What is a TAU cross and what is its meaning?

You probably asked yourself before, What is a TAU cross and what is its meaning?

What is a TAU cross?

TAU cross is a cross, shaped like the letter T. It is often worn around the neck of the Franciscans but is more and more popular among younger generations.

Origin of TAU cross

TAU is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet which was, in the old writing, shaped like a cross. It was mentioned in the Old testament as a symbol of security and belonging.

TAU Cross was adopted by the first Christians, as its shape reminds of a cross on which the Christ was crucified. The other symbolism is in the last letter of the alphabet, which means the Last Day. It had a similar function to the last greek letter Omega,  which appears in the Book of Revelation:

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty, I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life … I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end” (Rev. 21:6;22:13).

St. Francis and the TAU cross

For st. Francis, the cross was a sign of Jesus’ love towards all people. From various cross shapes, he most respected the sign TAU. St. Bonaventura reports, how he orally recommended it. He drew it on letters, on the cell walls and tried to get everyone to use the sign of TAU. In this way, the sign in one way became his coat of arms.

Francis was present at the fourth council of the Lateran, where pope Innocent III. in his opening speech used a biblical passage from the book of the prophet Ezekiel:

“Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a Tau upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it… Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; …but touch no one upon whom is the Tau.”(Ezekiel 9:4-6)” 

(Most English translations use  »mark« instead of Tau. In the Latin vulgate, it is written as »signa thau«)

TAU crossWhen st. Francis heard these words from the pope’s mouth it greatly contributed towards his decision for the symbol.

The second, even more important influence on Francis’s choice for the cross Tau, was his meeting with brothers of st. Anthony of the Desert 1210. The brothers took care of lepers and used the cross TAU as a sign of their order. They wore it carved onto their sticks, had it embroiled in their clothes and had it drawn on their bottles, that held the medicine for the lepers.

Watch this video to hear how sister Renita Brummer, OSF, explains why the TAU Cross is used by Franciscans worldwide.

I hope that answers the question, What is a TAU cross? If you know any other facts about the TAU cross you are welcome to share it with us.

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