SYMBOLS Stories of cultural life.


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).

In cemeteries, a cross often appears as a symbol of Christianity; as a way of remembering the cross upon which Jesus was crucified.  

As a symbol, the cross holds many meanings. The intersecting lines form a centre, from which radiance or life itself is seen to flow outward. The cross of Christ, like the tree of life, becomes the centre of the world. The two crossing lines create the meeting of two unique, often contradictory, principles like the meeting of heaven and earth or of God and man. In a strict sense, a Christian cross is one without the figure of Christ, showing that Christ has risen or that Christ is personified in the cross. Prior to Christianity, the equal-armed Greek cross is the form found in most cultures. Christianity uses all forms of the cross but places a special importance on the Latin cross, where the cross piece is higher on the vertical axis, so that the cross itself resembles the figure of a man.

But crosses can also be found in the language of heraldry, which emerged in the 12th century in Europe, first as a way to distinguish individuals at arms, then as a way to distinguish families and organizations (the use of patronymics also began at this time). These included geometric lines of varying design, along with a few plants (fleur-de-lys and rose) and animals (lions and eagles being the most popular) of a contrasting color against one of six backgrounds.  

In heraldry, crosses were either flat, extending to the end of the shield, or cut, which allowed decorative ends. Different lines (wavy, indented, engrailed, and rough), different colours and different locations on the shield increased the variety of crosses. Shields were further divided to show the merging of families. Knights not only wore the cross on their shield, but as part of an order, on their clothes and on their seals as well. Christ is shown on these with the banner of victory.

crosses symbols

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