What does the slant mean?

(Puzzle 036)

What is the generally-accepted significance of a cross with just one crossbeam that slants?

Mystery cross

This cross was discovered on a gravestone by an investigator in France.

A fleur de lis cross with a circle made of poppies has a commonly accepted interpretation, but a single diagonal beam is less common.

A diagonal beam on a multi-beamed cross is not unusual. On those, the diagonal beam is either at the top (as a sign board) or the bottom (as a suppedaneum). There is no mystery to their meanings, but here we have just one crossbeam. What does it mean?

Well, our answer is on this page. But first, here are a few initial thoughts that for now, have been put back on the shelf.

  1. Photo © by J Telford
    (Click photo to enlarge)

    A Portate Cross?

    Portate Cross

    This is a possibility, but unlikely.

    A sloping cross, common on gravestones, is known as a Portate Cross. This is usually to suggest that the deceased has carried (French: portée) the cross and has now laid it to rest.

    But it's invariably the upright post that's leaning, rather than the crossbeam, which remains at right angles to the post.

  2. Compass points?

    Anything is possible.

    Looking at Google's satellite images, the layout of the cemetery's paths means that the upright post of the cross is pointing 18° northeast, and the crossbeam is pointing 48° northwest. Given that Google satellite images were not available in the XIXth century, 48° is close enough to ordinal northwest.

    If that was the intention, what could it mean?

    A northwesterly wind is called Mistral or Maestro, meaning 'master'. The head of the household for this particular grave was a stonemason. Could this have been his stonemason's mark?

    Pointing northwest

    Maybe, but the Mistral wind is only named as such in southeast France, so the cemetery's location in central France makes this possibility less likely. And if it was the stonemason's mark, it's more likely the angle would be 45° to the upright post, unless he changed it to match each commission.

  3. Photo © by J Telford
    (Click photo to enlarge)


    This cross was found on a grave slab in a cemetery in Pontlevoy village, Loir et Cher, central France.

    We know that two people are buried in the grave; a mother (d. 1875 aged 23), and her child (d. 1876 aged 17 months). As a stonemason, the father would have been familiar with symbols in cemeteries; for example, the broken column, a style popular in England from about 1815, denoting the burial a child or young person whose life was cut short.

    Being an artisan, it's more than reasonable to suspect the cross design is related to the father's pain and loss. The sloping crossbeam could have been his way of honouring his family with a Christian burial, yet tainted with a measure of revolt or damaged faith.

    All conjecture, and we'll never know for sure.

And so to the answer that we feel is the most likely – and happens to be the answer provided by J Telford, who kindly sent us the photos above.

We have no reason to believe that the mother in the grave was a thief, and yet unlikely as it may sound, that is the name given to this cross with a slanting beam; the Thief's Cross.

Why should such a negatively-named symbol be positioned over the body of a woman who died so tragically? Read Larron Cross for the short and simple explanation.

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