A cross is a cross is a cross. False.
There are hundreds of cross variations in existence. Some of them are ancient. Some have roots in heraldry. Others are relatively young. Yet others are so new that they’re still rattling around in some artist’s noggin. For as much as the first Christians generally avoided pictorial use of the cross on which our Savior died, it is certainly the most-used and most-varied symbol in Christendom.
But not all crosses are created equal. Some types were created along cultural or geographic lines. Others are specific to denominations or sects or movements. While many cross designs have identities that have remained through the years, a few have lost their original significance. But before you hunt willy-nilly for a “pretty” cross to plop into your newsletter or logo, it’s probably wise to hunt for its origins beforehand.
|Cross of Lorraine|
What follows are a few examples that should raise a flag or two where appropriateness is concerned...
The Jerusalem Cross
This is a specific cross that has been used with abandon in all corners of the Church, but its name should give a good hint that it may not necessarily apply to your neck of the woods. While it isn’t wrong per se to use it in Hoboken or Honolulu, it has been closely associated with Jerusalem since the Crusades. The five crosses have been used to indicate the five wounds of Christ, but the division caused by its central cross has also been variously interpreted as the Four Gospels or the traditional four quarters of the Old City of Jerusalem.
The Cross of Lorraine (The Patriarchal Cross or Archiepiscopal Cross)
Some crosses have such tangled histories that it’s best to avoid them altogether. The Cross of Lorraine is one such animal. Its alternate use as the Patriarchal Cross is most often trumped by French claims to its use, including the Free French during WWII, earlier French groups seeking to regain territories, and even earlier by the House of Anjou. Of course, they fail to mention that its origins can be found in Hungary, and probably before that in Byzantium. And, of course, the cross is also used to identify an Archbishop. The only real occasion one may use the Cross of Lorraine is apparently while eating an Oreo cookie, which is emblazoned with a variation of the cross. Go figure.
The Papal Cross
Just. Don’t. Do. It.
Coptic Cross variations
I’ve included these simply because the Copts were the subject of last week’s post. Their crosses are varied and each is distinct in shape. Among the earliest forms are derivatives of the Egyptian ankh that have been repurposed as a Christian symbol. The reason for this cross-over is understandable – the ankh originally meant "life."
I ran across this gem while vacationing in Charleston, S.C., where dwindling Huguenot descendents rattle around the only independent French Huguenot Church in the U.S., which incidentally is on the Historic Register. In this quirky symbol created by persecuted French Calvinists, a Maltese Cross has been doctored up with a few doo-dads and a pendant of the Holy Spirit. It's strange that the Calvinists added French fleur-de-lis to the design, because the lily has roots in symbolizing the Virgin Mary. Oh, well.
St. Andrew’s Cross
You might rally around this cross if you wear a kilt and get hankerings for haggis, but its shape really is the type of cross on which St. Andrew traditionally met his martyrdom. How such a Christian symbol ever got associated with an ancient golf institution is beyond me, but given the occasional misuse of other crosses, it's probably par for the course.
|St. Andrew's Cross|