17 Major Types Of Crosses And What They Mean  

Amanda Sedlak-Hevener
43.9k views 17 items

Crosses are a popular form of religious iconography. Most of them represent various denominations of Christian religions, but this is not true for all crosses. They appear on churches, on tombstones, and on religious books, but you may find some of these in other places as well. 

What crosses symbolize depends largely on the beliefs surrounding them, some of which go back thousands of years. These different types of crosses are all distinctive, with particular meanings and traditions attached to them. What might look like subtly different aesthetic renderings can actually represent vastly different historical and cultural traditions. So read on to find out more about the rich histories behind some of the most popular cross chapes.

Scientology Cross
Scientology Cross is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list 17 Major Types Of Crosses And What They Mean
Photo: Wikimedia Commons/Fair Use

Scientology is the only non-Christian based religion that uses a cross as one of its major symbols. The major difference between the Scientology cross (also called the "sunburst cross") and the Christian cross are the two extra diagonal lines that bisect the center of the traditional vertical and horizontal lines (adding four extra points to the cross). The eight points on the Scientology cross represent the eight dynamics of the religion, which include "The Self," "Creativity, sex, and procreation," and "Life forms in general," among other things.

The Scientology cross emerged in 1955 when L. Ron Hubbard dug up an ancient sand casting that resembled it and, inspired by that sight, instituted its use. 

Canterbury Cross
Canterbury Cross is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list 17 Major Types Of Crosses And What They Mean
Photo: Storye book/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 2.5

Named after the town of Canterbury, England, the original Canterbury cross was found by archeologists in 1867. This cross was a Saxon brooch that dated back to around 850 CE. It is believed to be a "consecration" cross, due to its rounded shape. These early crosses represented the 12 apostles and their relationship with the Christian church. The original Canterbury cross is made of bronze with silver inlays and is stored at the Canterbury Heritage Museum.

A stone version of it is displayed at the Canterbury Cathedral, and smaller replicas of the cross, also made of stone, were distributed to Anglican Cathedrals around the world, making the Canterbury cross a symbol of the British-born Christian denomination. 

Forked Cross
Forked Cross is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list 17 Major Types Of Crosses And What They Mean
Photo: Günter Seggebäing/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0

The forked cross dates back to the late Medieval Era and emerged around the same time as the first Gothic cathedrals in the 14th and 15th centuries. This type of cross is in a dramatic Y-shape, "a fork" (hence the name), and it always has the crucified form of Jesus Christ attached to it. During this cross's heyday, a mystic form of Christianity had developed in Europe, and the forked cross is a creation of this wave of religious belief.

The vertical brace is the same as that on standard crosses, while the horizontal supports are attached at a 45-degree angle so that they go upwards, instead of out. This shape is believed to be related to the Tree of Knowledge. Only a handful of these crosses still exist in European cathedrals. The most well known and documented is the Coesfeld Cross, which is hung in the Church of Saint Lambert in Coesfeld, Germany.  

Gnostic Cross
Gnostic Cross is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list 17 Major Types Of Crosses And What They Mean
Photo: Vincent Eisfield/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

The Gnostic cross is unique because of its unusual shape. It consists of a standard cross with a circle on top. A smaller horizontal cross piece sits inside of the circle, creating a second cross. It is a combination of a sun cross (the upper circle with a cross within it) and a Latin cross.

Gnosticism is a very early religion that is related to Christianity. However, tt also has its roots in Buddhism, Neoplatonism, and Zoroastrianism, making it a melding of different beliefs with a series of central ideas that date back thousands of years. The Gnostic cross represents this dense meshwork of its historic origins.