What Is the Patriarchal Cross? – Origins and Meaning

Affiliate Disclosures

The Patriarchal, also known as the archiepiscopal cross or the crux gemina, is a variation of the Christian cross, believed to have originated during the Byzantine era. It’s the official heraldic emblem of archbishops of the Roman Catholic Church.

The Patriarchal cross is similar to the traditional Latin cross and to the Papal cross in design. However, while the Latin cross has only one crossbar and the Papal cross has three, the Patriarchal cross has two. The second crossbar is shorter in length and is located above the main crossbar, nearer to the top.

Meaning of the Crossbars of the Patriarchal Cross

patriarchal cross

The exact meaning of the double cross is unknown. Unlike the Latin cross, which represents the cross on which Jesus was crucified and by extension symbolizes the significance of his death and victory over sin, the symbolism of the double-barred cross is not clear. Here are some meanings associated with the three bars of the Patriarchal cross:

1. Short Crossbar:

During Roman times, when people were crucified, a plaque with their name would be hung on the cross for all to see and identify the convicted person. The shorter crossbar on the Patriarchal cross is believed to represent the plaque that hung on the cross above Jesus, proclaiming to the world who he was, with the words “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews”.

In some contexts, the second bar represents the ecclesiastical power of Byzantine emperors. The second cross bar represents his resurrection and victory.

2. Long Crossbar:

The main crossbar represents secular power. It can also represent the death of Jesus.

Other Meanings of the Patriarchal Cross

The symbolism of the Patriarchal Cross can be interpreted in a few different ways, depending on the religious context. Some interpretations include:

  1. Christ’s Dual Nature: The two crossbars can represent Christ’s dual nature as being human and divine. The larger cross symbolizes his divinity while the smaller one represents his humanity.
  2. Crucifixion and Redemption: The patriarchal cross symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on a cross. As a cross, it’s a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and how he redeemed humanity through his death and resurrection.
  3. Divine and Ecclesiastical Authority: The Patriarchal cross can also represent the authority and leadership of high-ranking church officials, highlighting their role to guide and govern the faithful.
  4. Unity of Heaven and Earth: The vertical and horizontal elements of the patriarchal cross can symbolize the connection between the heavenly realm (vertical) and the earthly realm (horizontal). It represents the belief that through Christ’s sacrifice, heaven and earth are united, and humanity is reconciled with God.

The Patriarchal cross features in the coat of arms of Hungary. It’s one of the national symbols in Belarus. It was also used by the Knights Templars during the Crusades.

Is the Patriarchal Cross the Cross of Lorraine?

patriarchal cross vs lorraine cross

There are numerous types of crosses in Christianity, and sometimes some crosses tend to overlap with others. Sometimes similar looking crosses can be mistaken for each other, but in the case of the Patriarchal cross and the Cross of Lorraine, there are glaring differences.

The Cross of Lorraine is also a two-barred cross, very similar to the Patriarchal cross. These two crosses are sometimes used interchangeably. However, the original version of the Cross of Lorraine features a bottom arm that’s much lower than that of the Patriarchal cross. They represent different things and hold significance in different contexts.

Wrapping Up

The Patriarchal Cross is a particular form of Christian cross that includes an additional horizontal bar or crossbeam above the main crossbeam, although it can vary in appearance. It’s a symbol of high-ranking bishops and patriarchs in the Catholic faith. The interpretation and usage of the Patriarchal Cross can vary among different Christian traditions and individual believers.


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.

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