Lewis, Bonnie, et. al. "Christian Symbols - The Cross." Faithology.com. Faithology, 4 March 2014. Web. 8 October 2015.

Lewis, B., et. al. (2014, Mar 4). Christian Symbols - The Cross. Faithology. Retrieved from http://faithology.com/symbols/cross

Lewis, Bonnie, et. al"Christian Symbols - The Cross" Faithology, LLC. Last modified March 4, 2014. http://faithology.com/symbols/cross

Lewis, Bonnie, et. alChristian Symbols - The Cross. Faithology, LLC, 2012. http://faithology.com/symbols/cross (Accessed Oct 8, 2015).

    • Last Updated: March 4, 2014
    • Originally Published: July 24, 2012
    • Christian Symbols - The Cross


    The most famous and arguably the most important symbol of Christianity is the cross. It represents the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ for the redemption of the world. Many variations of the symbol exist, but all include two beams intersecting perpendicularly. The symbol of the cross is found in paintings, statues, artifacts, jewelry, and more. Some Christians even use the cross in physical gestures, referred to as making the sign of the cross, for dedication or prayerful purposes.

    The Cross

    The cross has dual meaning in both suffering and triumph. The New Testament records that Jesus Christ was killed by crucifixion, an execution method in which an individual was nailed or tied to a large wooden cross and left to die. The Gospel accounts explain that, prior to his crucifixion, Jesus was forced to carry a heavy cross to the hill Golgotha outside of Jerusalem, where he was nailed to it and executed. The details of his crucifixion have fashioned the cross into a symbol of suffering.

    However, Christians also hold that Jesus's death on the cross was one of the central moments in Christianity, the act necessary to effect the redemption of humanity's sins. Therefore, the cross is also a common representation of Jesus's triumph over death. In the ancient church, the cross was used as a victorious symbol, the "turning point" in the battle of humanity against sin. It also serves as a reminder to the Christian community of the pattern of death, victory, and resurrection in their lives, as first demonstrated by Jesus.

    The earliest known use of the cross was in the Egyptian community, even before the Christian era, but the symbol was later adopted by Christians after the crucifixion of Jesus. A cross-like symbol known as the ankh is the Egyptian symbol for life. It is a cross with a loop above the crossbeam and is now known within Catholicism as the handled cross. It was adopted by the Coptic Christians1Coptic Christians are a group of Egyptian Christians dating back to the earliest days of Christianity. They remain the largest Christian group in Egypt today. and renamed the "Coptic Cross."

    During the reign of Constantine2306-337 CE, Christians were afraid to promote the symbol of the cross for fear of persecution. However, after Constantine's conversion to Christianity, he removed crucifixion as a means of execution, and crosses began to become popular as Christian symbols. Christians would sometimes include a representation of Jesus's body on the cross, an image known as the crucifix, and by the 7th century, the crucifix was officially adopted by the Christian church. The earliest crucifixes represented Jesus as alive and free from pain to emphasize his resurrection and victory over death.

    Over time, artists began emphasizing Jesus's human suffering, depicting many of the gruesome details of his crucifixion as described in the Gospels. For example, where Romanesque crucifixes portrayed a royal crown atop Christ's head, many late medieval artists used a crown of thorns. The crown of thorns, placed atop Jesus’s head in the torture leading up to his crucifixion, was a tool used by the Roman guards to humiliate Jesus and mock his claims of kingship. It represented both the physical and emotional pain suffered by Jesus at his death. Additionally, crucifixes during this time would often portray Jesus's body as limp and bloody. Portrayals such as these eventually led to a preference among many Christians for the symbol of the cross alone, without a representation of Jesus's body, especially after the Protestant Reformation. Other Christians, however, such as Eastern Orthodox Christians and Roman Catholics, continue to use the crucifix.

    Today, there are many different types of crosses, each with a different meaning. Some of the most popular include:

    The Latin Cross

    Perhaps the most widely recognized Christian cross is the Latin Cross, used for centuries as an emblem of the Christian faith. The Latin cross had a shorter horizontal arm that intersects a longer vertical arm above the center point. It is also known as "the Christian Cross."

    Cross Inside an Equilateral Triangle

    The cross inside an equilateral triangle represents the Trinity's work in a person's salvation. This symbol is often found atop pulpits in many churches, as decorations on altar fronts, and in many other places in both churches and homes. The cross at the center of this triangle can be very elaborate with floriated ends. A gold circle representing eternity is often added for additional decorative effect and to emphasize the Christian doctrine of God’s unending nature and the eternal effects of Jesus’s crucifixion.

    The Crucifix

    The Crucifix is a cross with a representation of Jesus Christ's body on it. Depicted in many ways over the centuries, Jesus is often pictured physically exhausted, his body limp with his hands and feet nailed to the cross. Atop his head is the crown of thorns, and he is barely clothed. An alternate version depicts a fully clothed Jesus, awake, and fully alive. His arms are separated from the cross and form a loving gesture of embrace. Rather than focusing on the crucifixion, this variant emphasizes the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and depicts his divine nature. A symbol of the Agnus Dei can also be placed in the center of the cross instead of Jesus.

    The Celtic Cross

    The Celtic cross is a widely known Irish cross that can be traced to very early Celtic Christians.3The term "Celtic Christians" refers to those Christians living in the Celtic-speaking areas of Britain and Ireland during the Early Middle Ages. Because of their relative isolation from the main body of Christians, Celtic Christians developed certain distinct practices. Crosses of the primitive eras of Christianity were used in cemeteries as decorations and during funerals for burial purposes. The Celtic cross begins with a traditional cross figure and has a circle carved out of the center in order to represent the eternal importance and effect of the death of Jesus.

    The Passion Cross

    The Passion Cross is used in church services in the Christian community to draw attention to what is known as the "Passion of Christ," the suffering Jesus enduring leading up to and including the crucifixion. This is a traditional cross, except that each end comes to a point. It is also known as the "Cross Urdee," the "Cross Champain," the "Cross Pointed," or the "Cross of Suffering." This cross can be used to in reference to Christ's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane if it appears above a chalice.

    The Cross in Glory

    Also called the Rayed Cross, the Cross in Glory is a traditional cross with "rays of brilliance" coming from behind it. These rays are said to be from the sun shining behind it; they serve as a reminder to Christians of the victory Christ had over the death of the cross. Always white to depict the purity of Jesus, this cross is usually used in the Easter season only.

    The Easter Cross:

    Much like the Cross in Glory, the Easter Cross is a white Latin cross adorned with flowers, usually lilies, and is used for Easter celebrations. It is a reminder to Christians that Jesus Christ defeated the cross and rose on the third day.

    The Cross of Triumph

    This small Latin cross appears on a globe or orb. It depicts the reign that Christ has over all the earth. It is only used in reference to the triumph and victory of the crucifixion, not when referencing the pain and agony that Jesus endured. The Cross of Triumph is also called the Cross of Victory, the Cross of Conquest, and the Cross Triumphant.

    The Cross in Tribulation

    The Cross in Tribulation is used in reference to the end times and the triumph that Jesus will have over the earth. There is a large circle at the base of the cross that appears to magnify the bottom portion of the cross. This bottom portion does not come to an end, but instead, it extends to the right and the left. The circle and extended base represent the eternal reign of Jesus, which Christians believe has no beginning and no end.

    The Cross and the Thorny Crown

    The cross and the thorny crown is a small Latin cross that is used for Good Friday purposes in reference to the agony of the crucifixion. It is adorned with a crown of thorns, signifying the pain that Jesus felt, the mocking of the soldiers, and the kingship of Jesus.

    The Cross of Iona

    Much like the Celtic cross, the Cross of Iona has the circle of eternity surrounding the intersection, and the ends of the cross slight flare out.

    The Cross Patee

    One of the most famous and decorative forms of the cross, the Cross Patee, is a thick, short cross in which the sides arc out into a dramatic edge before becoming flat on each end. This cross is used mainly for decorative purposes, and many additions can be made to this cross in order to give it a more decorative and dramatic effect. Depending on the curvature of the sides of the cross, the name of this cross can be altered to describe it more accurately, like the Cross Patee Concave or the Cross Patee Invected.

    The Cross and Banner of Victory

    The Cross and Banner of Victory does not stand on its own, but instead is usually paired with the Agnus Dei (Latin, “Lamb of God”) or with a depiction of John the Baptist. It is a small Latin cross with a white banner draped across the top. The white banner depicts the purity of Jesus and the victory over death. The banner has three points at one end and on it is a red Latin cross carried by the Lamb or John the Baptist. It symbolizes both Jesus as the Lamb of God and also the proclamation of John the Baptist that Jesus was the Lamb of God or "Ecce Agnus Dei."

    Other Types

    There are many Latin crosses that are used mostly for decorative purposes, such as the Latin Cross Adorned, the Latin Cross Fimbriated, the Latin Cross Botonnee, the Latin Cross Fleuree, and the Latin Cross Clechee. These crosses are thin Latin crosses whose ends resemble the fleur-de-lis, with the exception of the Latin Cross Fimbriated, which has traditional ends. The Cross Adorned has ends that are black while the Cross Boutonnee and the Cross Clechee are a lighter color. The Latin Cross Fimbriated and the Latin Cross Fleuree are a darker color.

    Since the Middle Ages, the symbol of the cross is often paired with other Christian symbols including the Agnus Dei and the Greek letters A and Ω (alpha and omega, respectively). They are symbolic of the beginning and the end of the world.4Bible: Revelation 1:8 In early examples of the cross, angels are depicted bearing a cross with the Greek letters X and ϱ (chi and rho, respectively), also known as the monogram of Christ. Occasionally, crosses are adorned with precious stones and jewels, which are symbols for the Trinity.

    A second bar may be added to the top of any cross to signify the plaque nailed to the cross, upon which was inscribed INRI, Latin letters which are the first letters of the phrase, Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum. Themes have often been added to the cross, including additional beams totaling three to signify the Trinity, and, in the late medieval period, branches to signify the Tree of Life.