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Larron's Cross

Why does the Larron's Cross have a slanting crossbeam?

Indeed, why should any Christian cross be assigned to a larron?

Larron's Cross


Photo © by J Telford
(Click photo to enlarge)

Larron is French for thief, and our introduction to this cross was by Ms J Telford in France, who discovered it on a gravestone (photo on the right) in Pontlevoy, Loir et Cher The grave contains the tragic remains of a young mother and her child, both of whom died in the 19th century.

Ms Telford also referred to Des signes et des hommes Adrian Frutiger Editions Delta et Spes Paris 1983, a translation of Der Mensch und seine Zeichen Paris 1978. There, the cross is named "Croix du larron, signe de détresse, de mauvais sort, de vie agitée" (Larron's cross, sign of distress, of bad luck, of hectic lifestyle). The sign is shown under "La croix, symbole chrétien" page 173.

Titular
Suppedaneum

When a diagonal beam appears on a cross, it's usually on a cross having multiple beams, with the diagonal beam at the top (as a sign board) or the bottom (as a suppedaneum). With the Larron's Cross we are assuming the meaning of the single diagonal crossbeam is directly related to the upper and lower slant of multi-beamed crosses.

Slanting crossbeam

Facing the cross, the left arm points upwards and the right arm downwards. But the reverse is the case for the person hanging on the cross.

Most people associate the cross with the Crucifixion of Christ, so on this cross Christ's right arm would point upwards to Heaven and his left arm point downwards to Hell. The homonyms "right" (right-hand side / righteousness) and "left" (left-hand side / sinister, left behind, abandoned, generally not good), occur frequently in various languages and customs, from making the sign of the cross, to raising the right hand when swearing an oath.

We read in the Gospels (Matt 27:44; Mark 15:27-28,32; Luke 23:33 and John 19:18) that Jesus was crucified with two other men (fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah 53:12). Both of these men are described as crooks, and both mocked Jesus. But one of them, named Dismas, realised the significance of the Crucifixion and repented his sins. Jesus, of course, forgave him.

Artistic impression


Gestas

Jesus

Dismas

Scenes of the Crucifixion frequently depict three crosses, with Jesus in the centre. The cross on the left (on Jesus' right) is traditionally considered to be the cross of Dismas.

St Dismas

Thus we see in Michelangelo's The Good Thief, the cross is viewed slightly sideways, with Dismas is facing towards Jesus.

This optical illusion of a slanting crossbeam is a convenient way to distinguish between the cross of a thief and the cross of Jesus.

It therefore gives rise to various names, such as the Penitent's Cross, the Good Thief's Cross, and the St. Dismas Cross 

Larron's Cross
90° beam,
side view

Larron's Cross
Slanting
beam

(Artists such as Michelangelo make sure they alter the angle of the cross-member ends, to distinguish between an actual slanting beam, and right-angled beam viewed from the side.)

Why is there a Larron's Cross on the grave?

We don't know if the deceased was a Catholic who venerated St Dismas, but it seems safe to assume that the burial followed Christian tradition. We have no reason to think that the deceased was a professional thief; and similarly we have no reason to think she led a life free of sin.

As Romans 3:23-25 teaches, we are all sinners, yet can be saved by grace.

Un pécheur sauvé par la Grâce (A sinner, saved by grace.)

A neat pun on the phrase in French replaces the first acute e (é) with a circumflex e (ê) to give Un pêcheur sauvé par la grâce, which translates as "a fisherman saved by grace".

Accepting that we are sinners saved by grace, and followed Christ's direction to be fishers of men (Matt. 4:18-19), is a beautiful way to depart from this life.

Terminology

In French, larron is a rather old-fashioned word and not used as frequently these days as voleur. Definitions of the two terms overlap, just as the overlapping English words robber and a thief. 

Thieves and robbers are crooks, but calling this a Crook's Cross could be confused with a crozier; a shepherd's crook.

"Thief's" is not the easiest word to pronounce so we may prefer to call it a Bandit's Cross, Robber's Cross, Pirate's Cross or any other term to show we are not referring to the cross used to crucify Jesus.

Biblically we would call this a Transgressor's Cross or more accurately a Sinner's Cross.

Further artistic impressions

In addition to the skewed aspect of the cross described above, artists quite often distinguish the cross used to crucify Jesus as a Latin Cross and the other as a Forked Cross (also commonly known as a Thief's Cross) or a Tau Cross.

Each have their own meanings, but none as magnificent as the Meaning of the Cross.

Dismas was the first saint, and the only person to be made a saint by Jesus.

His sainthood is commemorated by the Catholic Church on 25 March.

Larron is used more when refering to a gangster, and voleur when referring to a criminal who works alone.

A robber typically takes something directly from a victim, whereas a thief typically steals secretly.

The secretive noun stealth comes from the verb to steal, just as health comes from the verb to heal.

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