Few body art designs hold as much symbolism as cross tattoos. This symbol actually pre-dates the life of Jesus Christ, and many crosses hail from more ancient Pagan religions. The cross was used as a symbol in ancient Greek and Egyptian cultures, as well as by the Aztecs. When you consider all the meaning attached to this symbol and the fact that there numerous styles of crosses, it's no wonder it makes such a great subject for a tattoo.
Types of Cross Tattoo Designs
Since crosses have been used in so many different religions and cultures, there are many ways you can depict them in a tattoo. From stylizing a popular cross design to using a lesser known one, you have a number of options.
In their basic form, Celtic crosses are a simple, T-shaped cross with a ring that circles where the beams intersect. More often, they are elaborately designed with attributes such as:
- Enlarged tips at the end of each arm on the cross
- Small pictures in the corners where the arms connect, such as moons, chalices and suns
- Celtic knots filling the interior of the cross, from one large knot to several smaller ones
Knots filling the crosses are believed to symbolize the intersecting of the corporeal and spiritual worlds, as well as the continuous nature of life itself. Celtic cross tattoos can make use of any or all of these design attributes, along with subtle colors in the knots or corners of the cross to help highlight the details.
The Latin cross has one tall, vertical beam intersected by a slightly smaller horizontal beam about one third of the way down from the top. This design is most closely associated with Christianity.
A tattoo of the Latin cross can be done inked as a simple, stand alone design, or it can be embellished in a number of ways, including:
- Hanging a crown of thorns from the top beam to symbolize Christ
- Adding the name and date of death of a deceased love one to memorialize that person
- Imposing the Latin cross over a shamrock to display Irish roots
- Combining a cross tattoo with a dove to symbolize peace
St. Andrew's Cross
St. Andrew's Cross is shaped like an X instead of the typical T design of most crosses. St. Peter, believing himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, was crucified upside down. St. Andrew also held the same belief, and therefore he was crucified upside down on a cross shaped like an X.
The Christian cross may be similar to the Latin cross, or it may be more ornate, displayed with the cross beam in the center of the vertical beam with all four arms of equal length. It can also be combined with the Sacred Heart to become a symbol of Catholicism.
Other design ideas include:
- Gold, scrolled cross designs that show the faces of the Saints along the arms
- Crosses that are studded with "jewels" along the arms
- Adding lettering or words along the arms to display a favorite Psalm or saying
The Ankh is rooted deep in Egyptian culture. The bottom of the Ankh is similar in shape to the Latin cross, but the top portion loops over and connects back to the cross beam.
Ancient Egyptians called the Ankh the Key of Life, and they believed the key was used by the Gods of the underworld to awaken those who had crossed the river of death and usher them into the afterlife. Ankh tattoos are often used as signs for infinity and fertility.
Display an Ankh tattoo:
- In a solid color alone on an ankle or shoulder
- With additional embellishments on the points
- In combination with another Egyptian tattoo
Gothic crosses emulate the German style of heavily ornate pieces fashioned from wrought iron. As a symbol of the Gothic lifestyle, Gothic crosses also symbolize all that is dark and merry. Gothic cross tattoos may incorporate all manner of imagery, including:
- Crosses wrapped in barbed wire
- Crosses that are actually daggers, often with a single drop of crimson at the tip
- Crosses that have the tips of arrows on the ends of the arms
Tribal cross tattoos are stylized cross designs that are inked in the typical tribal style. Designs ideas include:
- An outline of the cross with small barbs, thorns or points on the corners and edges of the arms
- An outline of a cross with flames on the interior
- A solid cross with barbs or thorns around the edges and corners
The Tau is a cross design that encompasses the Christian, Jewish, and Pagan worlds. This cross looks like a capital letter T. It has been used as the symbol of the Pagan God Tamuz, and it's also believed to be the Hammer of Thor. The Tau may also have been the inspiration for the Latin cross, and it's used by many people as a Pagan symbol or Pagan cross.
Design ideas for the Tau include:
- Thor's hammer with a stylized top cross beam filled with runes and a wooden "handle"
- A solid, black T that has a slightly wider base and slightly wider ends to both sides of the cross beam
- Being made out of reeds or greenery to be seen as a Pagan symbol
Variety in Symbolism and Design
With so many ways to wear a cross tattoo, nearly anyone can find a design that suits them, no matter what their personal religion or beliefs happen to be. Explore the rich symbolism of various crosses before you get your next tattoo, and see where your design takes you.