian army, public figures, and pilots were among those who wore this.

Spotted on the coat of arms of Slovakia and Belarus as well. The double cross or cross of Lorraine universally represents faith and hope, protecting from evil forces.

The Jerusalem

Also known as the Crusader’s, Five-Fold, and Cantonese cross, it is a symbol with a central cross with arms of the same length, surrounded by four small Greek crosses in each corner. With five crosses in total, some believe the Jerusalem’s the five wounds Jesus Christ suffered when he was crucified.

The Jerusalem’s may be dated back to the 11th century. The Crusaders had gained control of Jerusalem after converting the region to Christianity.

Later, several other crusader states adopted this symbol and wore it on their coat of arms. The Jerusalem cross can now be seen on Georgia’s national flag.

The Papal

The Papal cross is also known as the Papal staff, and the Papal triple cross has three horizontal bars, going from longest to shortest from the middle going up the vertical post. This is also a very well-known Christian cross.

 This represents the Pope and the papacy in the same way that the Patriarchal’s, also referred to as the Archiepiscopal cross, represents archbishops.

It appears in many sculptures of Popes as a sign of authority and rank.   The third bar symbolizes the Pope’s superior ecclesiastical status to an archbishop. The Holy Trinity is thought to be represented by the three bars.

Today, Pope Francis is the head of the Catholic church, and it also symbolizes the Holy Trinity, or the Church, Heaven, and Earth.

The Celtic

This is essentially a Latin cross within a circle. It is also known as the Ringed or the High cross. The origin of this is unclear, but research shows that it was in use before Christianity and had pagan ties.

It has remained a popular Christian cross form, and it’s considered a symbol of Scottish, Welsh, and Irish roots.

Celtic crosses have been widely recognized as symbols of cultural and religious values for individuals of Celtic ancestry. They can be found in the shape of massive, towering cross structures or simply as headstones in cemeteries around Great Britain.

Celtic crosses symbolize one’s Christian faith and spirituality today and are usually depicted as artworks composed of Celtic knots.

Grayscale Photo of a Graveyard

Incorporating the it into the Christian religion is the subject of various theories. One of these hypotheses claims that Saint Patrick blended the solar’s and the Latin’s when attempting to evangelize the Pagans in his country to Christianity.

He did so to emphasize the sun’s life-giving abilities, to make it more acceptable to pagans while also highlighting the significance of it.

The Tau

Other names for this are the cross of St. Francis, Saint Anthony’s cross, Crux Commissa, and Franciscan Tau cross. It is primarily called the Tau cross because it resembles the Greek letter “tau” and looks like an upper-case letter T. 

Some historians believe that Christ was crucified initially on it. This was thought to be a mark put on the foreheads of God’s chosen people who desired to be saved in the book of Ezekiel. It is associated with St. Anthony and St. Francis.

While the Tau cross is linked with Christianity, it was significant to Pagan cultures long before Christianity.

Because it was later embraced by Saint Francis, the T-shaped cross is now known as the Saint Francis cross and has become one of the symbols of the Franciscan Order.

Coptic

This symbolizes Coptic Christianity, the major Christian religion in Egypt today. The Coptic cross is found in various shapes, with some of them inspired by the ancient Ankh symbolizing eternal life.

Under the leadership of Saint Mark, the Coptic religion initially spread in Egypt. In 451 CE, the Copts diverged from mainstream Christianity because of theological disagreements.

In the 7th century, Muslim Arabs conquered Egypt. 

As a result, Coptic Christianity generally developed separately from other Christian groups, with its own set of beliefs and rituals. The Greek Orthodox and the Coptic Orthodox Church have established a consensus on several matters in recent decades, like their baptisms and marriages. 

The most popular type of it nowadays is the one with equal-length bars with or without a circle behind it or in the center. The three points in Coptic’s each arm symbolize the Holy Trinity.

It is the main symbol of the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic Catholic Church today.

Saint Andrew’s Cross (Saltire)

He was a major Christian figure who was the patron saint of several countries, including Scotland, Romania, Barbados, and Ukraine.

This is another one of those crosses that one can see on a flag. Unlike the Scandinavian crosses used by many countries, it is solely used in Scotland. The name “saltire” comes from the word “saulteur,” which refers to one with equal-length diagonal bars in French.

The tale surrounding the creation of St. Andrew’s cross is unique. They believe that before the martyrdom of Saint Andrew, he asked that his execution be not like Jesus, for he did not think he is worthy of dying the same way. Saint Andrew was instead crucified on an X-shaped or saltire.

Forked Cross

The forked cross, or the Ypsilon cross, Y-cross, or thief’s cross, first appeared in the 13th century. It is particularly popular in Germany’s Rhineland region.

The name “thief’s cross” or “robber’s cross” comes from the belief that during the Roman Empire, the punishment for thieves is by crucifiction on this Y-shaped cross. 

According to some theories, the Ypsilon or Forked represents the Tree of Knowledge. Sent out of paradise, because Adam and Eve committed sin as they ate the fruit of the Tree.

The Upside-Down Cross

An inverted Latin’s variant, Petrine and Saint Peter’s cross is the name.

According to some stories, Saint Peter, like Saint Andrew, requested that he be hung upside down because he did not believe he was worthy of being executed in the same way as Jesus Christ.

In modern times, this is a sign of anti-Christian, because Satanists adopted it as a symbol expressing the renunciation of Christianity and Jesus Christ.

Anchored Cross

Known as the Mariner’s cross and is another version of the Latin’s. The difference is, as its name suggests, that this looks like an anchor.

Even though it affiliates largely with Christianity, this is St Clement’s cross too. St. Clement was thrown into the Black Sea with an anchor connected to him when he was martyred.

A spirit that embraces Jesus Christ will never stray from the spiritual journey because he would still be the light that guides you in the right direction and your source of hope that you can cling to no matter what issues or obstacles you face.

Templar Cross

Aside from the Latin and Orthodox crosses, the Templar Cross is among the most well-known crosses.

Worn by knights with symbolic value for them. Believing that it represents their devotion, they fight to death in battles as an honor and as a result to go to paradise.

During the Knights Templar battles, it was worn like a banner on a white and black background. Around 700 years ago, they were thought to have disbanded.

San Damiano cross

This is a one of a kind crucifix that St Francis of Assissi prayed to. While praying with the San Damiano cross, St Francis likely receive instructions to reconstruct the Lord’s church. Many Christians hold it in high respect, with Franciscans treasuring this as their main symbol connecting them to the Holy Spirit.

 The Grapevine Cross

Because of the two side arms that seem to droop a bit, it is easy to recognize. Other names for the Grapevine cross are Saint Nino’s cross and the Georgian cross. Around the 4th century, the Kingdom of Iberia used it. Iberia declared Christianity to be the major religion at the time.

Saint Nino’s connection with Mother Mary inspired the construction of it. Mother Mary knotted the cross in her locks to hold it in place.

Marian Cross

The Marian cross is an unofficial name for a Roman Catholic crucifix. It consists of a regular Latin’s with the right arm extended and a letter “M” in the lower right quadrant (for the Virgin Mary). The Latin cross is sometimes merge with M.

This was most recently seen on the coat of arms of Pope John Paul II, which was prominently exhibited on his coffin at his funeral, though it has previously not been used.

It symbolizes Mother Mary’s devotion and love for Jesus Christ.

Commonly Asked Questions About Crosses and Their Meaning

What are the Types of Crosses?

There are a lot of different types of crosses, but here are some of the most popular ones: Latin, Tree of Life, Celtic,  Upside Down (St. Peter), Eight pointed (Maltese Cross), Wooden, Orthodox, Greek, The Coptic, Russian Orthodox, Tau (Saint Anthony), Marian, Russian, Papal Triple, Anchor, Saint Andrew’s (Saltire), Jerusalem, Templar, Egyptian hieroglyph “Ankh.”, Cross with trilobed terminals, Gamma, Forked, San Damiano, Scandinavian, Sun, Serbian, etc.

What is the Difference Between Orthodox and Catholic Crosses?

Only Orthodoxy and Catholicism venerate crosses and iconography among all Christian religions. Catholics worship a four-pointed one with a vertical crossbar that is extended. Crosses that are respected in Orthodoxy are quite varied. Not the design of the Catholic, but the image of Jesus Christ on it, is unacceptable to the Orthodox Church.

Catholics portray Christ as a lifeless, severely sagging figure with blood on the face from wounds on the legs, arms, and ribs. The legs are also fastened with a single nail. In Orthodoxy, icons and crosses are never depicted solely as a body. In the first place, the saint’s icon represents his glorification.

Jesus Christ is depicted as the all-powerful God and the saints that stand before Him in the Heavenly Kingdom. The icon’s physical shell merely represents the immortal image in Heaven.

The nails with which the Lord was nailed to the cross were also retained by Orthodox Byzantium. And the fact that there are four, not three, is well known. As a result, the Orthodox crosses of Christ’s feet include two nails, one for each foot.

Gloria White

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