Irish Penal Cross Symbols and Meanings

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As I was working on this new rosary today, I was reminded that I have wanted to research and write about the symbols and their meanings found on the Irish Penal Crucifix.  For a few years, I have been collecting the information I find on the internet regarding the subject and putting it in a folder for this purpose.

One thing that I have been particularly sensitive to lately is the accuracy of information found on the internet.  With that, I have also become aware of the reality that even historical information written in books could be one individual’s interpretation of the facts–especially if it is written many years later.

So, as I relay this information, I would like to add the disclaimer that though this information is taken from multiple sources, discovering what is fact versus what is fiction can be difficult.  But, just as historians often need to interpret their findings, I am sure that people who lived during the Penal Era in Ireland could also have had some varying ideas of the meanings of these symbols.

Still, there are some symbols that have been recognized by Christians going back as far as biblical times.  Many of the symbols and their meanings on the Irish Penal Cross fall into that category.  Unlike many historical writings, much of the New Testament writings date back to the to the times of Christ.

The Crucifix itself is a symbol of the death and resurrection of Our Lord, and so too are the symbols that surround the Corpus on the Penal Cross.

Inscription – INRI is the Greek acronym IESVS · NAZARENVS · REX · IVDÆORVM, which translated into English is Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.

Crown of Thorns –  Representing the Crown of Thorns placed on Christ’s head.

Chalice – Representing the Last Supper.  This is an example where an image is symbolic of more than one thing.  Just as the chalice is representative of the Last Supper, so too it represents the Eucharist where we share in the the Resurrection through the body and blood of Christ today.

Hammer – Representing the tool used to nail Christ to the cross.

Cords – Representing the Christ’s Scourging at the Pillar.

Five Wounds – Representing the wounds Christ endured on the cross–the nails in his hands and his feet & the sword that pierced His side

Spear – Representing the spear (sword) that the soldier used to pierce Jesus’ side.

Ladder – Representing the ladder used to remove Jesus from the cross after His death.  It is also said to represent the stairway to heaven.

? Bowl – Representing the bowl (jug) of water used to wash Christ’s feet on the Last Supper.

Nails – Representing 3 the nails (spikes) that were pounded into Christ’s hands and feet.

Rooster and Pot - Representing the rooster (cock) that crowed 3 the times Peter denied Christ just as Christ foretold.  (This explanation leaves the pot below in question.  However, artifacts that have been found of Penal Crosses show that the images differed. )

or

Representing the legend of the rooster (cock) that Judas’s wife was cooking in a pot.  According to the story, Judas came home and told his wife that he wanted to hang himself in fear that Christ would come for him because he had turned him over to the Roman soldiers.  His wife told him that the possibility of Jesus rising from the dead and coming to get him was as likely as the rooster in the pot coming back to life–which it then did.  (Some reference this as a biblical story, but I am not aware of this written anywhere in the bible.)

If anyone has any additional information or information that differs from the above, please comment.  I will keep this information up to date on this page: http://www.prayerbedes.com/?page_id=528

Click here for more information on the Irish Penal Rosary.

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