The Symbol of the Christian Cross

In the 1951 movie Quo Vadis, in the scene in Lygia’s (played by Deborah Kerr) room, Marcus Vinicius (played by Robert Taylor) comments on the cross hanging on her wall – two rough sticks tied together. The movie takes place around 64 AD during the reign of Nero with the Apostles Peter and Paul in Rome before their executions. Problem: the Christian Cross as a symbol of Christianity didn’t appear until the 4th century. Maybe they used artistic license, maybe they didn’t do enough research. Quo Vadis – the book, by Henryk Sienkiewicz was written in the late 1800s when research materials were limited. They didn’t have Wikipedia.

fish Before Constantine the Great in the 4th century, the Christians used the symbol of the fish. In 312 AD, before a battle, Constantine saw a symbol ofimage a cross in the sky and heard God tell him to go into battle under that symbol. He order his soldiers to put the Greek letters Chi Rho on their shields and they won the battle and he became Emperor.

The symbol of the Cross in the Roman Empire signified crucifixion as a cruel form of execution. Crucifixion was Roman not Jewish. Constantine saw Christianity as a way to unify the empire. Prior to his rule, Christians were persecuted under Diocletian and many church buildings and copies of Holy Scriptures were destroyed.

The Chi Rho eventually evolved into the Cross we know today. The earliest depiction of a Cross in Christian art is in the Apse Mosaic in Santa Pudenziana Church in Rome – circa 390.


The ritual hand motion by Christians – tracing the shape of the Cross on one’s body – actually started with just tracing the cross on one’s forehead only towards the end of the 2nd century. Around the year 200, Tertullian, a Christian lawyer in Carthage wrote, “We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross”. It wasn’t until the 4th century that the sign grew to involve the heart and shoulders.

For more on the sign of the Cross, visit Wikipedia.

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Giselle Aguiar
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  1. I thought that the Robert Taylor character was known as Marcus Vinicius and Deborah Kerr’s as Lygia?.Peter Ustinov was brilliant as Nero.

    I particularly liked the part when he strangles’Acte’
    who was his evil genius and had pushed him to extreme acts.


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