When most Christians believe that Jesus died on two piles shaped in form of a cross, the truth can be completely different. Early Christians left various accounts.
Greek and Latin words used in early Christian sources have an ambiguous meaning. The Greek word used in the New Testament xylon – means a living tree, wood or object made of wood. Another word stauros refers to the vertical bar; but in koine (Greek dialect) it means “cross”. On the other hand, Latin word crux meant not only “cross”.
Due to the method of attaching the transverse beam, the following crosses were distinguished:
- crux commissa – a cross in the form of the letter “T”;
- crux immissa seu capitata; – a standard cross known to us from churches;
- crux decussata or andreana – cross of Saint Andrew in the shape of the letter “X”.
Theodor Mommsen, in turn, considered the cross in the shape of the letter “Y” to be the earliest shape of the cross.
Archaeological findings, especially from the vicinity of Jerusalem (from 1968), dated to the first century CE, suggest that in the 1st century CE the “T” shaped cross was commonly used. This is also mentioned by Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria or Epistle of Barnabas (dated before 135 CE).
It is worth mentioning that the Roman Emperor Constantine I in the first half of the 4th century CE forbade crucifixion as a form of death penalty, as an expression of respect for the cross of Christ.