“Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
― John R.W. Stott
The cross is an ancient symbol and was in use long before the Christian period began. Many of the oldest churchyard crosses were erected long before the stone churches were built. Sometimes they were set up as preaching crosses by the early Christian missionaries, frequently on or near sites of pagan shrines.
A large number of ancient crosses were originally prehistoric standing stones which were converted into crosses by addition of a Christian emblem chiselled upon them.
The common, worldwide meaning of the cross is protection but it has also other different interpretations and variations.
To make it more evident, here are 10 types of ancient crosses belonging to different cultures from all around the world, and their explanations:
1 – Atlantis Cross
The Atlantis Cross is a symbol based on Plato’s description of the layout of the capital city of the island. It is used as a logo by several groups and individuals who claim some historic or spiritual link with the sunken civilisation.
The crossed circle that forms a main feature of this symbol represents the four elements and the four directions. The cross’ design was mentioned by the Greek philosopher Plato who described of the layout of the streets of Basileia, the supposed Atlantean Capitol city, in Timaeus and Criteas.
2 – Celtic Cross
No one knows about the true origins of this cross, but one of the Christian legends claim that while bringing Christianity to the Druids – who worshiped a large circular stone, St Patrick, drew a large cross in its centre as a blessing to the stone. Since then, the two cultures combined to form this cross where the cross stands for Christianity and circle is the Celtic representation of eternity.
3 – Labarum
The Emperor Constantine I, adapted Labrum – a military standard used in the Roman Empire, as a symbol of Christianity. He also ordered the soldiers to place it on their shields prior to any battle. Consisting of a flag, suspended from the crossbar of a cross, it is believed that Emperor Constantine saw this symbol in his dream. A miniature version of this, was a part of the imperial regalia of Byzantine rulers.
4 – Maltese Cross
It is known by various other names, such as, the Fishtail Cross, the Maltese Cross, and the Cross of St. John, to name a few. It became an integral part of Malta’s culture and heritage, after the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem in 1530, took possession of the islands and introduced it. It is associated and widely used by Malta today. The eight points of the cross, indicate the eight obligations of the knights.
5 – Basque Cross – Lauburu
Often carved in tombstones, it is an ancient Basque symbol, representing the Basque identity, unity and culture. Sometimes associated with the Christian Cross, it is regarded as the symbol of prosperity, but might have cosmic, philosophical, religious or naturalistic meanings. Apparently, its four heads represent a human’s physical, mental, emotional and perceptual state.
6 – Tau Cross
It is an ancient symbol that apparently represents the Sumerian Sun God Tammuz, the Greek God Attis, and the Roman God Mithras. There are some similarities in all the deities, such as they all died and were resurrected. Named after a Greek letter “T” or “Tau” it resembles, it also represents, reincarnation, life, immortality, resurrection, death, and is now used as a symbol of the Franciscan Order.
7 – Brigid’s Cross
Predating Christianity, people believe that it keeps evil, fire and hunger from the home where it is present. Associated with one of the patron saints of Ireland, Brigid of Kildare, it has resemblance to the ancient Sun symbol, Swastika – four arms pointing towards the cardinal points of the compass.
8 – Anchor Cross (Crux Dissimulata)
Predating Christianity, it is commonly found in Christian catacombs, and Crux Dissimulata, means, dissimilar or disguised cross. In 3rd century Rome, when Christians were widely persecuted, this symbol played an important role. It was disguised with the help of an anchor representing stability. Also, the mystic fish (Christ) is the symbolic picture of Crucification.
9 – Jerusalem Cross
Dating back to 11th and 12th century, during the Crusaders captured Jerusalem and established Christianity, Godfrey de Bouillon, one of the leaders of Crusades, used it as a distinct symbol of the new Crusader state, symbolising Jesus Christ. It stayed a symbol of Jerusalem for Christians, even after the Crusader state was over thrown, and still is, for those who work to preserve Christianity in Jerusalem. Here, the large cross, apparently symbolises Christ, while the smaller four, represent the for corners of the Earth, as well as the four Gospels of Matthew, Luke, Mark, and John.
10 – Cross Lorraine
It represents symbolically, the Cross on which Jesus was crucified. During the Crusades, the Patriarchs of Jerusalem granted its use to the Knights Templar. Later it was added to the coat of arms of the archbishops, representing their function.