As a tattoo design or symbol, there is perhaps no religious icon or symbol more universally recognized today than the Christian Cross. Religious symbolism is prominently featured in several tattoo design genres, both ancient and modern, and in fact it could be argued that all traditional tattooing among indigenous peoples has a strong spiritual element.
Symbols like the cross go back long before the written word. One of the oldest crosses was placed within a circle. These Solar or Wheel Crosses appeared in Neolithic Europe, often as petroglyphs or rock carvings. They are also found in Asia, America, and India, as representations of the rising and setting of the sun, the seasons, and the union of the polarities. Since the cross was used all over the world, it is no small wonder that it took on many different meanings within many different cultures.
Within modern tattoo genres, the cross is a tattoo design that has been in vogue for at least the last two centuries, and was tattooed by sailors, merchant seamen, was heavily represented in Old School tattooing, was popular among Military Serviceman, Latino tattooing, and is today one of the most popular tattoo designs in the world.
The Cross itself is one of the most ancient, widespread, and important symbols in human history – the vertical and horizontal lines representing Father and Mother Nature, respectively. The point of intersection of those two lines — the point of synthesis — represented those mystical and spiritual concepts that embraced the meeting of the material and the spiritual in human existence.
Long before it was taken up and adopted as the most powerful of Christian symbols, the cross became one of the most widely cultivated of sacred symbols. It symbolized life and immortality, fertility, the union of heaven and earth, the sun and the stars. Its four pointers, or arms, symbolized North, South, East and West, or the four winds, the elements, not to mention the human form, itself. Throughout the world, it was used decoratively, as well as a protective symbol. It was seen on coins and carvings, and on stones and jewelry in Bronze Age Scandinavia, Pre-Colombian America, China and Africa.
Four thousand years ago, the Indian Cross was a symbol of auspiciousness. It was seen as the -world-wheel, denoting an ever-changing world around the unchanging God-centre. It was also used in the Near and Far East, North America, and Europe. More recently, the direction of the four arms was reversedÂ — also known as the Swastika –Â and came to represent Nazi Germany under Hitler.
Ancient Egypt used the hieroglyph “ankh” for regeneration, later adopted by the Christian Copts to symbolize physical and eternal life. The ankh, unique for its loop over the cross, came to be used in astrology as the sign ofÂ Venus, and is still used today in biology to identify the female sex.
Of all the many different cross symbols, the Roman or Latin cross is the most popular and universally recognizable symbol of Christianity, although it was not adopted as such until 300 AD. This is the cross upon which Jesus Christ is said to have been crucified, and so it has become accepted as the Christian cross.
Other popular cross symbols are the Anchor Cross, a favorite for Christians facing hard times, which came to symbolize hope. The anchor was thought to be used in the martyrdom of St. Clement, when he was tied to one and tossed into the sea.
The Greek Cross, in evidence in Ancient Greece of three thousand years ago, is recognized today as the symbol for the Red Cross, being equal in all four arms.
And, of course, the cross is recognized as the “plus sign” in mathematics, first appearing as such in Germany in 1489.