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The Tau is an ancient symbol, rooted in the Greek and Hebrew alphabets and specifically mentioned in the Old Testament of the Bible. Some speculate that Jesus was crucified on a Tau cross.
With its origins in antiquity, the Tau cross held significance for many groups before it became primarily associated with Christianity, and more specifically, with the Franciscan Order. Here’s a look at the history and symbolism of the Tau cross.
History of the Tau Cross
While the Latin cross is a symbol of Jesus and the teachings found in the New Testament, the Tau cross is symbolic of the Old Testament. The Tau cross is known by many names:
- The Cross of St. Francis
- The Cross of St. Anthony
- The Franciscan Tau Cross
- Crux Commissa
- Anticipatory Cross
- Old Testament Cross
However, it’s commonly called the Tau cross, as its shape resembles the Greek letter Tau in upper-case form. In the Hebrew alphabet, Tau is the final letter.
The Tau was a popular cross to use when crucifying convicts. It allowed the convict to be placed high up on the cross, for the greatest visibility by crowds. As a result, many believe that Jesus was crucified on a Tau cross.
The symbol of Tau is considered highly significant, as it is mentioned in the book of Ezekial in the Bible. According to this description, God had his angel, believed to be St. Gabriel, mark the foreheads of those he desired to save with the Tau symbol. God then unleashed his angels to destroy all the non-believers, instructing them not to touch those marked by Tau, who was marked out to be saved.
The Tau cross is also associated with St. Anthony, who was believed to carry such a cross. St. Francis popularized the Tau cross and made it his symbol, even using it as his signature. As a result, the Tau cross is associated with the Franciscan Order, and is the most recognizable and significant symbol of the Order.
Tau Cross Symbolic Meaning
The Tau is considered to have many meanings, most of them connected to the Christian faith.
- The Tau cross is representative of salvation and of life, due in part to its association with the sparing of believers in the Bible.
- As Tau is the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, it symbolizes the revealed Word of God, its completion and perfection. It also can be said to symbolize the Last Day.
- It’s believed that St. Francis used the Tau as an amulet to protect against plagues and diseases, rampant at the time. As such, the Tau signifies protection.
- The Tau cross, much like any other type of Christian cross, is a symbol of Jesus’ crucifixion and everything that it represents for Christians.
- The symbol of the Tau is sometimes considered to represent the habit of a friar with arms stretched out. St. Francis is believed to have told his fellow friars that their habit was in the shape of the Tau. As such, they were to be ‘walking crucifixes’, representing the compassion and faithfulness of God.
- Tau crosses are often carved out of wood, to signify humility, simplicity, and flexibility, characteristics essential for believers.
- The Tau had significance to other cultures as well. It was an emblem of the Roman God Mithras. It was also believed to represent Tammuz, the Sumerian god of death and resurrection. In pagan beliefs, the Tau symbolized immortality.
Tau Cross in Use Today
The Tau is among the most popular crosses today, often worn by believers as a pendant or a charm, as a reminder of their commitment to their Christian beliefs.
There are many beautiful jewelry designs made using the Tau symbol, typically made of wood or rustic metals. The idea is to maintain the symbolism of the Tau by keeping the cross simple and natural. Because of the simplicity of the Tau’s design, the cross is generally portrayed in its original form without stylization. Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring the Tau cross symbol.
A quick google search will also reveal that the Tau is sometimes chosen as a tattoo design.
One of the most simple and recognizable Christian crosses, the Tau cross is a beloved symbol among Christians. However, while it’s an excellent way to represent one’s faith and identity, the Tau is an ancient symbol that pre-dates Christianity and holds pagan associations.