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What Does an Upside Down Cross (Inverted) Really Mean?

Also known as an inverted cross, Petrine Cross or the Cross of St. Peter, the upside down cross is a religious and an anti-religious symbol at the same time. Here’s how that came to be.

The History of the Petrine Cross

While the upside down cross is viewed as a controversial symbol, with both positive and negative connotations, in reality it originated as a symbol of Christian martyrdom. The cross is connected to St. Peter who requested to be crucified on an upside down cross, as he did not feel worthy of being crucified in the same manner as Jesus, i.e. on a regular upright cross. This signals his humility in faith.

Because Peter was the rock upon which the church of Jesus Christ was built upon, this symbol of the upside down cross was highly significant, and became a part of Christian iconography. It symbolized the papacy, because the Pope is considered Peter’s successor and the Bishop of Rome. It was used in churches and in Christian artwork to symbolize humility and unworthiness when compared to Jesus.

Crucifixion of Saint Peter
Crucifixion of Saint Peter by Caravaggio, Public Domain

There was no negative connotations associated with the original meaning of the Petrine cross. It was just another variant to the plain cross.

In Catholicism, the inverted cross is accepted and valued, but an inverted crucifix is not. To clarify, a crucifix features an image of Jesus on the cross. If a crucifix is inverted, it appears as disrespectful and irreverent.  

Negative Connotations – Inverted Cross

Symbols are dynamic and often, their meanings, change or acquire new associations with the changing times. This has happened most notably with the ancient swastika symbol, which today is mostly viewed in the West as a symbol of racism and hate.

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Likewise, the Petrine cross became associated with anti-Christian perceptions and the satanic church. This is simply because, as a visual symbol, it’s the opposite of the Latin cross and so can be viewed as having opposite connotations. As the cross is the most recognized symbol of Christianity, an upside down cross could represent anti-Christian sentiments. This is the same with the pentagram, which has Christian symbolism but when inverted, is believed to represent evil and to attract dark forces.

Upside Down Cross
Upside Down Cross

This view has been greatly promoted by popular culture and media, where the upside down cross is portrayed as something evil and satanic.

Here are just some instances where the Petrine cross has been used in negative ways:

  • In many horror movies, including The Amityville Horror, Paranormal Activity, The Conjuring 1 and The Conjuring 2, an upside down cross is portrayed as the harbinger of evil. This is often the case if the movie has demonic themes.
  • Glen Benton, an American death metal musician, is known for branding the Petrine cross on his forehead as a symbol of his anti-Christian views.
  • Inverted crosses are used as a symbol in certain ceremonies of the Satanic Church.
  • Lady Gaga used an inverted cross in her music video, Alejandro, to symbolize a penis.

Wrapping Up

While the upside down cross is a controversial symbol, in Christian circles, it’s viewed as positive and wholesome, with no negative connotations. It’s best to view the symbol in its context, when making out what the image is being used for.

While you might want to wear a Petrine Cross as an expression of your religious beliefs, you may find that you have to explain the actual meaning of this cross, as most people immediately assume that an inverted cross is something negative. In this respect, care should be taking when sporting the Cross of St. Peter.

Affiliate Disclosures
Dani Rhys
Dani Rhys

Dani Rhys has worked as a writer and editor for over 15 years. She holds a Masters degree in Linguistics and Education, and has also studied Political Science, Ancient History and Literature. She has a wide range of interests ranging from ancient cultures and mythology to Harry Potter and gardening. She works as the chief editor of Symbol Sage but also takes the time to write on topics that interest her.