Why is there a skull and crossbones on a crucifix?
Have you ever wondered why there are skulls in crucifixes? Is it a religious reason? Is there a hidden meaning? Maybe the devil wants to hide in the most potent symbol of religion; who knows?
The skull with crossed bones in the universal culture has a stable name, "Adam's head" (or head), and Christian origin. According to Holy Tradition, Adam's ashes were located on Calvary, where the Crucifixion of Christ took place.
Welcome to skull action, the place where enthusiasts like you do their best to bring you quality content. Today on this blog post, we're going to look at the question you ask yourself when you enter a cathedral or a church (especially an Orthodox one). What is the origin of the skull on the cross? We will answer it in detail and in several parts:
- Exploration of Christian history.
- Ancient return to Rome and how the cross became a powerful symbol.
- A brief look at the Skull symbol's presence in the military corps of great powers.
A bit of history.
According to the Orthodox teaching, by the providence of God, the blood of Christ washed the skull of Adam and in his person all of humanity from sinful filth, thus granting the possibility of salvation.
Thus, Adam’s head has the symbolic meaning of deliverance from death and salvation in the Christian sense.
The skull’s image is included in many versions of the Crucifixion or the Cross; for example, it is applied to the Orthodox monastic schema.
Briefly about the important: why is a skull with bones placed under the Crucifixion?
In the Christian religion, the image of the cross has a deep philosophical and moral meaning.
It became a symbol of the great atoning sacrifice brought by God to deliver people from eternal death, which was the result of the original sin committed by our first parents - Adam and Eve.
His images are very diverse, and each has a particular semantic connotation. One of them, the Calvary Cross, is the topic of this article.
The cross is a picture of a great event.
Its outlines are familiar to everyone who, in one way or another, met with Orthodox symbols, and you can see them on the vestments of monks, objects, and also in attributes associated with the consecration of dwellings and transport. The Calvary Cross is a stylized picture of an event over two thousand years ago in Palestine, which radically changed the entire course of world history.
His composition includes images of the Cross - the instrument of torture of our Savior Jesus Christ, Mount Golgotha, on the top of which this event took place, the head of Adam, resting in its depths, traditionally depicted the foot of the Cross. Also, it includes inscriptions that have both an explanatory and a purely sacred character.
Shining in the Roman sky
The center of the composition is the Cross itself. His image is a magical symbol and even as an image of a deity was found even among representatives of the most ancient, pre-Christian cultures.
Only in the Roman Empire did it become an instrument of a shameful and painful execution, to which, mainly, slaves and hazardous criminals were subjected. His symbols appeared on the catacombs’ walls, wherein in the 2nd and 3rd centuries, the first Christians performed secret services.
They were images of a palm branch, a whip, and an abbreviation of the name of Christ.
In the usual, "unencrypted" form, the Cross first appeared in the 4th century, when Christianity received a state religion in Rome.
According to sacred tradition, the Savior appeared to Emperor Constantine in a night vision and ordered to decorate the banner with the Cross’s image, under which his army was preparing to engage in battle with the enemy.
In the morning, a cross-shaped radiance appeared in the sky over Rome, dispelling his last doubts. Having fulfilled the command of Jesus Christ, Constantine soon defeated the enemies.
Three commemorative crosses
The Roman historian Eusebius Pamphilus describes this banner with the Cross’s image in the form of a spear with a transverse crossbar and a letter reduction inscribed on top. There is no doubt that the Calvary Cross, the photo of which is presented in the article, resulted from subsequent modifications of the symbol that adorned the battle banner of the Roman emperor.
After the victory won by Constantine, as a token of gratitude to the Savior, he ordered three commemorative Crosses and the inscription "Jesus Christ the Victor" on them. In Greek, it looks like this: IC.XP.NIKA. The same note, but in Slavonic, is contained in all Orthodox Calvary Crosses.
In 313, a great event took place: on the basis of the Edict of Milan, adopted at the initiative of Emperor Constantine, freedom of religion was established in the Roman Empire. After three centuries of persecution, Christianity finally received official state status, and its symbolism was given a powerful impetus for further development.
The main elements of the Cross
Even though the main one has different outlines, it is customary to depict the Orthodox Calvary Crosses in three-part, eight-pointed. They are a vertical post and a prominent crossbar, usually located at two-thirds of their height; This is the very instrument of torture on which the Savior was crucified.
Above the sizeable horizontal crossbar, a slight parallel to it is depicted, symbolizing a plaque nailed to the cross before the execution. On it was the words written by Pontius Pilate himself: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." The exact terms, but in the Slavic style, contain all the Orthodox Calvary Crosses.
This cap represents the Black German SS service cap with a high crown. The cap was a mandatory attribute for all ranks in the 30s. When the Second World War began, this cap was worn less often.
This cap was worn by non-commissioned officers (officers had a chinstrap with a silver cord) and privates (their chinstrap was made of leather). The gray uniform cap of the SS troops was introduced for all ranks of the Leibstandart SS.
In 1939, the black cap was no longer worn, and a gray cap replaced it.
The only formation to wear the crossbones skull buttonhole (Totenkopf) was the 3rd SS Panzer Division. Soldiers from other SS units wore SS runes or their special divisional insignia on the proper buttonhole.
Throughout human history, the "deadhead" emblem was used in British, French, Finnish, Bulgarian, Hungarian, German, Austrian, Italian, and Russian troops, mainly in cavalry, aviation, flamethrower, assault and tank units, in particular forces of the US Army, etc.
In the German states of Prussia and Braunschweig, cavalry and infantry units with emblems in the form of a skull and bones on headdresses have long existed. Since the middle of the 18th century, death’s symbolism has become especially popular in Western European countries’ armies. Thus, the basis for the shape of the later Russian, Czech, Germanic, and other "shock units" was laid ..
In the Russian Imperial Army, the symbolism of "death-immortality" was first used during the Patriotic War of 1812 by one of the Petersburg militia’s cavalry regiments. Sovereign Emperor Nicholas II officially established the coat of arms on headdresses in the form of a skull and bones at the beginning of the 20th century for one of the Russian cavalry’s regular regiments.
In the Russian army during the First World War, the emblem of the "Adam's Head" was used in Russian military aviation. This symbol was also used in the Russian army’s shock units during the 1917 revolution (the most famous was the Kornilov shock regiment.
and the "Women's Combat Team (Battalion) of Death" by Maria Bochkareva, who defended the Winter Palace from the Bolsheviks in October 1917.
During World War II, the badge was used by the soldiers of the 1st Cossack Cavalry Division. Later, the XV (XIV) Cossack Cavalry Corps of General Helmut von Pannwitz and other Cossack units and subunits of the German Wehrmacht; and then later by the SS troops (3rd SS Panzer Division " Totenkopf "), This emblem was also used by Panzerwaffe tankers, regardless of whether they were part of the SS troops or not.
The Symbolic Measure of Wickedness
At the bottom of the vertical pillar is a small inclined crossbar - a symbolic foot, fortified after the Savior was nailed to the Cross. The Calvary Cross, like all Orthodox crosses in general, is depicted with a crossbar, in which the right edge is higher than the left.
This tradition goes back to the biblical text that tells that on both sides of the Savior, two robbers were crucified, and the one on the right repented, gained eternal life, and the one on the left blasphemed the Lord and doomed himself to eternal death. Thus, the inclined bar acts as a symbolic measure of human sinfulness.
Execution Ground Symbol
The Calvary Cross is always depicted on a pedestal that personifies Mount Calvary, the name of which is translated from the Hebrew language as "skull.”💀; This served as the basis for another name mentioned in the Slavic and Russian translations of the Gospel - "Execution Ground.” It is known that it served as a place of executions for dangerous criminals in ancient times.
There is evidence that the gray limestone mountain looked like a skull. As a rule, Calvary is depicted in several versions. It can be a hemisphere, as well as a pyramid with smooth or stepped edges.
In the latter case, these steps are called “the steps of spiritual ascent,” and each has a specific name: the lower one is Faith, the middle one is Love, the highest is Mercy. On both sides of the mountain, on which the Cross of Calvary is depicted, there are two letters - "ГГ,” which means "Mount Calvary". Their style is required. ♞
Walking stick, spear and skull
In addition to all of the above, the Calvary Cross, the meaning of which is in the personification of sacrifice and redemption of humanity through the suffering of Christ, as a rule, is depicted with the attributes of the executioners mentioned in the Gospel. This is a cane, at the end of which is a sponge with vinegar and a spear that pierced the Savior’s body. Usually, they are marked with the corresponding letters - "T" and "K".
An important place in the overall composition is occupied by the skull depicted inside Golgotha. This is the symbolic head of our progenitor Adam, as evidenced by the letters "G" and "A" inscribed next to it. It is believed that the sacrificial blood of Christ, having penetrated the thickness of the mountain, washed it from original sin.
There are several versions as to how the head of Adam ended up in the bowels of this mountain.
One of them claims that the body of the ancestor was brought here by the angels; according to the other, he was buried here by the descendant of Adam Seth, and according to the most common version, the body was brought by the waters of the Flood. 🌊
According to the established tradition, there are other symbolic designs accompanying the Calvary Cross. The meaning of the inscriptions (always made in Slavonic) is fully consistent with the Gospel story about the passion of the Lord. At the top of the cross is usually written "Son of God."
In some cases, it is replaced by the inscription "King of Glory". Above the sizeable horizontal crossbar is the inscription "IC XP" - "Jesus Christ", and below, as already mentioned, "NIKA" - "Victory".
The place of the accomplished event and its main result is designated by the letters "ML" - "Place of the frontal", and "RB" - "Paradise to be".
Part of God's Grace
The schematic representation of the place of the crucifixion of Christ - Golgotha and the altar - has become firmly among the most revered Orthodox symbols. Nowadays, it is an attribute of monastic asceticism and a shrine, carefully guarded by pious laity.
Most Christians, sometimes even those who do not consider themselves to be believers, nevertheless adhere to ancient traditions and wear symbols of Christianity on their chests, including the Calvary Cross.
Whether silver was used to make it, gold, or made of other metals, consecrated in the Church of Christ, it always carries in itself a particle of Divine Grace, which is so necessary in each of us’s life.
Brief answers of the priests to pressing questions about spiritual life, the life of the Church, as well as questions that a person has when he first enters the church - in the heading "Briefly about the important." Why is a skull with bones placed under the Crucifixion?
Our Lord Jesus Christ carried His cross to the place of execution, outside the city. This place was called Golgotha, or Lobny. The Hebrew word "Golgotha" means forehead, skull. According to legend, it was here that the remains of the first person, Adam, lay. The crucifixion of the Savior took place over this place.
Are you ready to wear the skull & cross with pride?
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