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Methodist Cross (II)

The St. Peter's Cross is perhaps the most well known 'upside down' cross, but here we introduce another, which, by accident or design, has additional meaning. The plaque shown below is in a church, and if there are bats hanging in the belfry, they will appreciate this upside down view.



Methodist Church Cross

Church cross

Church cross

Church cross
Current orientation

Church cross
Original orientation

The meaning of the cross is no mystery, but in the cross shown on this page, there is mystery surrounding its intended orientation: should it point upwards? Or downwards?

(Click any photo to enlarge)

Church cross
Plaque in its current position; above the choir, behind the pulpit

Epworth Church

The brothers John and Charles Wesley lived with their father, the rector of Epworth Church in North Lincolnshire, England. Their evangelistic revival movement in the Anglican Church led to the foundation of the Methodist Church and the name 'Epworth' has since given its name to many Methodist institutions. One such church is the Epworth United Methodist Church in Matthews, Indiana, USA (www.matthewseumc.org/).

For many years there has been a small cross there, mounted on a plaque. A few years ago the church was refurbished and it was thought that the plaque might have been upside down. Therefore when re-fitting, it was rotated 180 degrees.

The question then arose as to what the symbolism of the cross might be. There is no writing on the plaque to indicate the intended orientation by the artist, so we are left to conjecture.

Interpretations

United Methodist
U. Meth

Chi-rho
Current

The current orientation of the plaque is similar to the emblem of the United Methodist Church: a cross and flame. This has been the official insignia of The United Methodist Church since 1968, when the Evangelical United Brethren joined the Methodist Church. The two tongues of the flame represent the union of these two denominations and this church is currently the third largest Christian denomination in the United States.

However, this plaque was there long before 1968 - they have been established in Matthews since 1901 - so it is not a copy of that emblem. (It could still represent a flame, of course.) The background shape of the plaque could represent a gothic arch or the wings of a dove. Both the Dove and Flames are commonly used to symbolise the Holy Spirit.

Chi-rho
Chi Rho

Chi-rho
Original

Looking now at it's original orientation, the cross is upside down, like the St. Peter's Cross. The curved line looks like a letter 'P' and could represent the Greek letter 'rho'. If we rotate the cross 45 degrees, we have a letter 'X' and that is the Greek letter 'chi'. The letters 'Chi' and 'Rho' are the first two letters of 'Christ', and therefore that cross forms a monogram of Jesus Christ. (See Chi Rho Cross)

Sailboat

The stylized version of the Chi-Rho makes it look a bit like a sailing boat. And the allegory of course is that the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ is as a vessel, to carry us across the stormy sea of life.

Sword

Bible

The Bible-shaped shield gives us another clue to the artists thoughts when the piece was made. The cross, with its 'P', looks a bit like the handle of a sword pointing downwards together with a warrior's shield. A sword in this position, indeed any fighting weapon in this downward position, implies that the fight is over. Through his sacrifice, Jesus conquered death.

Fertile imagination?

Whether these guesses are wildly off the mark doesn't really matter; the meaning of the cross is completely unchanged.

There are many fun things to see with inverted illustrations. An example of an 'ambigram' is the word 'up'. Rotate those two characters 180 degrees, and you see 'dn', the abbreviation for 'down'. Whilst our perception of the characters' representation might have changed, the actual lines of those characters have not altered form at all.1

Similarly with Jesus. Where some people might see Christianity as little more than an excuse to spoil ourselves at Christmas, that doesn't change the character of Jesus Christ at all.


1: For more fun with 'up', see Marriott Edgar's Up'ards