Christian cross

From Academic Kids

The traditional form of the Christian cross, known as the Latin cross
The traditional form of the Christian cross, known as the Latin cross

The Christian cross is a familiar religious symbol of most Christianity. Its significance lies in the belief that Jesus Christ was executed by the governor of Judea on a large wooden cross. The New Testament reports that the manner of Christ's death was crucifixion, which involved being tied or (in Christ's case) nailed to the cross (Greek stauros), and left to die. This painful method of execution was common for slaves and non-Romans convicted of serious crimes in the Roman Empire at the time.


History and Usage

During the first three centuries of Christianity, the cross was rare in Christian iconography, although descriptions of it are found in Christian writings from the early 2nd century onwards. The Ichthys was a symbol used by early covert Christians to identify each other. The Chi-Rho monogram, which was adopted by the emperor Constantine in the fourth century as his banner called the labarum, was an Early Christian symbol of wider use.

The Cross first became prominent in Christian imagery during the 3rd century. An early third century reference (there are few others) is in Clement of Alexandria's unfinished Stromateis or 'Miscellanies' (book VI): he speaks of the Cross as tou Kuriakou semeiou tupon, i.e. "the symbol of the Lord." His contemporary Tertullian could designate the body of Christian believers as crucis religiosi, i.e. "devotees of the Cross" (Apol., chapter xvi).

In Christianity, the cross represents Christ's victory over death and sin, since it is believed that through His death he conquered death itself. Catholic and Orthodox Christians often make the sign of the cross by moving their right hand so as to draw a cross upon themselves. Making the sign of the cross was already a common Christian practice in the time of Augustine. 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 was discovered in 326 by Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. In the Catholic Church the comparable feast is the Invention of the Cross, celebrated on May 3.

The Cross was the first of the Instruments of the Passion that came to be venerated in the form of relics. In time, even the "Holy Nails" that were used to nail Christ to the cross would be sought out, discovered, elaborately mounted as relics, and venerated in Catholic circles. A nail, said to be one of these, is mounted in the Iron Crown of Lombardy, preserved in the cathedral of the former Lombard capital, Monza.

Numerous relics are claimed to be pieces of the True Cross, often brought to Europe during the Crusades. By the 16th century, skepticism surfaced: Erasmus joked that one could build a ship with all that wood. Santo Toribio de Libana in Spain holds the biggest of these pieces and is one of the most privileged pilgrimage sites for the Catholic Church. Even a large portion of the cross of the 'good thief' crucified with Jesus (who came to be given the name Dismas in medieval legend) has been recovered; it is reverenced at Rome in the altar of the Chapel of the Relics at the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.

Connected with the cross is the medieval legend of the Tree of Jesse, from the wood of which the cross was said to have been fashioned.

Forms of the Cross

The cross is often shown in different shapes and sizes, in many different styles. It may be used in personal jewelry, or used on top of church buildings. It is shown both empty, and with the body of Christ (corpus) nailed to it, in which case it is typically called a crucifix. Roman Catholic depictions of the cross are often crucifixes, in order to emphasize Christ's sacrifice; but many Protestant traditions depict the cross without the corpus, in order to emphasize the resurrection.

Crosses are a prominent feature of Christian cemeteries, either carved on gravestones or as sculpted stelae. Because of this death meaning, planting small crosses is sometimes used in countries of Christian culture to protest alleged deaths.

Crosses have been erected or carved on pagan sites of worship like mountain tops or menhirs to counter their influences. In Catholic countries, crosses are often erected on the peaks of prominent mountains, such as the Zugspitze or Mount Royal, so as to be visible over the entire surrounding area.

Perhaps the best-known form of the Christian cross is that depicted here, called the Latin cross, an equal-armed cross with a longer foot. It may be so called because it is the type of cross used in the Latin (Roman Catholic) church, as opposed to the Eastern Orthodox cross.

Other forms of the Christian cross include:

  • Altar cross. Cross on a flat base to rest upon the altar. Earliest known example is a picture in a manuscript from the 9th century; by the 10th century they were commonly used, but the earliest extant altar cross is from the 12th century located at Great Lavra on Mt. Athos.
  • Andrew cross. Shaped like the letter X, the form of cross Saint Andrew was martyred on. A national symbol of Scotland. Also known as St. Andrew's Cross.
  • Ankh. Shaped like the letter T surmounted by an oval or circle. It is the Egyptian symbol for "life", it was adopted by the Copts (Egyptian Christians), also called a crux ansata.
  • Anthony cross. Cross shaped like the letter T. Also called the Cross of St. Anthony, or Tau cross. This is the actual form used by Romans for crucifixion, not the Latin cross. Also known as a crux commissa.
  • Archiepiscopal cross. Special cross carried by an archbishop.
  • Basque cross. The lauburu.
  • Calvary cross. A Gothic style, the cross is mounted on a base shaped to resemble Mt. Golgatha (where Christ was crucified), with the Virgin Mary and Saint John on either the base or crossarms.
  • Celtic Cross. Essentially a Latin cross, with a circle enclosing the intersection of the upright and crossbar, as in the standing High crosses;
  • Consercration cross. One of 12 crosses painted on the walls of a church to mark where it had been anointed during its concercration.
  • "Cross of name". See entry for "name cross".
  • Crux fourchette. A cross with flared or forked ends.
  • Crux gemmata. A cross inlaid with gems. Denotes a glorification of the cross, this form was inspired by the cult of the cross that arose after Saint Helena's discovery of the true cross in Jerusalem in 327.
  • Crux hasta. A cross with a long descending arm; a cross-staff.
  • Crux patte. A Greek cross with flared ends.
  • Double cross. A cross with two crossbars. The upper one is shorter, representing the plaque nailed to Christ's cross, which said "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews". Also known as a crux gemina. Also called the Cross of Lorraine.
  • Gammadion. A hooked cross or swastika, also known as a crux gammata.
  • Globus cruciger. Globe cross. An orb surmounted by a cross; used in royal regalia.
  • Greek cross. With arms of equal length. One of the most common Christian forms, in common use by the 4th century.
  • Gnostic cross. Cross used by the early Gnostic sects.
  • Latin cross. With a longer descending arm. Along with the Greek cross, it is the most common form, it represents the cross of Christ's crucifixion.
  • Living cross. One of two possibilities: Either a natural cross made of living vines and brances. Or, a man-made cross with vines or plants planted at its base. In the all-natural version, it refers to the legend that Christ's cross was made from the Tree of Life. In the man-made cross with plants planted at the base, it contrasts the "new" Tree of Life (the cross) with the Old Testament Tree of Life. In both cases it shows Christ's death (the cross) as a redemption for original sin (Tree of Life).
  • Lorraine cross. See entry for "Double cross".
  • Maltese cross. A Greek cross with arms that taper into the center. The outer ends may be forked.
  • Occitan cross
  • Patriarchal cross. Like the Double cross, but with a third additional crossbar, each one shorter than the one below. A triple cross. Also called Eastern Orthodox cross or Papal cross.
  • Pectoral cross. A large cross worn around the neck by some clergy.
  • Peter cross. An upside down cross. So-called because Peter was crucified upside down. Also called Cross of St. Peter. Also a symbol of Satanism;
  • Saltire. Associated with St Andrew, patron of Scotland.
  • Stepped cross. A cross resting on a base with several steps, in imitation of a monument built by Constantine in Constantinople.
  • Suppedaneum cross. A Russian and Byzantium form with an additional short crossbar, either horizontal or slanted near the base to represent Christ's footrest (suppedaneum).
  • Tau cross. See entry for Anthony cross.

In heraldry, while the overwhelming majority of forms of crosses are symbolic of Christianity, it should be noted that a very few, such as the cross moline, are not. See cross (heraldry).

See also: Christian symbolism, Sign of the Cross

Compare the crossed circle of the Norse god Odin. 'Cross' itself is a word taken from Old Norse, which supplanted the former word 'rood' in Old English. See Roodmas, Rood screen, Rood loft.

Alternative theological views of the cross

A number of Christian Anabaptist theologians including John H. Yoder and Walter Wink suggest an alternative reading of the cross in Jesus's teaching. Instead of seeing Jesus instructions to "take up the cross" as simply a spiritual call to endure suffering, they interpret the phrase as a call to a life of radical Christian discipleship that may end in death at the hands of the state. For these theologians, accepting the possibility of crucifixion (often the penalty for political prisoners in Roman times) means rejecting the use of violence as well. This view would be most prevalent among Mennonites and other Peace churches with a history of martyrdom. This view is for the most part shared by Roman Catholic and Orthodox theologians, with the exception that they do not completely reject the use of violence.

Since the 1930s Jehovah's Witnesses have taught that Christ died suspended not on a cross, but on a torture stake. The New Testament word for cross is stauros, which can refer either to a cross or to a single upright position stake without a crossbeam; Jehovah's Witnesses accept the latter meaning to be the only one at the time of the crucifixion, the former one being assumed by the word at later times. They hold the use of the cross in worship to be a pagan activity. Cruciform symbols do antedate Christianity; see cross for more information.

For Muslims, Jews and Jehovah's Witnesses the symbol of the Cross or Religious Icons are sacrilegious as God cannot be depicted in any physical form. For more on Jesus see Non-Christian perspectives on Jesus

According to Vine "...Both the noun [stauros] and the verb stauroo, "to fasten to a stake or pale," are originally to be distinguish form the ecclesiastical form of a two-beamed 'cross.' The shape of the latter had its origin in ancient Chaldea, and was used as the symbol of the god Tammuz (being in the shape of the mystic Tau, the initial of his name) in that country and in adjacent lands, including Egypt. By the middle of the 3rd cent. A.D. the churches had either departed from, or had travestied, certain doctrines of the Christian faith. In order to increase the prestige of the apostate ecclesiastical system pagans were received into the churches apart from regeneration by faith, and were permitted largely to retain their pagan signs and symbols. Hence the Tau or T, in its most frequent form with the cross-piece lowered, was adopted to stand for the 'cross' of Christ" p. 138.


Here are some examples of crosses:

See also

External links

ja:十字架 pl:Krzyż łaciński uk:Хрест


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