Around 2,000 years ago, a common way to a crucify people was to first plant a stipe (vertical post) into the ground. The victim was often then scourged and beaten savagely before being pushed to the ground on his or her back. The arms were then outstretched and bound or nailed to a patibulum (beam). Finally, the patibulum was hoisted up, with the victim, and fastened to a mortice in the stipe.
The most expedient way to attach the patibulum would be with rope, therefore the Rope Cross (sometimes called a Corded Cross or Cable Cross) reminds us of the brutal way that Jesus was crucified.
Mankind has a twisted imagination and over the years we have developed bizarre methods for killing fellow humans that annoy us. Stoning, crushing, poisoning, piercing, burning, electrocuting, drowning, asphyxiating... the list goes on1.
Crucifixion is perhaps one of the cruellest forms of death2. The victim must hang in pain that is excruciating (a word derived from 'crucifixion'); even more agonising if nails are used for the wrists and feet3.
The victim also suffers the humiliation of being naked, beaten and wracked4, whilst spectators jeer mockingly5 until death brings relief.
For the decorative Rope Cross, sometimes these are made entirely of cord, rope or cabling. (See Braided Cross)
Other Rope Crosses show ropes wound around the ends of the arms. This sanitizes the more popular belief that nails were used to attach Jesus to the cross. Even so, bound limbs would be less painful and keep the victim conscious for more prolonged torture.
Solomon illustrates the strength of the three-ply rope in Ecclesiastes6. Two strands are better than one, he explains, because they can support each other. And if a rope has a third strand, it is even stronger. (Indeed, a rope of three strands twisted together is stronger than the sum of three single strands7.)
Consider the analogy of friendship and marriage (and this is why, in our Alphabetical Index of crosses, the Friendship Cross brings you to this page). When two people are joined in love, if Christ is in their lives then like a three-ply cord, the marriage is strong. Conversely, untwist that cord, and the separate threads can easily snap. A marriage, alliance or friendship, not based upon God's laws and principles will not succeed8
Tying the knot
Cords and knots are used symbolically in wedding rituals around the world; as in the Philippines for example.
It is said that "Two's company; three's a crowd"9. Well, with personal relationships, we all know that sometimes things don't work out as we would wish. Unlike a tripod, just two pins joined together would wobble. But adding a third part stabilises and gives strength. This is why Jesus is so important in our personal relationships with others.
Marriage Takes Three
I once thought marriage took
Just Two to make a go,
But now I am convinced
It takes the Lord also.
And not one marriage fails
Where Christ is asked to enter
As lovers come together
With Jesus at the centre.
But marriage seldom thrives,
And homes are incomplete,
till He is welcomed there
To help avoid defeat.
In homes where Christ is first
It's obvious to see,
Those unions really work,
For marriage still takes three.
Most ropes happen to be made with three strands and hawser-laid (with a right-handed twist). Rope can be a useful piece of realia for teachers looking for a way to explain the Holy Trinity. With a length of rope coloured red, yellow and blue10 for example, the red can represent the blood shed by Jesus on the cross, the yellow can represent the fire of the Holy Spirit, and the blue can represent the majesty of God the Father.