One of the most popular jewelry pieces that I see on a semi-regular basis are necklaces with cross-shaped pendants. Some of these crosses seem to differ slightly and that got me thinking about what sort of difference these seemingly insignificant details can make in the meaning of a cross. If you've got a cross necklace you might be surprised to discover the actual meaning behind it.
Let me be very clear that there is a huge difference between a cross and a crucifix. Crosses are simply a figure formed by two intersecting lines while a crucifix features a depiction of Jesus Christ hanging on the cross. Crucifixes have the same meaning no matter what part of the world you hail from.
We won't be talking about the crucifix, we're strictly concentrating on some of the more popular variations on the cross since slight changes can cause the cross you're wearing to take on a completely unintended meaning. Lastly, I should mention that no matter your religious affiliation or beliefs you should be taking proper care of your jewelry whether it's a cross or a pentagram. Our silver polishing cream will make that pendant sparkle like new and our cloth anti-tarnish storage bags will keep it safe while it isn't in use.
This is the t-shaped cross that the majority of people will instantly associate with Christianity and they'd be completely justified in that presumption. What used to be a conveniently-shaped torture device came to represent an entire religion. If you see a cross necklace that doesn't look like that signature lowercase 't' then you can bet that it has some sort of derivative meaning.
Media and pop culture would love you to believe that the inverted cross is a symbol of the occult or Satanism. In reality, this is also known as St. Peter's Cross. St. Peter requested to be crucified upside down because he didn't believe himself worthy of dying in the same fashion that Jesus Christ had. The Pope sits on a throne with the inverted cross adorning it. It can't also represent the counter-culture that the media continues pushing, but the original meaning is piety and humility.
You might have seen the Jerusalem or Five-fold cross without realizing its true meaning. This is a heraldic cross that has a smaller cross placed in each quadrant. Heraldic crosses come in several variations but the segments are always of equal length. Heraldic crosses were used as family emblems across Europe by noble families starting in the 1200s. The Jerusalem Cross was the symbol utilized by the Kingdom of Jerusalem and it still represents the Jewish faith today.
Gnosticism is represented by either an encircled cross or a cross with a circle around the upper part of the cross. Gnostics believe that the story of creation found in the Bible was a lie and that God wasn't actually the one responsible for the creation of our world, at least not directly. They claim the evidence of this comes from the imperfection, tragedy, and evil in our world. A good God could never have created it. That's a far cry from Christian beliefs.
The Celtic cross features a cross with a circle around the intersection of the cross. It isn't mentioned in the Bible so there is no definite Biblical meaning. Many believe that St. Patrick created this cross by combining the Latin Cross with a circle to represent the pagan sun God to represent the light and love of Christ. This was a fairly successful attempt to convert pagan kings to Christianity. The more practical theory is that the circle was added simply to strengthen the cross shape, which was prone to breakage when carved from stone.
Cross of Constantine
Constantine was the first Roman emperor to convert to Christianity. He claimed to have seen a vision of a cross that also incorporated a P and X shape near the intersection. It was said that this symbol would bring his army victory and so he had it painted on all of their shields. This is also known as the Chi Rho cross due to the incorporation of the letters included.
A cross with four additional offshoots from the intersection make this cross look vaguely star-shaped. This particular addition is used to represent the religion of Scientology. While the symbolism is somewhat familiar, they have a very unique set of beliefs and practices.
Some people seem put off by this one because it vaguely resembles a pitchfork with the middle prong missing. This Y-shaped cross was the most common shape used in crucifixions. It is also known as a thief's cross or a robber's cross for reasons that should be fairly obvious. The forked cross has a deep relationship with the Christian religion and is seen on clerical vestments around the world.
An uppercase T shape with expanded edges on the three endpoints. In ancient times, tau was used as a symbol for life or resurrection. The eighth letter of the Greek alphabet, theta, was considered the symbol of death. It also might just represent the letter T. Perhaps the wearer's name starts with a T?
There are plenty of other crosses out there, such as the papal cross and the orthodox cross but their connection to Christianity hardly comes as a surprise. Instead I chose to focus more on crosses that might be misconstrued, or crosses that have no connection to Christianity whatsoever.
What I found most interesting was that such slight differences can change the meaning of a cross necklace in a very extreme way. I was very surprised by the actual meaning of the inverted cross, as I've also been a victim of its negative media portrayals.
If you'd like something a bit more counter-culture with no religious overtones, check out our article on skull jewelry meanings as well!