making the sign of the cross

How did the gesture/ making the sign of the cross originate from? My (LDS) mother said to me several years ago that it was the sign the people in the crowd did to show at Jesus Christs trial to say yes ‘crucify him’…:confused:

The old Catholic Encyclopedia had an article that discussed quite a bit of the history of the sign of the cross. (Link).

Also, St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, of Picayune, Mississippi, has a very useful website. They have a PDF article on the sign of the cross you may find to be of use. (Link).

How sad that your mother was taught that and propagates it. It almost implies that Christians gave the assent to crucify Jesus? Or that Catholics were somehow involved in the crucifixion? Obviously, that couldn’t be possible. Still, it’s not likely that people made signs or used symbols in the courtyard at Jesus’ mock trial. Scripture clearly says they shouted out.

The cross was a gruesome torturous death. It would have been barbaric to have a cross in one’s home or to make the sign of he cross on ones own person UNTIL the early Christians adopted The Sign of the Cross to show Christ’s victory over sin and death. We make the sign of the cross to remember our Baptism and to remember the how our salvation was won.

In “De Corona Militis” written around 204AD, Tertulian refers to the sign of the cross(Signaculo Sanctae Crucis) as ancient custom.


Peter of Damascus (12th century) gave the following instruction:

Then we should also marvel how demons and various diseases are dispelled by the sign of the precious and life-giving Cross, which all can make without cost or effort. Who can number the panegyrics composed in its honor? The holy fathers have handed down to us the inner significance of this sign, so that we can refute heretics and unbelievers. The two fingers and single hand with which it is made represent the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, and He is thereby acknowledged to exist in two natures and one hypostasis or person.
The use of the right hand betokens His infinite power and the fact that He sits at the right hand of the Father. That the sign begins with a downward movement from above signifies His descent to us from heaven. Again, the movement of the hand from the right side to the left drives away our enemies and declares that by His invincible power the Lord overcame the devil, who is on the left side, dark and lacking strength.

Bert Ghezzi, author of “Sign of the Cross: Recovering the Power of the Ancient Prayer”, told EWTN:

St. Basil in the fourth century said that we learned the sign from the time of the apostles and that it was administered in baptisms.

Tertullian said that Christians at all times should mark their foreheads with the sign of the cross. I can imagine that Christians would make a little sign of the cross with their thumb and forefinger on their foreheads, to remind themselves that they were living a life for Christ.

The sign means a lot of things. In the book, I describe six meanings, with and without words. The sign of the cross is: a confession of faith; a renewal of baptism; a mark of discipleship; an acceptance of suffering; a defense against the devil; and a victory over self-indulgence.

When you make the sign, you are professing a mini version of the creed — you are professing your belief in the Father, and in the Son and in the Holy Spirit. When you say the words and pray in someone’s name you are declaring their presence and coming into their presence — that’s how a name is used in Scripture.

As a sacramental, it’s a renewal of the sacrament of baptism; when you make it you say again, in effect, “I died with Christ and rose to new life.” The sign links you to the body of Christ, and when you make it you remember your joining to the body with Christ as the head.

The sign of the cross is a mark of discipleship. Jesus says in Luke 9:23, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” The word that the Fathers of the Church used for the sign of the cross is a Greek word that is the same as what a slave owner put on a slave, a shepherd put on a sheep and a general put on a soldier — it’s a declaration that I belong to Christ.

Self-denial is not just giving up little things; to be a disciple you are under Christ’s leadership and you don’t belong to yourself. By doing the sign of the cross, you’re saying to the Lord, “I want to obey you; I belong to you. You direct all my decisions. I will always be obedient to God’s law, Christ’s teachings and the Church.”

When suffering comes, the sign of the cross is a sign of acceptance. It’s remembering that Jesus became a man and suffered for us and that we participate in Christ’s suffering. The sign of the cross says, “I am willing to embrace suffering to share in Christ’s suffering.”

One of the main teachings of the early Church Fathers is that the sign of the cross is a declaration of defense against the devil. When you sign yourself, you are declaring to the devil, “Hands off. I belong to Christ; he is my protection.” It’s both an offensive and defensive tool.

The Church Fathers say if you are angry, full of lust, fearful, emotional or grappling with fleshly problems, make the sign when tempted and it will help dispel the problem.

The sign of the cross is used by Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Presbyterians, particularly in baptisms. In his small catechism, Martin Luther recommends making the sign of the cross at bedtime and first thing in the morning. It’s a shame that many non-Catholics see it as something they shouldn’t be doing.

A notorious prayer regarding the Sign of the Cross - so notorious that it was incorporated to the Solemn Exorcism - was given by St. Antony of Padova (XII Century) and the Holy Father Sixtus V - a franciscan - had it engraved at the base of the obelisk at St. Peter’s Square (on whose top is a cross of metal inside of which is a relic fragment of wood from the True Cross):

*Ecce Crucem Domini!
Fugite partes adversae!
Vicit Leo de tribu Iuda,
Radix David! Alleluia! *

*Behold the Cross of the Lord!
Be gone adversary parties!
The Lion of the tribe of Judah,
the root of David
has conquered!
Alleluia! *

Very fascinating information! I had just run across this prayer for the first time the other day, and it’s great to have so much more context for its existence. :thumbsup:

Just goes to show the anti-catholic mindset of the Mormons. I have no idea where she got that from as I haven’t been able to find any source of that teaching/ thought…

Tell your mom that the Sign of the Cross is in the Protestant Bible (it’s in the Catholic Bible, too, but she doesn’t need to know that).

Over forty years ago, I learned while I was a Protestant in the Conference Baptist church that the Sign of the Cross is in the Bible.

The reference is Ephesians 3:17-19–“So that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, and that you being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.” (NASB)

Our Baptist pastor drew it out for us on a big sheet of white paper:

The Breadth is one side of the cross beam, and the Length is the other side of the cross beam, the beam that Jesus’ Arms were stretched across as They were nailed to that beam.

The Height is the top of the straight beam, and the Depth is the bottom of the straight beam, the beam that was set into the ground after the crucifixion was finished.

The phrase “rooted and grounded in love” refers to the “planting” of the cross in the ground by the soldiers.

Our pastor actually said, “This is the Sign of the Cross” as he pointed to the drawing.

Also tell your mother that evangelical (Southern Baptist) leader, Prison Fellowship founder, and Christianity Today columnist Charles Colson (RIP) wrote an excellent Protestant book called Being the Body. In this book, he discusses the origin and history of the Sign of the Cross and concludes that there is no reason why a Protestant Christian shouldn’t make the Sign of the Cross if they wish.

I hope this information is helpful to the OP and others.


Head -> sternum -> left shoulder -> right shoulder.

Using your right hand like this:


it came from a practice in the early Church as a way to remember and recall our Baptisms and the Cross of Christ.

St Ezekiel lived about 593 years before Christ. The Hebrew letter Tav/Taw at that time was written as a cross.

All protestant translations that came after the Taverner’s Bible (1551) stopped having the cross mentioned and started calling it a ‘mark’. The Catholic translations to this day still say the name of the Hebrew letter, cross, or X.

Ezechiel 9:3-6 (Douay Rheims)
And the glory of the Lord of Israel went up from the cherub, upon which he was, to the threshold of the house: and he called to the man that was clothed with linen, and had a writer’s inkhorn at his loins. And the Lord said to him: Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem: and mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof. And to the others he said in my hearing: Go ye after him through the city, and strike: let not your eyes spare, nor be ye moved with pity. Utterly destroy old and young, maidens, children and women: but upon whomsoever you shall see Thau, kill him not, and begin ye at my sanctuary. So they began at the ancient men who were before the house.

Ezechiel 9:3-6 Knox’s Bible (1945)
and now, borne on cherub wings, the glory of Israel’s God rose above the threshold of the house, summoning him of the linen clothes and the ink-horn to set about his task. Make your way, the Lord said to him, all through the city, from end to end of Jerusalem; and where you find men that weep and wail over the foul deeds done in it, mark their brows with a cross. To the others I heard him say, Yours it is to traverse the city at his heels, and smite. Never let eye of yours melt with pity; old and young, man and maid, mother and child, all alike destroy till none is left, save only where you see the cross marked on them. And begin first with the temple itself.

Ezekiel 9:3-6 (New Jerusalem Bible)
The glory of the God of Israel rose from above the winged creature where it had been, towards the threshold of the Temple. He called to the man dressed in linen with a scribe’s ink-horn in his belt and Yahweh said to him, ‘Go all through the city, all through Jerusalem, and mark a cross on the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over all the loathsome practices in it.’ I heard him say to the others, ‘Follow him through the city and strike. Not one glance of pity; show no mercy; old men, young men, girls, children, women, kill and exterminate them all. But do not touch anyone with a cross on his forehead. Begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the old men who were in the Temple.

Ezekiel 9:3-6 (New American Bible)
Then the glory of the God of Israel moved off the cherub and went up to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man dressed in linen with the scribe’s case at his waist, and the LORD said to him: Pass through the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and mark an X on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the abominations practiced within it. To the others he said in my hearing: Pass through the city after him and strike! Do not let your eyes spare; do not take pity. Old and young, male and female, women and children—wipe them out! But do not touch anyone marked with the X. Begin at my sanctuary. So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple.

:thumbsup: Thank you for posting that. Having gone to a Franciscan college (back in the 90s) I’m very familiar with the “tau cross” … but I had quite forgotten that it is rooted in the Old Testament!

You are most welcome! :thumbsup:

Except in this case, it’s not a Greek “tau” cross, shaped like a T, but a Hebrew “t(h)aw” cross, its ancestor, shaped like + or a ×.

Right. I meant the tau cross of St. Francis, which I believe has its roots in the Ezechiel passage that you and Zekariya are talking about.

Gotcha. :thumbsup:

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit