The Cross as a Christian Symbol
Christians have used a variety of symbols as an expression of their beliefs, including ichthus (fish), dove, ship, and anchor. Aside from the cross, the most widely recognized symbols of Christianity is the ichthus, but the cross far exceeds the ichthus in recognizability. The importance of the cross stems from the belief that Jesus was crucified on a wooden cross. Ironically, there is no historical evidence that a cross was used--the New Testament does not describe the implement upon which Jesus died, but there are references to the cross. The word used, xolun, is most commonly defined as ?tree? or ?wood?. Regardless, of the lack of historical and academic clarity the cross (particularly the wooden cross) has become the representative symbol of Christianity throughout the world.
In early Christian iconography, circa the first and second centuries, the cross was often absent as it was a reminder of the excruciating form of torture and execution that Christ suffered. Over time, the symbols of the cross became the most recognized icon. As early as the second century, the cross was mentioned in text discussing and defending Christianity in Latin text (Octavius). Even though most branches of Christianity have the cross as their central symbol, there are some, like the Mormon church, which do not adhere to such iconography.
Historical evidence points to a few possibilities as to the type of implement upon which Christ died. These include: a tree, simple wooden beam, a T-shaped wooden beam, or the recognizable Roman cross. Despite the lack of specific mention in historical texts about Jesus? crucifixion, it is highly likely that Jesus died on a type of cross-like wooden structure or a tree which had limbs similar to a cross.
Aside from the cross-like tree, the other two types of crosses which were used during Roman times consisted of a solitary column with an inscription at the top which stated the name of the person to be crucified and the offense committed. The cross bar then carried to the site by the person to be put up on the cross--this is the most likely way it happened, instead of the commonly depicted scene where Jesus is carrying a full wooden cross.
Despite some disagreement among scholars, even if Christ did not die on a perfect cross shape, it was something which had great similarity.