Irish Penal

Symbols and Their Meanings Found on the Irish Penal Crucifix

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. )


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 form the above, please comment.  I will keep this page up to date, as I find further information.

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