The tau cross is a T-shaped cross, commonly depicted with expanded three ends. It is called a “tau cross” because it resembles the shape of the Greek letter tau in an upper-case form, which looks similar to the Latin letter T.
The tau cross is the emblem used by the Franciscan Order, founded by Saint Francis of Assisi, hence this symbol is also called the Franciscan cross.
The tau cross is also referred to as Saint Anthony’s cross or Saint Anthony’s cross because of its association with Saint Anthony of Egypt.
This cross has various other names such as the anticipatory cross, the crutch cross, and the advent cross.
Tau Cross Symbol – History And Meaning
If you want to learn more about the Tau Cross symbol, read on to find out the meaning, history, and significance of this Christian symbol.
Tau Cross History
Tau was the Greek letter used as a numeral for 300. The Epistle of Barnabas between the late 1st and early 2nd centuries provides an allegorical interpretation of the number 318, suggesting the crucifixion of Jesus.
The 2nd-century Christian theologian and philosopher Clement of Alexandria also referred to the cross of Christ with the expression “the Lord’s sign.”
The early Christian author Tertullian also remarked that the Greek letter τ and the Latin letter T has the same shape as the cross where Jesus died on.
The 2nd-century Syrian satirist and rhetorician Lucian of Samosata wrote in Trial of the Court of Vowels that the Greek letter Sigma (Σ) accuses the letter Tau (Τ) of having given tyrants the mold or pattern for the wooden instrument to be used in crucifying people.
In the New Testament of the Holy Bible, the Greek word σταυρός refers to the structure on which Jesus was impaled and died. It is featured in a couple of papyri in AD 200, in a form that includes the use of a cross-like combination of the letters tau and rho. This said tau-rho symbol is known as the staurogram, which also appears in a papyrus dating to 250 AD, again in connection with Jesus’ crucifixion.
According to the American historian and scholar Larry Weir Hurtado, early Christians probably saw a depiction of Jesus on the cross in the staurogram. The cross, represented by the tau and the head by the loop of the rho, had also been suggested by other theologians as symbolic of the cross where Jesus died on.
In the Book of Ezekiel, an angel set a mark—tav, after the cross-shaped Phoenician and early Hebrew letter—on the forehead of the men “who are saved.”
In the view of Tertullian and of the Christian scholar and theologian Origen Adamantius, this was a prediction of the early Christian custom of repeatedly tracing the sign of the cross on their own foreheads.
The Antonines, or the Hospital Brothers of St. Anthony, were a Catholic religious order of the Latin Church founded at the end of the 11th century. These priests wore a black religious habit with a blue tau marking. This habit came to be associated with their patron saint, Anthony of Egypt, who was depicted as bearing a tau cross on his cloak.
With the Antonines gone, the tau cross has become commonly associated with the secular Franciscan Order and its founder, Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Francis employed the tau cross as his personal insignia after Pope Innocent III talked about this symbol.
The Tau Cross Symbol
The tau cross is a very ancient symbol, also known by various names such as the crux commissa, the anticipatory cross, the advent cross, Franciscan cross, and St. Anthony’s cross. It is also called the crutch cross because of its resemblance to the crutch (walking aid).
While the New Testament of the Holy Bible is represented by the Latin cross, the tau cross symbolizes the Old Testament.
The tau cross symbol denotes immortality and life in general. When used in marking on Ash Wednesday, however, the cross serves as a reminder of one’s mortality (hence, ash) and penance for their sins.
The tau cross is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, signifying the fulfillment of the revealed Word of God.
Tau Cross Symbol Meaning
Tau, pronounced to rhyme with “how,” is derived from the Phoenician and Hebrew alphabets’ last letter “X.”
Crux commissa, another name for the tau cross, translates to English as “commissioned cross.” It is a Roman execution cross, assigned a mission (the Crucifixion) by a higher authority (God). This is one of the four basic types of iconographic depictions of the cross.
The coining of the term crux commissa is attributed to the 16th-century Catholic philologist and philosopher, Justus Lipsius. He used it to distinguish the T-shaped cross from the now more common †-shaped cross and the ☓-shaped crux decussata or Saint Andrew’s cross.