What's with the Tau?


In all seriousness.

I know that Franciscans wear the Tau, because I've met a couple of Third Order Franciscans. Why the tau? How did it become associated with the Franciscan order?

I'm not sure this is the right forum for this question, but I've always wanted to know the answer.


Francis used to sign, when something needed signing, with a mark that was the Tau.

Basically a T.

There are arguments that say the shape of the Cross on which our Lord was crucified was a T and not a t.

Not sure of that, TBH.

See also HERE :slight_smile:


Just to add a bit: For Franciscans, the TAU is a sign of penance following in the footsteps of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a symbol of a mission of renewal within oneself (‘passover of oneself’) and the Church. Finally, it was a sign of the glory shared with the risen Lord that gave Francis confidence in the face of all difficulties.

In Christ,


Thanks for the info!


I’d thank you for your information, but since you mention the New York Yankees in your signature, I can’t thank you or have any contact with you. ;):stuck_out_tongue:

How can you put Totus Tuus at your signature, in honor of the Virgin Mary, and yet at the same time, honor Satan’s baseball team?


You made me LOL :smiley:


As to why St. Francis used the Tau.
I cant remember the exact passage. I think it may be in Isaiah. There is a passage in the O.T. that speaks of angels marking those to be spared punishment with a Tau. I think it was because they had remained faithful and/or had repented. Sorry that is rather vague, but I don’t have the time to search for it. There is a story about this with St. Francis, possibly at a meeting with St. Dominic and the Pope and bishops. I wish I could remember more. Perhaps someone else can fill in.


It is the last letter of the Hebrew alpabet, too, but I don’t know the meaning of it in Fransicscan spirituality.


Ezekiel, I think :o

Although reading that, it doesn’t say that they what they would be marked with, IIRC–just that they would be marked…

gimme a sec

Here it is (I was right–that’s one in a row :smiley: )

4 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.

This is the commentary, though

4 “Mark Thau”… Thau, or Tau, is the last letter in the Hebrew alphabet, and signifies a sign, or a mark; which is the reason why some translators render this place set a mark, or mark a mark without specifying what this mark was. But St. Jerome, and other interpreters, conclude it was the form of the** letter Thau, which in the ancient Hebrew character, was the form of a cross**.

NB: the bolded part (by me), though…this indicates that the mark is a cross t, not a T, ie, that it is not as the Franciscans use it, but the “regular” cross.


OK, couple things -

  1. All SFO and I do not want to speak out of turn about OSF but I believe they are make the promise to wear the Tau.

  2. All parts of the Tau have signifigance. We will be going over this at our next Fraternity meeting - I am fairly new and not the one to ask. JREducation would be much better. I am just entering the Inquirer phase of the SFO - he is a Brother.

This is some of this history and comes from the National Franciscan Newsletter (franciscanfriarstor.com/archive/stfrancis/stf_the_tau_cross.htm)::slight_smile:


The Franciscan symbol of the “crossed arms” is a most familiar one to us. It depicts the arms of JESUS and Francis crossed over the TAU, both bearing the imprint of the Crucifixion nails. Francis’ arm is enclosed in the sleeve of his habit. It is a celebration of that remarkable gift of grace which St. Francis received on Mt. Alverna, September 17th - the Stigmata … the bearing in his own body of the marks of his crucified Lord.

Just before he died on October 3rd, Francis stretched out his arms over his brothers in the form of a CROSS and blessed them in the power, and in the name of their crucified Lord. Then he told them, “I have done what was mine to do; may Christ teach you what is yours.”

So we consider this symbol of our Franciscan life a true expression of the life of St. Francis, as well as a reminder to us of our own Christian call and sincerity of response.


Where did the TAU come from and what does it mean? (Rhymes with “How”) Simply and basically, the TAU represents the Cross. It is also the last letter of the Hebrew Alphabet. However, the two major influences on Francis concerning the TAU were the Antonians and the Fourth Lateran Council.

St. Francis borrowed the TAU and what it meant to him from the Antonians. They were a religious community of men founded in 1095 whose sole function was to care for lepers. They were disbanded as an Order by the Church in the 1500’s because leprosy was no longer a problem and many of the religious orders had fallen into Theological problems. On their habit was painted a great TAU cross. Francis was very familiar with these men because they staffed the leper house in Assisi and the hospital of St. Blase in Rome where Francis went to stay. This is now the church of San Francisco A Ripa.

Every time you see St. Anthony, “the Abbot or Hermit” in art, he is portrayed with the TAU.

St. Francis was exposed to the TAU through the direct influence of the Antonians, but the greatest influence of all that made the TAU so dear to Francis, whereby it became his signature, was the Fourth Lateran Council.

Pope Innocent III opened the Council on November 11, 1215, with these words: “I have desired with great desire to eat this Passover with you.” (Luke 22-15.) Innocent announced that for him, for the Church, and for every Catholic at the time, the symbol they were to take as the sign of their Passover was the TAU Cross.

He incorporated into his homily the statement from Ezekiel (9:4) that the elect, the chosen, those who are concerned will be marked with the sign of the TAU. He explained that this Passover is a three-fold Passover.

Every Catholic must be involved in this triple Passover: A Corporal Passover, a Spiritual Passover and an Eternal Passover.

These became some of the most precious themes of Francis’ preaching. He must have taken them so deeply to heart that when Pope Innocent III ended his homily with “BE CHAMPIONS OF THE TAU”, Francis evidently took that as a personal statement and made the TAU his own symbol: a symbol for his order, his signature, painted it everywhere, and had great devotion to it for the rest of his life.


Ezekiel 9:4, “Go through the city of Jerusalem and put a TAU on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” The TAU is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet and looks very much like the letter “T”.

At the Fourth Lateran Council, on November 11, 1215, Pope Innocent made reference to the TAU and quoted the above verse in reference to the profaning of the Holy Places by the Saracens. It is widely accepted that St. Francis was present at the Fourth Lateran Council and that he heard the words of Pope Innocent III when he said, "The TAU has exactly the same form as the Cross on which our Lord was crucified on Calvary, and only those will be marked with this sign and will obtain mercy who have mortified their flesh and conformed their life to that of the Crucified Savior. From then on, the TAU became Francis’ own coat of arms.

Francis used the TAU in his writings, painted in on the walls and doors of the places where he stayed, and used it as his only signature on his writings.

St. Bonaventure said, “This TAU symbol had all the veneration and all the devotion of the saint: he spoke of it often in order to recommend it, and he traced it on himself before beginning each of his actions.”

Thomas of Celano, another Franciscan historian writes, “Francis preferred the Tau above all other symbols: he utilized it as his only signature for his letters, and he painted the image of it on the walls of all the places in which he stayed.”

In the famous blessing of Brother Leo, Francis wrote on parchment, “May the Lord bless you and keep you! May the Lord show His face to you and be merciful to you! May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace! God bless you Brother Leo!” Francis sketched a head (of Brother Leo) and then drew the TAU over this portrait.

Due, no doubt, in large part to Francis’ own affection for and devotion to the TAU, it has been a well recognized and accepted Franciscan symbol among Franciscans of various denominations and of all orders within those denominations for centuries. It remains so today. The TAU carries with it all of the symbolism of the Cross of Christ as well as Francis’ ideal of life and dream for himself and his followers.


Br. JR, OSF :slight_smile:


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