Medieval Christian Symbolism: Part 1I’ll begin with one that plays a major role in one of my wips.
From the time of the cavemen, symbolism has provided a means of communication among people. While it is impossible to cover every symbol used in Christianity, I will attempt to reveal the origin and meaning of some of the more prominent symbols. In this post, I’ll begin with the most widely recognized Christian symbol, the cross, and cover the most commonly seen historic forms, though this is by no means an exhaustive list. As a matter or reference, the difference between a cross and a crucifix is the presence of the corpus of Jesus on the crucifix.
The Thau of Ezechiel was itself presaged by the image of Moses's brazen serpent that he held up on a pole in Numbers 21: And the Lord said to him: Make brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: whosoever being struck [by the "fiery serpents"] shall look on it, shall live. Moses therefore made a brazen serpent, and set it up for a sign: which when they that were bitten looked upon, they were healed.
Because of these verses, at least one of the ancients believed the Thau to be the form of the Cross of Jesus. Tertullian wrote, "The Greek letter and our Latin letter T are the true form of the cross, which, according to the Prophet, will be imprinted on our foreheads in the true Jerusalem." (Contra Marc., III, xxii)
If "Thau" was the true form of the Cross, the existence of the titulus crucis (the plaque that bore the inscription "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews") would have made the Cross at least appear to be a "crux immissa" (see above beside the Thau), and there would have had to have been enough of the upright post over the arms on which to affix it. Nonetheless, whether the "immissa" or commissa" was the true form of the Cross, at the very least the Thau depicts the Cross of Christ symbolically, and St. Francis of Assisi took the Thau as the symbol of his Franciscan Order
"Crux immissa" or "Latin Cross": the most common form of the Cross and believed to be of the style on which Jesus died.
• the lower side represents the bad thief (known to us as Gestas through the apocryphal "Acts of Pilate" ("Gospel of Nicodemus") while the elevated side to Christ's right represents the thief who would be with Him in Paradise (St. Dismas);
• the "X" shape of the slanted "footrest" against the post symbolizes the cross on which St. Andrew was crucified
Next time, we can look at fish, anchors, stars and other symbols. Then later we’ll take a gander at the meaning of numbers.
Until then, happy reading and writing!
Mary McCall is a Golden Heart finalist author of historical romance. She puts the fun back in historical romance! Visit Mary at http://www.marymccall.net/, or her blog at http://marymccall.wordpress.com/
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