The Anchor Cross can take various forms and just a few are reproduced here:
- the Admiralty pattern (ca. 1550 – 1850)
- stockless, similar to an inverted Tau or St. Peter's Cross
- comprising three crosses to represent the three crosses on Calvary or the Holy Trinity
- a hooked anchor, as seen with crossed swords in the coat of arms and flag of Vinnitsa city in Ukraine. The ω-shaped blades may be seen as a small omega.
- adorned with a rope which can also be viewed as a Serpent Cross
- adorned with a ship's navigational steering wheel; association with the Wheel Cross
- adorned with three tridents at the top, a heart in the centre and fish-tails at the base. This cross is the emblem of Saintes Maries de la Mer (see Camargue Cross)
- Croix Ancrée; a variation of the Moline Cross
- a variation of another marine implement, the trident, in this Tryzub Cross
- errr.... this is just an anchor. It has no religious significance except a pun on the word 'anchor'. In Greek it is called ankura, and the Greek phrase en kurio means 'in the Lord'.
It's hardly surprising we see the anchor in many church emblems; for example,
Salesian (Salesian), National Association of Free Will Baptists (NAFWB), Uniting Reformed Church in Southern Africa (URCSA), and the Boys' Brigade (BB)1
The anchor is a life saver – it can prevent a ship from crashing on to rocks. For Christians, the analogy is that Christ can save spiritual lives. The nautical image of an anchor gives the idea of navigation (through life). Alternative names include St. Clement's Cross, Sailor's or Mariner's Cross.
Another cross that helped early navigators was the cross staff, an instrument for measuring latitude. The staff was marked with a scale and fitted with a sliding cross-piece set at right-angles to the staff. With the tip at the navigator's eye, the cross-piece was slid up or down until its upper edge aligned up with the sun or polar star and the lower edge with the horizon. The reading on the staff was converted into degrees by referring to a table.
All much simpler to operate than today's GPS.
However, we landlubbers forget the obvious point that the anchor has nothing to do with navigation. On the contrary, the anchor stops you from going anywhere.
It certainly stopped Clement, the fourth Pope, in the 1st century. Emperor Trajan banished him from Rome and forced him to work in the harsh Russian stone quarries. Clement caused trouble for himself by locating a spring of fresh water that could quench the prisoners' thirst. Whether or not the appearance of this spring was a miracle, we don't know for sure. But he was eventually made a saint so it's possible the church authorities later believed it was so.
In any case, the prison governor of the time was sufficiently peeved to order Clement's death. He was executed by being tossed into the Black Sea, before which he was tied to a heavy anchor to prevent rescue or recovery by other Christians. The cross is therefore sometimes called St. Clement's Cross and Clement became the patron saint of anchorsmiths, blacksmiths, mariners, marble workers and stone cutters. (See Alexander Roman's fascinating article about the Anchor Cross and St. Clement.)
Clement was considered a renegade and ever since, the Anchor Cross has been used by Christians who have not wished to conform to the state religion.
When Christians have been persecuted and forced underground, their emblem has often been the Anchor Cross. To the outside world, it was just an anchor. To the Christians, it was a camouflaged Latin Cross. Like a ship's anchor, it helped them to keep their faith firm in the stormy social and religious environment. They took comfort from the Epistle to the Heb. 6:19, which says: "We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters the inner shrine behind the curtain."
This cross is also attributed to St. Nicholas of Myra, being the patron saint of seamen.