Symbolism of the Venetian Cross.
Symbolism of the Venetian Cross. In Venice, you may sometimes notice unusual crosses, with arms that end up in rounded forms. Two easily found examples, would be the large cross on top of St Mark’s Basilica; or the one inside, sitting on the canopy (“ciborium”) decorated with fine reliefs, in front of the altar.
These rounded forms, are essentially stylisations of the “fleur-de-lis (or lys)”, an iris or lily like flower emblem, found in diverse cultures, as far back as in ancient civilisations. It has become important symbolically, to both the State and the Catholic church in Venice, along with the Winged Lion of St Mark. The latter represents Mark the Evangelist, in the form of a winged lion holding a Bible and is the symbol of the city of Venice and formerly of the Venetian Republic.
Today, the fleur-de-lis is an iconic symbol that permeates modern culture. The post discusses its historical origins, in various civilisations throughout the world.
Symbolism of the Venetian Cross
These are essentially stylisations of the “fleur-de-lys”, an iris or lily flower emblem: three at the end of each arm (symbolising the Trinity) and four at the angles at the intersection of the arms of the cross (symbolising the world) In total. Inside the Basilica (photos below), another example can be seen on the canopy in a central position, in front of the altar .
These crosses in their origin form, were called “St Mark’s Crosses” and were created, when the Archdiocese of Venice, founded in 775; became a Patriarchate. St Mark’s became its patriarchal church.
Note, that on his investiture, the Patriarch of Venice, has the right to sit on the Consistory of Cardinals; with the title of Patriarch-Cardinal. The Venetian church, follows the Latin right of the Roman Catholic Church, but retains a degree of autonomy; preserving the Byzantine principles, which date from the arrival of Christianity in the area and especially Venice in 568.
With the creation of the patriarchy, the “Order of St Mark” was created by the governing authority and its members who served the State; were under the protection of the Evangelist Mark.
For Venice, the fleur-de-lis, is essentially a symbol of “divine loyalty” and also of “God’s Power and Wisdom”; joining the symbolism of the “Winged Lion of St Mark”.
Symbolism of the Venetian Cross – Armorial bearings of the Patriarch of Venice
(Definition. Armorial Bearings, were coats of arms, crests and other insignias, formerly borne on shields by knights and later granted by the Crown or other designated officials to individuals, public and local authorities and corporate bodies such as guilds.)
Traditionally, a cross with one horizontal arm; signified a Bishop: two arms an Archbishop-Cardinal and three arms, since the 15th century a Papal symbol, representing a pope’s crown, a cardinal’s biretta and a bishop’s mitre.
On the coat-of-arms, the upper arm, bears the inscription of Pilate’s phrase: “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudaeorum” (INRI). – Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.
The lower horizontal arm, represents that which Jesus was nailed to the cross.
At the bottom is an inscription, “Sufficit Gratia Tua”, (Your Grace Suffices) and on the shield is a boat with an 8-pointed star; representing the symbolic number of Christ’s perfection.
Two more examples in brass:
Origins of Symbolism of the Fleur-de-Lis
The fleur-de-lis is an iconic symbol that permeates modern culture. You can find the design at the top of fence posts, railings, on the north point of a compass, on the pattern of fabrics, the scout movement and in heraldic and religious artefacts. The symbol is easily recognisable and typically has three petals attached at the base and is often presented plainly; but ornate or intricate variations are common as well.
This flower emblem, has been found found in diverse cultures, as far back as in ancient civilisations; so that its exact origin is uncertain. It’s even debated whether the symbol is actually a lily, the flower the emblem is named after; or an iris, which more closely resembles the design and typical yellow colour.
One of the earliest surviving examples is on a gold helmet from the Scythians, a Eurasian nomadic people from the 7th to 3rd centuries BC. Other ancient examples occur worldwide. For example, in Egyptian culture, it represented the snake that killed Cleopatra statue. The Indian emperor Kanishka (AD 127 to 150), also sported the symbol.
In French culture. In 496 AD, an angel apparently appeared before Clotilda, the wife of Clovis I; King of the Francs and offered her a lily; that influenced her conversion to Christianity. When Clovis was crowned, an ampulla with a fleur-de-lis insignia was used to anoint him as king. The French monarchy, later adopted this ancient symbol of French heraldry. This miracle, mirrors the story of the Virgin Mary, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her holding a lily; announcing she was to be the mother of the Saviour. This flower, is also in the iconography of Joseph, Christ’s father; to designate him, as the patriarch of the new Holy dynasty of divine royalty.
Left: Iris pseudacorus (yellow water iris). It is native to Europe, western Asia and northwest Africa.
In 1125, the French flag and coat-of-arms fielded many fleurs-de-lis. However, in the reign of Charles V, he adopted the symbols to honour the Holy Trinity; reducing the number of flower symbols to three, each with three petals.
Biblical associations. The lily stylised as a fleur-de-lis, is also a biblical plant associated with King David, as well as Jesus Christ (consider the lilies of the field…. Mathew:28-29).
Thus, it became a symbol of “power and sovereignty”, of the “divine right of kings” and also signifying the “purity of body and soul”. Ancient kings of Europe, “were godly, consecrated by the Divinity; through the authority of priesthood”. They were meant to be fair, perfect and pure beings, as had the Virgin Mary had been – she who is the “Lily of the annunciation and submission“. As Luke the Apostle reveals: “Ecce Ancila Domine“, “Here is the Servant of the Lord” and patron saint of all royal power.
For this reason, in Spanish culture, the iris was replaced by the lily and the “fleur-de-lis” became the “flor-del-lirio“.
Iris, Lily or another species? Just to confuse matters, some suggest that the “true” fleur-de-lis, is neither of the “Iridaceae” or the Liliaceae family; but a member of the Amaryllidaceae family, called “Sprekelia formosissima“. This plant originates from Mexico and Guatemala. it is known in other languages as the “Aztec Lily”, the “Sao Tigeo Lily and the “St James Lily”. It was named in the 18th century, by the botanist Carl von Linne, when he received a few bulbs from J. H. Spreckelsen, a German lawyer. The Spanish brought back the bulbs from Mexico at the end of the 16th century.
Certainly, what we know as the “fleur-de-lis”, is a symbol that goes back a long way into deep history and was common to diverse cultures, throughout the world.
L: Symbol of French Monarchy
R: Boy Scouts of America on US Postage. It symbolised that Scouts are “reliable and like a compass; lead the way“.
Please see my other related posts, in the category of “History and Architecture”; HERE
For those interested in the mysterious, mythical or dark side of Venetian history and culture; I have put together a list of links below to those posts that include elements of Christian Symbolism, Sacred Geometry, Kabbalah, Freemasonry and Alchemy.
Symbolism of the Venetian Cross Symbolism of the Venetian Cross Symbolism of the Venetian Cross