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A Greek cross (all arms of equal length) above a saltire, a cross whose limbs are slanted

A cross is a geometrical figure consisting of two lines or bars perpendicular to each other, dividing one or two of the lines in half. The lines usually run vertically and horizontally; if they run obliquely, the design is technically termed a saltire, although the arms of a saltire need not meet at right angles.

The cross is one of the most ancient human symbols, and has been used by many religions, most notably Christianity. It may be seen as a division of the world into four elements (Chevalier, 1997) or cardinal points, or alternately as the union of the concepts of divinity, the vertical line, and the world, the horizontal line (Koch, 1955).


The word cross comes ultimately from Latin crux, a Roman torture device used for crucifixion, via Old Irish cros. The word was introduced to English in the 10th century as the term for the instrument of the torturous execution of Jesus as described in the New Testament, gradually replacing the earlier word rood. Crux is possibly derived from Phoenician.[1] According to the Catholic Encyclopedia cross does not come from crux but form the Latin curio, "to torment".[2]


Cross Hieroglyphics carved on the tomb of the vizier Ankhamahor

Due to the simplicity of the design (two crossing lines), cross-shaped incisions make their appearance from deep prehistory; as petroglyphs in European cult caves, dating back to the beginning of the Upper Paleolithic, and throughout prehistory to the Iron Age.

Prior to 2000 B.C. the cross symbol, †, was already in use in ancient alphabets (Paleo-Hebrew [✗], Canaanite, Phoenician) as the letter 'Tau' ('Taw'/'Tav') which corresponds to the modern letter 'T' and meant 'Mark' (Its literal usage in the Torah denotes a wound). It is probably derived from two sticks crossed to mark a place similar to the Egyptian hieroglyph.[3]

Use of the cross as a Christian symbol may be as early as the 1st century, and is certain for the 3rd century.[4] A wide variation of cross symbols is introduced for the purposes of heraldry beginning in the age of the Crusades.[5]

The earliest depiction of the cross as a Christian symbol may be as early as 200 A.D. when it was used to mock the faith in the Alexamenos graffito.

As markings

1600 BC marble sacral cross from the Temple Repositories of Knossos.
(Heraclion Archaeological Museum, Greece)

Written crosses are used for many different purposes, particularly in mathematics.

  • The addition (or plus) sign (+) and the multiplication (or times) sign (×) are cross shapes.
  • A cross is often used as a check mark because it can be clearer, easier to create with an ordinary pen or pencil, and less obscuring of any text or image that is already present than a large dot. It also allows marking a position more accurately than a large dot.
  • The Chinese character for ten is (see Chinese numerals).
  • The dagger or obelus (†) is a cross
  • The Georgian letters and are crosses.
  • In the Latin alphabet, the letter X and the minuscule form of t are crosses.
  • The Roman numeral for ten is X.
  • A large cross through a text often means that it is wrong or should be considered deleted. A cross is also used stand-alone () to denote rejection.

Cross-like emblems

For variants of the Christian cross symbol, see Christian cross variants and Crosses in heraldry.
Crosses as emblems and symbols
Picture Cross name Description
Ankh.svg Ankh

Also known as the Egyptian Cross, the Key of the Nile, the Looped Tau Cross, and the Ansate Cross. It was an Ancient Egyptian symbol of life and fertility, pre-dating the modern cross. Sometimes given a Latin name if it appears in specifically Christian contexts, such as the crux ansata ("handled cross").

ndj, Cross-ndj (hieroglyph)

An Egyptian Cross, pre-dating the modern cross. Uses for the hieroglyph: 1— "to protect, guard, avenge", and "protector, advocate, avenger" 2— "homage to thee", (a form of salutation to gods) 3— "discuss a matter with someone", "to converse", "to take counsel"


Hieroglyph of two crossed sticks.

Lauburu.svg Basque cross The lauburu.
# Double Cross

Used by doctors and veterinarians as an introduction on medical prescriptions in Denmark and Norway. It is read "in nomine Dei" and followed by "rp": recipe[6]

Simple crossed circle.svg the Sun cross (or "Bolgar cross")

Also known as the Bolgar cross, Sunwheel, solar cross or Woden's cross. Used in Europe since the Neolithic era and by ancient and contemporary Native American culture to represent respectively Neopagan beliefs and the great Medicine Wheel of life. Was used by the Bulgarian Tzars (emperors) as a symbol of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church.

Swastika.png Swastika

The swastika is an equilateral cross with its arms bent at right angles, in either right-facing () form or its mirrored left-facing () form. The fylfot is a similar version.

Archaeological evidence of swastika-shaped ornaments dates from the Neolithic period. It occurs mainly in the modern day culture of India, sometimes as a geometrical motif and sometimes as a religious symbol. It remains widely used in Eastern and Dharmic religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Though once commonly used all over much of the world without stigma, because of its right-facing variant's iconic usage in National Socialist Germany, the symbol has become stigmatized in the Western world.

As a design element
Picture Cross name Description
Windrose.svg Compass rose A compass rose, sometimes called a windrose, is a figure on a compass, map, nautical chart or monument used to display the orientation of the cardinal directions and often appears as a cross tapering to triangular points.
Emblem of the Papacy SE.svg Crossed keys Symbol of the Papacy used in various emblems representing the keys to heaven.
Cross of Independence with Swords (Poland).PNG Crossed swords The crossed swords symbol (⚔ at Unicode U+2694) is used to represent battlegrounds on maps. It is also used to show that person died in battle or that a war machine was lost in action. Two crossed swords also look like a Christian cross and the mixed symbolism has been used in military decorations. It is also a popular way to display swords on a wall often with a shield in the center
Dagger.svg Dagger/Obelisk A typographical symbol or glyph. The term "obelisk" derives from Greek ὀβελίσκος (obeliskos), which means "little obelus"; from Ancient Greek: ὀβελός (obelos) meaning "roasting spit". It was originally represented by the ÷ symbol and was first used by Ancient Greek scholars as critical marks in manuscripts.
Four-leaf clover.jpg Four-leaf clover Used as a symbol for luck as well as a stand in for a cross in various works. Isometric illusion Crosses frame this cube that appears to be hollow or solid and projected either inward or outward. A similar design was photographed in a crop circle. This design can be made by repeating the central hexagon outward once on all 6 sides then erasing some inner line segments and filling in the voids.
Hazard T.svg Skull and crossbones Traditionally used to mark Spanish cemeteries; the symbol evolved to represent death/danger, poison, and pirates.

Other noteworthy crosses

Crux, or the Southern Cross, is a cross-shaped constellation in the Southern Hemisphere. It appears on the national flags of Australia, Brazil, New Zealand, Niue, Papua New Guinea and Samoa.

The tallest cross, at 152.4 metres high, is part of Francisco Franco's monumental "Valley of the Fallen", the Monumento Nacional de Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos in Spain.

A cross at the junction of Interstates 57 and 70 in Effingham, Illinois, is purportedly the tallest in the United States, at 198 feet (60.3 m) tall.[7]

The tallest freestanding cross in the United States is located in Saint Augustine, FL and stands 208 feet.[8]

The tombs at Naqsh-e Rustam, Iran, made in the 5th century BC, are carved into the cliffside in the shape of a cross. They are known as the "Persian crosses".

As physical gestures

Cross shapes are made by a variety of physical gestures. Crossing the fingers of one hand is a common invocation of the symbol. The sign of the cross associated with Christian genuflection is made with one hand: in Eastern Orthodox tradition the sequence is head-heart-right shoulder-left shoulder, while in Oriental Orthodox, Catholic and Anglican tradition the sequence is head-heart-left-right. Crossing the index fingers of both hands represents the number 10 in Chinese-speaking societies and a charm against evil in European folklore (hence its frequent appearance in vampire movies). Other gestures involving more than one hand include the "cross my heart" movement associated with making a promise and the Tau shape of the referee's "time out" hand signal.

See also



  1. [1]
  2. [2]
  3. [3]
  4. William Wood Seymour, "The Cross in Early Christian Art", The Cross in Tradition, History, and Art (1898).
  5. William Wood Seymour, "The Cross in Heraldry", The Cross in Tradition, History, and Art (1898).
  6. Doppeltkors (Danish)


  • Chevalier, Jean (1997). The Penguin Dictionary of Symbols. Penguin ISBN 0-14-051254-3.
  • Drury, Nevill (1985). Dictionary of Mysticism and the Occult. Harper & Row. ISBN 0-06-062093-5.
  • Koch, Rudolf (1955). The Book of Signs. Dover, NY. ISBN 0-486-20162-7.
  • Webber, F. R. (1927, rev. 1938). Church Symbolism: an explanation of the more important symbols of the Old and New Testament, the primitive, the mediaeval and the modern church. Cleveland, OH. OCLC 236708.

External links