In today’s post, we will be delving into the meaning and symbolism behind one of the most popular symbols in the world, namely, the cross. Here is our extensive list of all the different types of crosses including both non-Christian and Christian variations.
Christian Cross Variants
Naturally, we will start our list with the variants of the Christian cross and when we say ‘Christian cross’, the first thing that comes to mind is, of course, the plain, old Latin cross.
Being the most prominent symbol of Christianity, the Latin cross represents the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and is used widely all around the world as the main symbol of the faith.
It is a cross with equally long top, right and left arms (although sometimes the top arm might be shorter) and a longer bottom arm.
That said, it was not right after Jesus’s crucifixion when Latin cross became a common symbol for the religion. For the first three hundred years or so, although some Christians used the Latin cross while praying, it was Roman emperor Constantine the Great who adopted it as the symbol of Christianity in the early 4th century.
The Latin cross represents the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of everyone. It is also believed that this sacrifice brought freedom and forgiveness to mankind as God forgave mankind with the death of Jesus.
There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1, NIV)
In that sense, the Latin cross is also a symbol of forgiveness and freedom.
We sometimes see the Latin cross (and the crucifix we will examine below) with the words “Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum” on it, or the abbreviation of those words, INRI.
Meaning “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Jews”, this notice was placed on the cross by Pontus Pilate during the crucifixion of Jesus. This phrase/abbreviation is now interpreted to say “a true Christian lies here”.
Derived from the Latin words cruci fixus meaning “the one that is fixed to the cross”, the word crucifix defines a slightly different variation of the Latin cross.
It is simply a bare Latin cross with Jesus’s body on it. The body itself is called corpus (body) in Latin. It is another very common style of cross used all around the world to represent Christianity and the sacrifice of Jesus made for all mankind.
Also known as crux imissa quadrata, the Greek cross is a cross with four equally long arms dating back to times before Christianity existed.
Egyptians used it as a decorative element while some Pythogerans who called it Tetractys believed the four arms of the Greek cross represented four elements of nature; earth, fire, air and water.
It was commonly used by the Eastern Orthodox church during the early times of Christianity.
Today, you can see the Greek cross on the national flag of Greece as well as the Red Cross flag.
The next item on our list of Christian cross variants is the Maltese cross. The symbol is most commonly associated with the Knights of Malta, who ruled the islands between 1530 and 1798.
It is thought to be inspired by the crosses used by the crusaders during which this symbol with eight points represented the eight obligations of knights; to have faith, live truthfully, endure persecution, be merciful, be wholehearted and sincere, repent for one’s own sins, be just and be humble.
Later on, this symbol was formally adopted by the Knights Hospitallers (also known as the Knights of Malta, the Order of Saint John and the Knights of Rhodes) to represent the eight different regions that the noblemen were admitted to their order.
Today, the Maltese cross is a very common symbol in Malta. To name a few examples, it is used for the logo of Air Malta, the national airline of the island and for the symbol of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.
On an interesting side note, the Maltese cross is also used on the logos of fire departments all around the world. It is meant to say “firefighters will risk their lives and sacrifice themselves in order to save others from harm like the crusaders did”.
Saint Florian Cross
Saint Florian’s cross is a cross with 8 points that is similar to the Maltese cross in appearance. The one significant difference between the two is that the edges and corners of the Maltese cross are sharp while St. Florian cross looks more like a flower.
There is no certain information regarding how this symbol came to be known as Saint Florian’s cross or used in fire department emblems throughout the world.
However, some sources suggest that Florian was a high-ranking officer in the Roman army in the city of Noricum (present day Austria and Slovenia) tasked with organizing firefighting brigades for the city. This might be the reason why he was associated with firefighters and considered to be their patron saint.
According to the story, Roman Emperor Diocletian ordered the persecution of Christians and Florian willingly confessed that he was a Christian. He refused when he was asked to renounce Christianity and offer sacrifices for the Roman gods and that sealed his fate.
He was ordered to be executed. After he was tortured in several different ways including being flayed alive, a stone was tied to his neck and he was thrown into river Enns.
This is the reason why he is considered the protector of people against any dangers from water including flood. Along with firefighters, Saint Florian is also known as the patron saint of Austria and Poland.
Used commonly on the emblems of fire departments all around the world just like the Maltese cross, Saint Florian cross is believed to represent the core values of firefighters like sacrifice, selflessness and bravery.
Saint Andrew’s Cross/Saltire
Also known as a saltire or crux decussata, Saint Andrew’s cross is a diagonal, X-shaped cross on which Andrew, one of the apostles of Jesus Christ, is believed to be martyred by crucifixion.
Although there are not that many sources to provide certain information, it is believed that Saint Andrew chose this kind of cross for his death purposefully as he deemed himself not worthy to die on the same kind of cross with Jesus himself.
Saint Andrew is an important figure for Christianity and is the patron saint of many countries including Ukraine, Romania, Barbados and Scotland. In fact, the saltire is featured on the national flag of Scotland.
Upside Down Cross/St. Peter Cross
Also known as St. Peter’s Cross and Petrine cross, the upside down cross is an inverted version of the Latin cross.
According to the story, similar to Saint Andrew who supposedly asked to be crucified on a saltire/an X-shaped cross, Saint Peter asked to be crucified upside down since he also did not think he was worthy to be crucified in the same manner with Jesus Christ.
This is the reason why some people of Catholic faith use the upside down cross as a symbol of humility.
On an interesting side note, the upside down cross has been adopted by satanists and become a satanic symbol representing the rejection of Christ and Christianity.
The Patriarchal cross is a simply a Latin cross with an additional smaller cross-beam above the horizontal cross-beam. It is a symbol used for the patriarchs in Christianity and is also featured in the heraldic arms of Archbishops.
There are several theories regarding what the two cross-beams on the symbol represent. According to some sources, the additional beam is for the inscription “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of Jews” or its abbreviation in Latin, “INRI” while some sources suggest that one of the cross-beams represents the death of Jesus while the other represents his resurrection.
Today, among other instances, the Patriarchal cross is featured on several flags including the coat of arms of Hungary and the coat of arms of Slovakia.
This symbol is often confused with the Orthodox cross or the Cross of Lorraine as these three symbols look quite similar with small distinctions only. So, let us have a look at the Orthodox cross and the Cross of Lorraine now.
Also known as the Russian Orthodox cross, Russian cross, suppedaneum cross or Slavonic cross, this symbol is a variation of the Patriarchal cross.
The only difference between a Patriarchal cross and an Orthodox cross is the third cross-beam near the bottom end of the vertical beam.
The symbolism behind the first two cross beams are the same with the Patriarchal cross; the first one represents the inscription to identify Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews (or its abbreviation “INRI”) while the second one represents the beam his hands were nailed to.
The third beam represents the footrest of the person being crucified which supposedly prolongs the torture. On the Russian Orthodox cross, the right part of the footrest beam looks up (while some instances have it the other way).
Although similar symbols were used by Byznatine people as early as the 6th century, the Russian Orthodox cross came to be used by Russian Orthodox Church in the mid-16th century and is now the main symbol of Orthodox churches all around the world.
On a side note, some versions of the Russian cross do not have the smallest cross-beam at the top, just the main one and the slanted one at the bottom.
Cross of Lorraine
Also known as the Cross of Anjou, the Cross of Lorraine is another variant of the cross with two horizontal cross-beams. While it is sometimes considered to be the same symbol with the Patriarchal cross, the Cross of Lorraine has two other variants.
The first variant is identical with the Patriarchal cross except for the lower cross-beam being closer to the bottom end of the vertical beam.
This is the same with the second variant, except for one difference; both horizontal beams/arms are of equal length in this second variant.
It is suggested that the origin of the Cross of Lorraine dates back to the 4th century and the most popular use of this symbol is associated with the Free French Forces who fought against Nazis for the freedom of France in World War II. The flag of Free French Forces featuring the Cross of Lorraine is as follows.
That said, different variations of this symbol can be seen on several different flags or coats of arms used by other nations, too. The coat of arms of Lithuania, Belarus and Slovakia are some of the examples.
The Cross of Lorraine is considered a universal symbol of hope and faith.
Also known as the Papal staff, the Papal cross is a cross with three horizontal cross-beams going from smallest to largest from top to bottom.
Similar to the Patriarchal cross with two horizontal bars also known as the Archiepiscopal cross representing archbishops, the Papal cross represents the Pope/the papacy.
The Cross of Salem
Also known as the pontifical cross, the Cross of Salem is a cross with three horizontal cross-beams with the one in the middle being the largest and the other two above and below this one being smaller and at equal length with each other.
Similar to the Papal cross, the sross of Salem is a heraldic cross and is used for events by the papacy.
Although one might think otherwise, the Cross of Salem has nothing to do with the city of Salem in Massachusetts, USA. There is simply no affiliation between the symbol and the city.
Also known as the Crusader’s cross, the Cantonese cross, the five-fold cross and the cross and crosslets, the Jerusalem cross is a symbol comprising a large cross of equal arms with crossbars at the end of them and four smaller crosses around it.
Sometimes all five crosses within the symbol are depicted as simple Greek crosses. There are several interpretations as to what the five crosses represent.
It is believed that these five crosses are the symbols for the Five Sacred Wounds of Jesus Christ suffered by him during his crucifixion. They also represent Jesus and the four evangelists, namely, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John as well as Jesus and the four corners of the world.
The Jerusalem cross was adopted as the coat of arms for the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem , the crusader state established by Godfrey of Bouillon in 1099 after the First Crusade. Several other crusader states carried on using the five-fold cross as their coat of arms later on. Today, it can be seen on the national flag of Georgia.
Also known as the staurogram or monogrammatic cross, Tau-Rho is a symbol created by superimposing Greek letters tau and rho on each other.
The Greek word stauros (σταυρός) literally means cross in English. The Tau-Rho cross has been used as the abbreviation of the word stauros in some of the early New Testament manuscripts. Some sources also suggest that this symbol was used as a visual depiction of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Chi-Rho Cross, One of The Oldest Christograms
Originally a symbol predating Christianity and Jesus Christ, Chi-Rho is one of the most prominent symbols of the early Christian era.
It is a Christogram, that is to say, a symbol created by combining letters representing the name of Jesus Christ. The Chi-Rho symbol was created by superimposing the two letters of the Greek alphabet, namely Χ (Chi) and Ρ (Rho), onto each other.
The reason these letters were chosen was because they were the first two letters of the Greek word ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ (Christos) meaning “the one who is anointed”.
According to the story, one afternoon before the Battle of Milvian Bridge, Roman Emperor Constantine saw the Chi-Rho symbol imposed on (or above) the sun along with the words that said in Greek language “With this sign you will conquer”. Later, on the night of that same day, he was visited by Jesus in a dream and Jesus told him to use the Chi-Rho symbol as a defence against his enemies.
Constantine had the symbol drawn on the shield of his soldiers and won the battle. A few years later he declared Christianity an official religion for the Roman Empire. In that sense, since its miraculous appearance helped Christianity become a widespread religion in a big way, the Chi-Rho cross/symbol is actually one of the most important symbols in the history of Christianity.
Today, it can commonly be seen in Catholic churches and some of the Protestant churches.
If you would like to read our detailed article on the Chi-Rho symbol and its origins, please click here.
Another less known variant of the Christian cross is the calvary cross also known as the graded/stepped cross. It is basically a Latin cross on top of three steps.
The symbol’s first known appearance dates back to the 7th century, more specifically, some of the coinage during the time of Emperor Heraclitus of the Byzantine Empire.
The three steps are believed to represent charity, hope and faith.
Also known as furca, ypsilon cross, crucifixus dolorosus, Y-cross, thief’s cross or robber’s cross, the forked cross is a Gothic Y-shaped cross that emerged during the 13th and 14th centuries. It is especially popular in the Rhineland region of Germany.
The reason it is called the thief’s cross or the robber’s cross is because it is believed that thieves/robbers were crucified on a Y-shaped cross in Roman Empire.
As for the symbolism behind the forked cross and its three arms, there are a few theories. Some people suggest that the three arms of the forked cross represent the Holy Trinity; the Father (God), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Spirit.
Another theory suggests that the forked cross represents the Tree of Knowledge, the reason sin exists among mankind and the reason why Adam and Eve were cast out of Heaven.
The next item in our list of the types of crosses is the tau cross. Also known as crux commissa, anticipatory cross, Franciscan Tau cross, Saint Anthony’s cross and the Saint Francis’ cross, the tau cross is a T-shaped cross that predates Christianity.
According to some sources, while baptizing a person, pagan priests draw this symbol on that person’s forehead.
Some sources also suggest that Druids revered the tau cross as they considered it as the symbol of Druidic Jupiter. They also placed tau crosses to mark the borders of different religious areas.
There are two theories regarding the reason why the tau cross is called Saint Anthony’s cross. The first one is related to Antonines, the Order of Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, founded by Gaston of Valloire.
Believing that his son was saved from ergotism (also known as the Saint Anthony’s fire) by the relics of Saint Anthony the Great, Gaston founded the order in Saint Anthony’s name. While specifically trying to cure this disease, Antonines supposedly wore religious habits carrying blue tau crosses on them.
The second theory suggests that Saint Anthony of Egypt carried a staff with a tau cross on top of it.
As it was adopted by Saint Francis of Assisi later on, the symbol is most commonly known as the Saint Francis cross today and has actually become one of the symbols representing the Secular Fransiscan Order.
As another symbol predating Christianity, the Celtic cross, also known as the high cross or the ringed cross, is a form of cross that is especially popular in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
Celtic cross is a Latin cross with a ring encircling the intersection point of the horizontal and vertical bars.
The symbol, which existed before Christianity was introduced to the people of Britannia, is closely associated with the sun cross, one of the most ancient symbols in the history of mankind.
There are several theories regarding the adoption of Celtic cross into Christianity. One of these theories suggests that, when he was trying to convert the pagan people of his country to Christianity, Saint Patrick combined the sun cross with the Latin cross.
He did that to emphasize the life-giving properties of the sun (a central element of the pagan faith) with the intention of making it more appealing to pagans while at the same time underlining the importance of the cross.
According to some people, the ring represents a halo over the cross which represents Jesus Christ. Looking from a different point of view, some other people suggest that the cross was placed on top of the ring rather than vice versa and it represents Jesus Christ and Christianity’s supremacy over the pagan sun.
The ring on the Celtic cross is also associated with Invictus, the Roman god of sun and that is why this symbol is also called the Celtic sun cross.
Over time, Celtic crosses became widespread symbols representing both religious and cultural values for the people with Celtic origins and they can be found throughout the island of Great Britain in the form of large high cross monuments or simply as gravestones in cemeteries. Today, mostly depicted as artworks made of Celtic knots, Celtic crosses are used to symbolize one’s Christian faith and spirituality.
To read more about the Celtic cross and other beautiful variations of Celtic knots, please check out our detailed article by clicking here.
Pagan Cross Variations
Although they might have been adopted by Christians later on or inspired some versions of Christian crosses (like Celtic cross which might have been inspired by the solar cross), some cross variants were originally pagan symbols. So, let us examine them now and finish up with our list.
Also known as the wheel cross or solar cross, a sun cross is simply a Greek cross (with arms of equal length) with a circle around it.
The solar cross is known to be one of the oldest religious symbols. In fact, it has been discovered that the sun cross was used as a symbol of prehistoric religion in Europe during Neolithic and Bronze Ages (starting in 7000 BC and 3200 BC, respectively).
That said, the sun cross is not exclusive to Europe. It has been used by many civilizations throughout history including Persians, Indians, Egyptians and Native Americans.
Also known as the pagan cross, this symbol mainly represented the sun for the people of pagan faith all around the world. Egyptian kings revered the solar cross as it symbolized what they believed to be the highest power, the sun.
In Wicca, it is used to represent the sun and the four seasons of the year. In astrology, this symbol represents the earth.
Unfortunately, just like swastika, which is actually a Hindu and Buddhist symbol, this symbol was also adopted by the Nazis, more specifically Norwegian Nazis during World War II. Some white supremacists and neo-Nazi groups still use it today to represent the white pride.
The sun cross is also a symbol of Odin for Norse people who call it Woden’s/Odin’s cross. If you would like to read about other Odin symbols, please click here.
The final item on our list of different types of crosses is the ancient Egyptian symbol named ankh.
Also known as crux ansata, the coptic cross, the key of life and the key of Nile, ankh is an Egyptian hieroglyphic symbol that was used to denote life.
Ankh comprises a loop that looks like an inverse drop on top of a T-shaped cross.
Ankh is a very old symbol, the first documented use of which dates back to the 30th and 29th centuries BC, a time when the First Dynasty ruled Egypt.
Ancient Egyptians revered this symbol and important figures like kings and pharaohs were depicted in artwork holding this symbol in their hands. This was meant to preserve the immortality of these historical figures as the ankh was considered the symbol of eternal life.
Ankhs were also placed in sarcophagi to ensure that the person who died carried on living in the afterlife.
The symbol also represented the creation of life through the union of man and woman. In fact, one theory suggests that the symbol might be the combination of the symbol of Osiris and Isis, an oval and a cross.
According to the belief, the river Nile flooded during the union of Osiris and Isis thus giving fertility to the lands of Egypt. This is assumed to be the reason why the ankh symbol is called ‘the key of Egypt’.
Ankh was adopted by the Coptic Christian Church after the Christianization of Egypt and was turned into crux ansata also known as the handled cross. Coptic Christians created their own variation of the ankh by replacing the drop shaped loop with a circle.
If you would like to read more about Ankh and other ancient Egyptian symbols, please kindly click here to check out our detailed article.
This wraps up our post on types of crosses and Christian cross variants, we hope you enjoyed it, thanks for reading!