When you look at a crucifix, you see the image of Jesus Christ nailed to a cross shaped like a lower case “T.” In fact, there was traditionally a great amount of debate over what kind of cross was actually used by Romans to execute through the process of crucifixion. Some of the earliest artistic representations of this Biblical event portray Jesus Christ attached to structure that looks more like a Y than a t. And even that t-shape is open for interpretation; while the common icon has the cross-bar almost at the top of the vertical section, some older artworks present Christ crucified on a t-shaped structure where the cross-bar is roughly one-third of the way down from the top.
It would not be until the literature of the second century after the death of Jesus Christ that the translators of the original Gospel texts began inserting their equivalent of the word “crux” into the description of Christ’s method of execution. Over time the earliest founders of what would become the Catholic Church began to focus their attention more and more upon the singular death of the messiah rather than his birth and works.
The crux of the matter, if you will, arrived around the time that the t-shape with the cross-bar higher to the top of the vertical component became the accepted iconic figure of the crucifixion. The cross became the symbol of Christianity because it represented the struggle to overcome the forces of the earthly domain to gain entry into Christ’s kingdom. The evils and temptations of the world became encapsulated in the symbolic realization of the implement of Christ’s suffering. The Church was eager to make it apparent that all humans are close to escaping from their own suffering simply by accepting Jesus as their savior. By placing the cross-bar closer to the top of the t-shape, the cross became a perfect symbol of how close to escaping earthly bondage and making it to paradise we are all if only we place our trust in Jesus.
Today, of course, there is no more recognizable symbol of Christianity than a cross. The cross typically stands atop a church as the highest point. What is perhaps surprising is that of those church crosses contain just the high cross-bar. When a cross has a long cross-bar near the top and also a cross-bar around the middle that is known as the Cross of Lorraine. The lower cross-bar represents the original view of crucifixion in which that middle cross existed to support the feet of those being crucified. The Cross of Lorraine is primarily associated with the Catholic Church rather than most Protestant denominations. The medieval Dukes of Anjou who eventually became known as the Dukes of Lorraine initially accepted the Cross of Lorraine as their symbol; in World War II it would be given new life as a symbol of the French resistance.