Today, the cross is one of the most common and universal of ancient symbols for tattoos. The cross, which has quite different meanings, has been tattooed since ancient times and is rather popular in tattoo art today; it has been used in many cultures and religions around the world. The most popular images for tattoos are the Latin cross and the Celtic cross.
The versatility of cross tattoo designs lies in the fact that they can be placed anywhere: on the hand, on the back, on the neck etc. If the size is right, it will look amazing on any part of your body. To have a cross tattoo, one does not necessarily have to be a religious person. Celtic or Gothic style tattoos, for example, are perfect for anyone who loves beauty and wants to stand out from the crowd.
Cross tattoo is one of the few universal – male and female – symbols. It has the same meaning used on the body of both men and women, since it refers more to the sphere of the spiritual rather than the physical.
Still, due to our different tastes, sizes and combinations of the tattooed pics can vary. For example, a plain cross tattoo on the wrist may fit both men and women. A big cross on the back can be a cool tattoo for guys – a traditional Gothic or Celtic one with complex elements and good composition will look awesome. Even today, Christian cross tattoos for men are still popular, especially among the newly turned believers.
Cross tattoos for women are traditionally not complex. Usually women prefer to wear minimalistic designs. Small cross tattoos for girls are usually plain or made in combination with a flower or other simple object. A winged little cross will also look nice on a girl.
However, in some countries this symbol, or its combinations, might have additional meanings and application, for example, as a prison mark for thieves or number of years of imprisonment. So, before tattooing a pretty symbol, please, make sure you know the “underwater part of the iceberg”.
Pictures of Cross Tattoos
Meanings of the Cross Symbol
The cross symbol appeared in the human culture long before the written word. The oldest crosses known were created in Neolithic Europe as cave paintings and petroglyphs. Such tribal images have been also found in Asia, Africa, and America.
As the cross symbol has been used for centuries all over the world, no wonder it has a huge number of various meanings and implications; the tattooed crosses inherited many of those meanings and implications.
- Christianity. The cross symbol has become most common and widely used due to its usage in Christianity, as it is indissolubly bound to the image of the crucifixion of Christ. The cross has become the Christian religion’s emblem and principal symbol. In Christianity, it is a symbol of suffering which unites Heaven and Earth; it is the tree of life that has to be lived by every man; and also a symbol of fate – the personal spiritual cross every person carries through the life. Christian funeral traditions gave us another meaning of cross tattoos. A Latin cross on the arm or shoulder, or a grave cross with an inscription often serves as a reminder of a lost loved one. The most used type here is a plain wooden cross. However, long before Christianity, the cross had a huge number of meanings and embodied a variety of ideas and beings in different cultures. It was also used to refer to pagan gods and spirits, both good and evil.
- Egypt. One of the first images of crosses known belongs to the ancient Egyptians. This rich culture had a symbol of life, the ankh. The Assyrian civilization depicted the cross within the ring which represented the Sun. This sign is also considered a symbol of immortality, sometimes it is understood as the key to the divine knowledge.
- The Celts. Celtic druids saw the cross as a phallic symbol. The famous Celtic cross formed with knots and strands of life was always depicted in the solar circle and symbolized cyclicity and unity of the world. It was also a symbol of constant spiritual development and improvement.
- In Chinese culture, the cross was considered as a staircase to Heaven; depicted in the square, it was a symbol of the Earth.
- In Mexico, it was an attribute of the gods of wind and rain; there are also images of Aztec crucifixes.
- In the XX century in Germany, it became a symbol of Nazism; and later it spread as a neo-Nazism symbol around the world.
- In Africa, the cross symbolizes patronage and protection, unity, the fate and the supreme authority.
- The Greek cross has been the “red cross” (medical care) symbol for three thousand years.
- The cross was often used in medieval Europe, especially during the Crusades. It was a symbol of honor and strength for the Knights of the Teutonic Order and the Templars.
- The cross in the circle was a symbol of the union of opposites, the representation of sunrise and sunset and changing seasons.
- In the pre-scientific era, the cross embodied duality. Feminine was associated with the horizontal beam and meant passivity, earthiness, destruction, and death. The vertical beam symbolized masculinity, which was considered the embodiment of all divine, eternal, creating, active, and full of vital forces.
- Before becoming the religious sacred symbol, the cross was used as an instrument of execution by crucifixion.
- It is also an ancient universal symbol of the cosmos. The two crossed lines can symbolize the four directions, the four phases of the moon (as in ancient Babylon), or the elements of nature, or the four basic elements of the universe (in Syria). The intersection of these lines can also be interpreted as a symbol of the intersection of the father and mother of all the living; and the point of intersection is the point of the birth of life.
Previously, it was believed that a cross tattoo protected the part of the body it was on from injury. If the tattoo is on the chest, it will prevent a spear from hitting the chest. For this reason, the left side of the chest was tattooed with a cross to protect the heart.
In general, the meaning of a tattoo depends not only on the meaning of the symbol itself, but also on the type of cross used.
Types of Crosses
Below you’ll find almost all known versions of the cross used in various cultures.
The Celtic Cross (the Irish Cross)
It is the symbol of Celtic Christianity, though it has ancient pagan roots. It is considered the most popular and beautiful images for tattoos.
It combines two images: a cross – a common symbol of Christianity and the Sun – the embodiment of the most respected of the pagan deities. Therefore, the Celtic cross is often called the “Solar cross”. For the Celts, the Sun symbolized infinity, continuity, and cyclical nature of life; it was considered the main source of spiritual, the fiery center possessing the property of birth and rebirth. The four sides of the cross symbolize the connection of the four elements of nature and the four cardinal points.
There is another purely Christian interpretation, which considers the circle as the “Sun of Faith”, the pure light of faith.
At the end of the twentieth century, the Celtic cross became the emblem of the neo-fascism political movement. Today it is commonly used by nationalists and skinheads.
The ancient Egyptian cross. Its meanings are vague and controversial, but generally it is believed that it symbolized life and immortality, eternity, and wisdom, and was a protective symbol. Many Egyptian gods were represented with this symbol in hand. At the moment, there is a large number of parascientific and unjustified interpretations. From the 1980s to the present day, the ankh has been a part of the Goth subculture and used as a magical (or another supernatural) sign in different parascientific and magical cults.
The Solar Cross
Graphically represents the cross, located inside the circle. It is found on objects of prehistoric Europe, especially in the Neolithic and Bronze Age.
The Latin Cross, or the Papal Cross
Usually associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and thus with Christianity in general. Before Jesus, this symbol meant, inter alia, the staff of Apollo, the Sun god, son of Zeus.
The Cross of St. Peter or the Inverted Latin Cross
Currently, the Inverted cross is sometimes associated with anti-Christianity and Satanism.
The Evangelists’ Cross
The symbolic designation of the four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
It symbolizes the archangels in Christianity.
The Cross of Lorraine
It indicates the rank of Cardinal and Archbishop of the Catholic Church. It is also a cross of the Greek Orthodox Church.
The Orthodox Cross (Byzantine Cross)
It has two additional crossbars. The top one represents the plate on Christ’s cross. The lower one supports legs of Jesus on the cross, and symbolizes the Standard of Righteousness.
The Lalibela Cross
It is a symbol of Ethiopia, the Ethiopian people and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
The St. Andrew’s Cross
The cross on which St. Andrew was crucified. According to the legend, it was X-shaped.
The Templar’s Cross
The symbol of the Templar Order, one of the first religious military orders, along with the Hospitallers.
The Maltese Cross
The sign of the powerful Knights Hospitallers, the Order of St. John; the white cross with eight ends designating the eight Beatitudes awaiting the righteous in the next world.
The Bolnisi Cross
The most widely known and used in Georgia since the V century; used on par with the cross of Saint Nino.
The Teutonic Cross
The symbol of the Teutonic Order. Centuries later, it became the basis for the variety of the Iron Cross Order symbols. The Iron Cross is still used for military vehicles, flags, as well as pennants of German Armed Forces.
Schwarzes Kreuz (the Black Cross)
The identification mark of the Armed Forces of Germany. It is known today as the cross of Bundeswehr Army.
Was used as the identification mark for German military equipment from 1935 to 1945.
The Swastika, or the Gammadion Cross
The cross with ends curved clockwise or counterclockwise. Swastika is an ancient symbol widely used in different cultures. It has various meanings, most of which had been positive before the symbol was compromised by the Nazis and removed from the public use. For the ancient peoples, the swastika symbolized the movement of life, the Sun, light and prosperity. Specifically, the clockwise swastika is an ancient Indian symbol used in Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
The Red Cross
The symbol of the Red Cross Organization and ambulance. The Green cross is the symbol of pharmacy; the Blue one represents the veterinary service.
The Grapevine Cross or Saint Nino’s Cross
Christian relic, the cross woven of vines. According to the legend, the Virgin gave it to Saint Nina before sending her to Georgia.
The Cross of Tau
The T-shaped cross honoring the founder of Christian monasticism, Anthony.
The Serbian Cross
It is a symbol of Serbia, the Serbian people and the Serbian Orthodox Church.
The Coptic Cross
It has three bends at the ends, which represent the Holy Trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Used by the Coptic Orthodox Church and the Coptic Catholic Church in Egypt.
You can also consider these types of crosses:
- the Greek cross;
- the Dagger or the Lithuanian cross – double cross with two equal horizontal lines;
- the Novgorod Cross;
- the Order of Christ Cross;
- the Cantabria Cross – double cross version of St. Andrew’s Cross;
- the Great Cross, Cross Velius;
- the Arrow Cross – the sign of the Arrow Cross Party;
- the Order of St. George Cross, the Victoria Cross;
- the Armenian cross;
- the Basque cross;
- the Jerusalem cross – depicted on the flag of Georgia;
- the Clubs – the symbol of clubs suits in a card deck.
As you can see, there are many different crosses, thus you can choose the one most suitable for you personally. Despite the fact that crosses look attractive in their original form, you still can show your creative flair and synthesize your unique design. There are so many options: plain crosses, simple compositions of a cross and rose or a cross with wings, for example, or complex detailed designs with 3d effect. Look through different pictures to find some inspirations for your future amazing cross tattoo. The choice is always there, and it’s up to you.