The Tau Cross is and ancient symbol based on the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and the Greek T, prononounced taw. It is sometimes referred to as the Old Testament Cross because it predates Christ’s crucifixion. Some contend that the cross on which Christ was crucified was most likely in the form of the Tau instead of the commonly portrayed Latin Cross.
Biblically, the first reference to the Tau Cross is in Ezekiel 9:4. Through a vision, God warns the prophet, Ezekiel, that He would send an angel to mark the foreheads of the faithful with the symbol of the Tau to save them from destruction.
St. Francis of Assisi embraced the Tau Cross as a sign of redemption and used it as his signature on his writings and painted it on the walls and doors where he stayed. However, St. Anthony (a Desert Father considered to be the founder of monasticism) is traditionally considered the first to adopt and carry the Tau Cross. Hence, the Tau Cross is sometimes referred to as St. Anthony’s Cross. It is most likely that St. Francis was introduced to the Tau Cross through the Antonines (a monastic community who followed in the footsteps of St. Anthony) as they were active in Assisi during his time.
With arms outstretched, St. Francis would stand and show his friars that the habit they wore was a reflective image of the Tau Cross. It was a reminder that they were to be a walking crucifix committed to the incarnation of a compassionate God. Consequently, Franciscans recognize the Tau Cross as a symbol of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as well as a reminder of St. Francis’ commitment to live a life of simplicity and humility. The Tau Cross is therefore also referred to as St. Francis’s Cross.