Secret Meanings: Symbols of Faith (Part V)
As we have explored in earlier blogs, there is more to crosses than acting as adornments and physical symbols of faith – within their designs, symbols come together to convey hidden meanings that tell stories of history, sacrifice, and piety.
We are wrapping up our Symbols of Faith blog series by exploring the meaning behind three more common Christian symbols: the peacock, the skull, and the three-bar cross. Don’t forget to check out Part I, Part II, Part III, and Part IV of this series.
For centuries, peacocks have been focal symbol of Christian and non-Christian art, standing for immortality, renewal, and God’s omnipresence. “…[W]e find paintings and mosaics with the peacock as early as the 3rd century on the walls of the catacombs of Rome, a symbol of the exchanging of the mortal earthly body for the glorified body and eternal life of the glorified soul in Heaven.”
Ancients believed that the peacock was incorruptible – Aristotle claimed that their flesh did not decay after death, a belief later echoed by St. Augustine. Thus, peacocks came to represent life eternal. Since male peacocks shed and regrow their plumage each spring, peacocks also became a symbol of renewal.
With this springtime renewal and life everlasting, peacocks are also a common symbol of the Resurrection.
Many also hold the peacock as a symbol of God’s omnipresence. When a male peacock displays his tail, the circular design on the feathers looks like many eyes watching over you. “Because of this, the peacock has been associated with the all-seeing eye of God Who sees all actions and all people…”
With their pure incorruptibility and beauty, peacocks are also said to guard the Gates of Paradise, which inspired Gallery Byzantium’s Peacock Birds of Paradise Collection. This Byzantine design features two beautifully handcrafted peacock guards entwined with an ancient scroll design.
A macabre image typically used in association with piracy or danger, the skull’s image is not always connected to a given threat. When used within Christianity, the skull takes on a more sacred meaning, connecting mankind’s fall and eventual saving.
We usually see the skull at the base of the cross, representing the skull of Adam. Traditionally, it is believed that Jesus was crucified at the same spot where Adam was buried – thus, we see the skull literally buried below the crucifix portrayed on a cross.
More symbolically, blood of Christ on the cross flows down onto the skull. This represents Christ’s sacrifice washing away the original sin of mankind (set into motion by Adam). The skull can be seen at the foot of the cross on our Soldier Cross, Old Believer Cross, and Russian Baptismal Cross (pictured below).
Also known as the “Eastern Orthodox Cross,” “St. Andrew Cross,” or “Russian Cross,” this cross appears with great frequency in Slavic religious symbolism.
Originally a Byzantine cross, the three-bar cross was later adopted by the Russian Orthodox Church. The topmost arm represents the inscription above the crucified Christ’s head – typically the Slavonic translation of “King of Glory.”
The center arm, where His hands were nailed, is often accompanied by the inscription “IX IC,” representing “the first and last letters of Christ’s name in Greek.” The letters “NIKA” (meaning “victorious”) also typically appear alongside the three-bar cross, declaring that “…’Jesus Christ is victorious’ (over death and sin).”
The bottom arm (or foot plate) can be depicted as tilted or straight. Tradition teaches that when the Apostle Andrew preached in southern Russia he placed a life-size three-bar cross at his side. While explaining the Last Judgement he tilted the foot plate to signify that those on the right side of Christ will go up into heaven and those on the left will go down into hell.
Gallery Byzantium offers a variety of three-bar crosses, each with a fascinating history behind it and symbolizing the story of one’s faith.
Seiyaku: Skull and Crossbones – http://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/bones.html
Tags: Ancient History, August 2017, Byzantine, Byzantine Cross, Christian cross, christian symbols, Cross, History, In the Spotlight, Jewelry, Orthodox cross, Russia, symbols of faith
Seiyaku: Eastern Orthodox Cross – http://www.seiyaku.com/customs/crosses/eastorth.html
Orthodox Symbolism – http://www.antiochianarch.org.au/OrthodoxSymbolism.aspx
The History of Crosses and Crucifixes – http://www.holylandtreasuresonline.com/Store/Content/ResourceArticle/-3/1/21.html
Different types of crosses – http://www.drawnbyhislight.com/refs/crosses.html
An Explanation of the Three-Bar Cross – http://www.churchofthenativity.net/orthodoxy/three-bar-cross/
The Skull on the “Russian” Cross – http://www.pravmir.com/article_426.html
Inscriptions of the Orthodox Cross – https://iconreader.wordpress.com/2012/03/17/the-slavonic-russian-inscriptions-of-the-orthodox-cros
Symbols of the Christian Faith – https://books.google.com/books?id=CiOLT8mkAQoC&pg=PA60&lpg=PA60&dq=peacock+christian+symbol&source=bl&ots=dziLy5Sqor&sig=UihyvqiFysdhPX7P3fHff2LyAJc&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj1sbG-pM3VAhXDx4MKHXgaDmE4FBDoAQgxMAI#v=onepage&q=peacock%20christian%20symbol&f=false
Peacock Symbol – http://www.religionfacts.com/peacock
Symbolism of the Peacock – http://www.traditioninaction.org/religious/f023_Peacock.htm
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