You will sometimes see skull and crossbones at the base of a crucifix. This is an interesting phenomenon and I’ve often wondered if there was some hidden meaning behind this.
So, why are skull and crossbones on a crucifix? It represents the bones of the first Adam through whom death entered the world, placed below the feet of the last Adam, Christ, through whom eternal life entered the world. It also represents the place where Jesus was crucified, Golgotha or skull hill. Christ was crucified over the place where the first Adam was buried.
There are other symbols that commonly appear on a crucifix. Let’s explore some of the different symbolism used and their meanings.
Researchers and historians believe the skull and crossbones are used to symbolize the place where Jesus was crucified, Golgotha or skull hill. Historians believe this is the original burial site of the first Adam.
To depict this symbolism, you will often find it various Christian artwork, stained glass windows, paintings, carvings, and crucifixes with skulls and bones at the feet of Jesus.
The skull and crossbones are placed at the feet of Jesus to illustrate the concept that Jesus trampled down death by dying. That he procured eternal life for mankind by suffering death himself.
The skulls and bones represent the first Adam who brought forth death into the world. By placing the skulls and bones at the feet of the last Adam, Jesus who brought eternal life into the world, illustrates this belief.
During war times when victory was won, the fallen soldiers would get placed into large pits and buried. This was to make it easier to get on with life after the battle. Sometimes when they were buried markers were left using the skull and crossbones symbol.
These were considered warning symbols to stop people from using the area, because of diseases and disease carrying vermin that would be present. These markers were used to warn people that this land was unsuitable for crops and to not dig and excavate in this area.
The skull and crossbones symbol is often referred to as the death’s hand. In historic tombstones a skull was used and the latin words “memento mori”, which in english means “remember that you must die”.
This belief was common in Stoic philosophy, to be grateful and appreciate what you have and remind yourself that this life is finite. There are often portraits of people in history who are holding or are resting their hand on a skull. This is believed to be used as a reminder that you will eventually die, and to cherish life.
It is not uncommon to find the letters “INRI” at the top of a crucifix above Jesus’s head.These are an abbreviated form of what was written on Jesus’s crucifix after his Ascension. According to the Gospel of John, “Jesus Nazarenus Rex Judaeorum” was written which translates as “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews”.
Paintings that depicted Christ’s crucifixion would use the abbreviation INRI because the small words were difficult to paint and were difficult to read on a painting. This practice was continued as an effective way to preserve his story especially in ancient times.
It was written on the cross where Jesus was crucified by a man named Pontius Pilate. He was a governor of the former province of Judaea. He was appointed under Emperor Tiberius. There are conflicting accounts of his life and period of rule over Judaea.
It is largely thought that he at some time during his life ordered the death of Jesus. There are stories in which he was reluctant to do so. It is said he later became remorseful and contemplated suicide because of his decision.
There are multiple references to the event in the Bible, notably in gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
There are several common differences between a cross and crucifix which have different points of origin.
A cross is an old astrological tool that was used to refer to the four seasons: summer, winter, spring and autumn. Crosses were used in combination with constellations to make more precise seasonal calculations.
By using maps and charts the position of constellations could tell astronomers where in a particular season they were in.
This was important for people at the time to track the seasons since there was standardized calendar or times zones in ancient times. There are different versions of the crosses used throughout history.
The Cross of Lorraine -This was a cross which was used on the French flag during WWII. It was a symbol of French freedom against the Nazi forces. It appears as a cross with a shorter horizontal bar above the normal horizontal bar.
It originated in the Hungarian region and was passed down from King to prince. It was mostly used on all coins of Rene the Good, who was a king of Naples in about the 1400’s.
The Jerusalem Cross- This is a cross which originated in the 1200’s and was often worn on shields and garments by people during this time period. It was often used in many historical cities are their emblem.
This cross is still being used by the Roman Catholic Church. It shows a cross with four smaller crosses in each quadrant. A quadrant is one square of a square which is divided into four equal sized squares.
A crucifix normally has Jesus, and sometimes in combination with various symbols, depicting his crucifixion. They may have a skull and bones at the base of the crucifix, show the body of Jesus, or have INRI written on the top. A crucifix is distinct from other crosses by showing symbols related to Jesus Christ.