The Penal Crucifix

As we approach lent, I was wondering what  the strange symbols on the Penal Crucifix meant. From my research it appears that that the Penal Crucifix or cross originated in Ireland at the time when the Catholic religion was not allowed and was carried on in secret. As you can see there are many symbols on the Penal Crucifix and some have a wider meaning from the beginning of our Catholic faith.

As Catholics we know that the crucifix represents the death and resurrection of Jesus. On this crucifix, there are many symbols that surround the corpus of Jesus.

One that we are familiar with is the inscription “INRI”. This we ought to know is the Greek acronym IESVS · NAZARENVS · REX · IVDÆORVM, which translated into English is Jesus the Nazarene, King of the Jews.

Around Christ’s head are depicted a crown of thorns which represents the thorns placed on the head of Jesus.   

Above His left hand is a hammer, this signifies the tool used to crucify Him the cross. Under His left hand, there are a few small lines. These lines represent the cords used at the scourging of Jesus at the pillar.

Under his right hand the symbol depicts a chalice. The chalice can represent both the last Supper and the Eucharist we enjoy today through the body and blood of Christ today.

Next to the right leg of our crucified Lord there are five small lines. These depict the five wounds of Christ. These are the left and right hand, the left and right foot and his pierced side.

Alongside the left side of the body of Jesus, there is a number of almost square symbols. These we are told represent a ladder such as was used to remove Jesus from the crucifix and again it could also reference the ladder to get to heaven.

There is a spear on the left side, which represents the spear which pierced Our Lord’s side.

The rooster is an odd symbol but is a reference to the rooster (cock) that crowed 3 times as often as Peter denied Christ just as Christ foretold.  The bowl under the rooster is a bit of a unknown

On the reverse the first arrow like symbol actually spikes that represent the nails used to crucify Christ on the cross.

At the bottom of the crucifix is a bowl like symbol. This may signify the bowl for the washing of the feet by Christ at the last supper.


The Front of The Penal Crucifix
The Reverse side of the Penal Crucifix

We also have a decade rosary made using the Penal Crucifix which is a great way to remember what Lent means and to keep us busy with prayer

Decade Rosary with the Penal Crucifix