We know form examples in the UK that the Boundary Cross, one of the terms which may be applied to its form, which is usually made up of ‘IXI’, representing a barricaded doorway between the door jambs (frame edges), appears on door furniture and ironmongery from around the 16th century onwards, and sometimes upon wooden heck posts by inglenook fireplaces. Its use only waned relatively recently in the 2nd half of the 20th century.
This is reinforced by the finding of examples of metal gate and door latches made in the late 1970s and 1980s created by local blacksmiths, which is also revealed in Timothy Easton’s article ‘Ritual Marks on Historic Timber, Weald & Downland Open Air Museum Journal, Spring 1999, page 26’, where a 20th century Suffolk blacksmith told him about them.
They are still being used upon traditional latches made by modern day companies, copying the design of those of the past, most likely without realising what the actual symbol represents. See: https://www.suffolklatchcompany.co.uk/collections/door-furniture-latches.
If we look at the form of the protective mark at its most basic level, we can see that the ‘X’ bars entry through the door from the outside. Imagine in the historic past, people trying to enter a leader’s, lord’s, King’s, Emperor’s tent, house, hall, castle, etc, but the two guards holding crossed staffs, spears, swords or halberds, bar entry to those they deem unfit to enter, or unblock/uncross the way of those they deem fit to enter. This is exactly what these symbols mean in the spiritual protection sense; the ‘X’ symbolically bars entry to those unwanted and malevolent spirits which may cause harm to the occupants, animal or human inside, or their detrimental effect on any object housed within.
The protective device is also known as the ‘butterfly cross’, and another possible interpretation was suggested by CJ Binding and LJ Wilson in their article, ‘Ritual Protection Marks in Wookey Hole and Long Hole, Somerset, 2010, UBSS Proceedings, Volume 25(1), pp. 47-73’, that its use stemmed from the runic alphabet, and the symbol for ‘D’, or ‘dagaz’, which is thought to mean a dawn, or the beginning of the day, and has solar attributes, signifying good luck, protection and the triumph of light over darkness.
In Ethiopia the following examples of the Boundary Cross were discovered:-
The following is a perfect example of a boundary cross barricading a window.
A Boundary Cross Window Barring Entry at Beta Masqal (Church of the Cross), 12th-14th Century AD, Lalibela
Window Lintel at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray
Door Lintel at Tcherqos Agabo Timber Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray
The central motif of a vertical line through a diagonal cross, is actually the representation of ‘I’ and ‘X’, the Greek Alphabet’s Iota and Chi, i.e. the first letter(s) of the two words of the name Iesus Christ, because the Greek Alphabet has no letter for ‘J’, so instead the ‘I’ is substituted.
This is much the same as the Chi Rho Symbol which represents Christ, which are the first two Greek Alphabet letters of Christ, i.e. ‘X’ for Ch, and ‘P’ for R.
This central carved motif therefore invokes the protection of Jesus Christ.
Central Muntin to Door at Debra Selam Mikael Timber Cave Church, 8th Century AD, Tigray
Four Boundary Crosses Inscribed Upon a Door at Makina Medhane Alam Cave Church, 12th/13th Century AD
Door Latch at Beta Giyorgis Rock-Hewn Church, 12th-13th Century AD, Lalibela
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Interestingly these examples were found on early and later medieval churches, making up a stone window and upon timber windows and doors, which is not usual for the UK, where they seldom appear on timber, but do sometimes appear upon door ironmongery. In some cases they appear in houses, sometimes on wooden heck posts by inglenook fireplaces, upon house door latches, or outbuildings, and usually they only survive from the 16th century onwards.
These examples from Ethiopia therefore suggest that their use was ancient, and stems far back in time than was originally envisaged.
After these examples were found on these Ethiopian churches, in January 2019, other ancient examples needed to be found, to see if in fact the Boundary Cross goes back even further, and if in fact it is Christian in origin, for if it is early Christian in origin, it opens up the possibility that it also has a holy spiritual aspect, and linked with the Cross of St Andrew, which he and other apostles were crucified upon, and the possibility that other well known ‘X’ Christian symbol, such as the Chi-Rho, may be represented by it. (It has even been suggested by a small group of Biblical historians, archaeological experts and medical experts in the recent decade that, Jesus may have actually been crucified upon a cross Saltire, with a pole in the middle with his title on top, in the actual shape of the Chi-Rho ‘XP’).
From searching the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, we find that the Saltire or Boundary Cross does in fact stem back in usage to pre-Christian times, and therefore its most basic interpretation, is the most likely, i.e. to bar entry.
The basic interpretation is especially true of many symbols and images upon religious edifices, because as we know, many pre-Reformation religious worshippers were illiterate, and this was most likely also thought the same of demonic entities, and the form of these symbols and images would need to be basically visible to them, in order for them to realise that the symbol barred them entry, or in the opposite sense, if it was a demon trap, a form of complicated geometric shapes, it would keep them busy trying to figure out the complicated endless puzzle forever, because they couldn’t understand it.
From the Database we find the following antiquities displaying the boundary cross in the form of ‘IXI’, thereby proving its pre-Christian origin:-
- 1. “KEY (LOCKING) Unique ID: NMS-D6C4D9: Incomplete Roman copper alloy and iron key dating to the period C. AD150-409. The openwork handle consists of two comma-shaped lobes with a moulded stem rising between them which exhibits an old break at the top. At the bottom it tapers into a rectangular socket, each face engraved with a saltire cross with a transverse groove above and below. The socket retains the corroded remains of the iron shank and terminates in an old break.”
- 2. “BROOCH: Unique ID: GLO-70B343: Copper alloy brooch of Colchester derivative, Polden Hill type. It has rearward facing lugs on either end of the wings that hold the pin axis bar, the spring is made of nine curls, the pin is missing. A rearwards facing hook at the top of the head holds the external cord of the spring. Small shoulders flank the head and a flanged collar surrounds the ends of the wings. The top of the bow is decorated with four recessed rectangular panels arrange in a line, the two large centre panels are divided by a cross saltire, while the top and bottom smaller panel have only half of the cross thereby creating a chevron pattern. Traces of blue enamel are present in one of the panels. The lower half of the bow is decorated with a double raised line running down the centre which terminates at the globular foot. The catch plate on the reverse is closed. Dated to circa AD 70-120.”
- 3. “BROOCH: Unique ID: SOM-2451B2: A fragmentary cast copper alloy T-shaped brooch of early Roman date. … The bow has a curved cross-section, shallowly concave on the back and almost flat on the front. It projects at a steep angle from the head initially, followed by a shallower angle beyond. It has been broken across the upper bow as a result of old damage with a diagonal break. On its upper surface the bow is decorated with an incised cross in saltire within the more shallowly angled panel. The sides of the upper bow are rebated. Dated to circa AD 75-150.”
- 4. “UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT: Unique ID: DEV-9DDAD3: A cast copper alloy implement, of unknown function and possibly Roman or Anglo-Saxon in date. At one end, the implement is square in shape with four sides; it gently tapers to a point at the other end, becoming circular, rather than square in section. There is an incised cross or saltire (‘X’) at the square end, possibly used as a stamp, or for decoration. The four sides are decorated with an incised cross, which is bordered by two horizontal lines above and below the cross. At the tapering end is a circular piercing, presumably through which string was passed in a loop in order to hang up the implement for safekeeping. This object has been seen by PAS finds advisors Sally Worrell and Kevin Leahy. Worrell suggests (pers comm, March 2013) that the item is not a Roman stylus or a stamp, but that the item ‘looks like a very exuberantly decorated Roman object’, and points out that saltires are known as a decorative method on Roman objects. Dated to circa AD 43-1066.”
- 5. “UNIDENTIFIED OBJECT: Unique ID: SF-B83BE1: An incomplete cast copper-alloy object of uncertain form, probably dating to the Roman period. Both ends are incomplete due to old breaks. One end (top?) is rectangular in form and section, flaring horizontally but narrowing in section (triangular in profile) towards the incomplete outer edge, which is flattened. The front and back faces have incised decoration comprising three evenly spaced cross saltires separated by double transverse grooves. There are possibly punched dots in the quadrants of the crosses and along each side of the object there is cross-hatching or diagonal hatching. At the flattened terminal there are faintly incised diagonal grooves running from the outer edge towards the top centre of the object, where there may perhaps have been a loop or similar attachment but this is now missing due to old breaks. Dated to circa AD 43-410.”
- 6. “LOCK: Unique ID: BH-F81B80: A copper-alloy lock-bolt of Roman date. The central part of the bolt consists of an openwork panel (damaged at one end) comprising two squares, each containing a saltire cross-shaped rib which creates four triangular apertures. Adjacent to one end of the openwork panel is a solid sub-rectangular panel of thinner section; at the opposite end the bottom edge of the openwork panel extends into a projecting arm. Dated to circa 1-410AD.”
- 7. “NAIL CLEANER: Unique ID: HAMP-7749D3: A worn and abraded fragment probably from a cast copper-alloy Roman toilet article. The fragment has a sub-trapezoidal shape and appears to be broken at both ends. It is decorated seemingly unifacially with an incised cross in saltire between two transverse incisions. The longer edges on this face also have diagonal nicks. Dated to circa AD 43-410.”
These historic objects in the majority may in fact just use the Saltire for decoration, however the inclusion of it in No. 1 and No. 6, a Key and a Lock respectively, being again associated with doors and hence where we see these ‘X’ protective symbols, on latches, etc, then we may strongly assume that these Roman artefacts include the Saltire for protection against malevolent and evil forces. You can just imagine if a dark force was able to acquire a key or power over a lock, it would then be able to gain entry easily to carry out its demonic mischief.
We also have to remember that the Romans until late in their Empire, were pagan and had a large polytheistic mythology, as well as believing fervently in superstitions, and therefore these two objects having rather definite protection marks from dark forces, may also imply that the other five objects including the Saltire are not in fact just decoration, but again possibly spiritual protection for the owner.
These objects prove the use of the Boundary Cross or whatever name we give it, in pre-Christian times, and again therefore infer the most basic interpretation of their function, i.e. to bar entry to any evil entity.
Unbelievably, an example of the Boundary Cross, or a series of them, actually completely outdates the Romans, by millennia, and may be found in Ireland, at Newgrange, in the Boyne Valley, County Meath; a prehistoric passage tomb built during the Neolithic period, around 3,200 BC.
Here they are carved from a large monolith stone lintel above the roofbox, which sits behind and above the main entrance, and allows sunlight to ritually enter on the Winter Solstice, illuminating the chamber inside.
Again, these boundary crosses must represent their apotropaic function, of barring entry to evil spirits, and as usual they are associated with an entrance, like the majority of them on much later buildings and door components, yet were carved as many of the other prehistoric apotropaic symbols, far far further into the past than ever envisaged by the apotropaic world.
These boundary crosses or series of Saltires, predate Stonehenge, and the Pyramids, which means they indicate to us that this apotropaic device was employed for at least 5,000+ years!
The Apotropaic Boundary Crosses on the Stone Roofbox Lintel at Newgrange, Ireland
(Reproduced with the kind permission of http://boynevalleytours.com,
These examples therefore explain why they have been found at an early date in Ethiopia, and on churches, because if the Roman Empire, as well as its usage in Ireland in the Neolithic, then this protective mark, we may assume is far more ancient than even the Romans, but with the size and power of the Roman Empire, and those cultures before it like, the Greek and Egyptian Empires, then this shows how the practice of employing this symbol may have travelled across the pre-Christian and later Christian world, and the possibility of it travelling via the prehistoric trading corridors too.
Even if we remember its’ most basic meaning as barring entry to those forces not wanted, we can imagine that even cultures without direct experience of the Roman Empire, its form would have easily led to them to using this symbol without it necessarily being inherited from outsiders. I mean in pre-Christian Ethiopia, what better image than that of a tribal leader having guards upon his building’s doorway, protecting it with crossed spears, barring entry to anyone or anything deemed unfit to enter, then you can easily imagine how easily this symbol was transposed into a spiritual protection symbol, and may in fact have grown organically in different world cultures, maybe like in Ireland, as well as it being spread by large conquering civilisations too.
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However, just because we take the most likely interpretation of the symbol as barring entry, it does not mean that in some examples the spiritual protection symbol didn’t mean something else. As we have seen above it can also represent St Andrew and other Apostles who were crucified upon the Saltire, and its other attributes of meaning the dawn, or the beginning of the day, and its’ therefore solar representation, as well as signifying good luck, protection and the triumph of light over darkness.
Another two symbols we may or may not be aware of which use an ‘X’ in their shape, and represent death, or a warning of death, are: the cross Saltire formed from the two long leg bones, as we see in the ‘Jolly Roger’ or pirate flag, below a skull; and the form in which people used to be buried, i.e. rather than having grasping hands in prayer over their chest, they were laid to rest with the forearms crossed over the chest. This was a practice employed by the Egyptians as well as later cultures, stemming right into the later Middle Ages. You only have to imagine a Pharaoh with his crossed forearms, with a crook and flail in each hand representing his power and authority, with both objects descended from the visage of the God of the Dead, mighty Osiris.
Another interesting connection to the protective symbol ‘IXI’, and its use to keep out demonic forces, is that the Latin word ‘eixir/EIXIR’ includes these letters to its central part, and the etymology of the word comes from the Latin ‘eixit’, which means ‘to quit’ or ‘exit’, and that word comes from the Latin ‘exeo’, which means ‘go out of, from’, which is a much similar meaning to that of the Greek word for protective marks, i.e. apotropaic, which is ‘to ward off’, or ‘to turn away’.
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Interestingly, the shape of the St Andrew’s cross or Saltire, was employed as part of the rituals of medieval church consecration. As part of the ritual painted or carved crosses were placed at each corner of a new church, and also placed on the stone altar tables, at each corner to form that same shape between.
Stone altar tables and their corner carved consecration crosses are rare in the UK, due to the Puritan iconoclasm, but examples of these with their consecration crosses intact, exist. Two such churches with intact cross consecrated stone altar tables are: St Michael’s Church at Garway, Herefordshire; and St Peter’s Church, at Peterchurch, also in Herefordshire.
The Catholic pre Reformation stone altar tables where they do exist, usually have four crosses to each corner, and a cross to their centre, and represent the Five Holy Wounds of the crucified Christ, i.e. the nail wounds on his hands and feet, as well as the lance which pierced his side. So therefore they represent the Crucifix, and again exist in a St Andrew’s cross or Saltire shape.
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Another possible form of the boundary cross appears on some medieval churches in Cheshire: at St Bertoline’s Church Tower in Barthomley; and at St Chad’s Tower in Wybunbury; both dating to the 15th century.
At these church towers carved high up on the stone blocks are decorative friezes, running around the perimeter of the square towers. They are different to the usual boundary cross, in that they have protrusions upon their lines, and actually may represent a series of square bounded trefoils (an ornamental design of three rounded lobes like a clover leaf). If they are in fact a decorative frieze of trefoil designs, then the four trefoils to each square represent 12 parts, and maybe the ‘X’ represents Christ, so even if not boundary crosses, they may also be interpreted as apotropaic, for they invoke Christ and his 12 disciples to protect these buildings.
Interestingly these two Cheshire church towers, at the corner of their ‘X’ shaped friezes, have the carved stone figure representative forms of the Four Evangelists or the writers of the four Gospels in the New Testament, i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, who are represented by a winged man, a winged lion, a winged ox, and a eagle, respectively. If we draw lines from each corner of the tower from these representations of the Four Evangelists, we get another hidden ‘X’.
Therefore these ‘X’ shaped friezes maybe an alternative form of the boundary cross, as well as being square decorative trefoil panels, and in either case they may act apotropaically.
The Decorative Frieze at St Bertoline’s Church Tower at Barthomley, 15th century, Cheshire
The Decorative Frieze at St Chad’s Tower at Wybunbury, 15th century, Cheshire
In total, nine churches in Cheshire are decorated with this distinctive band of criss-cross patterning, although at St Andrew’s Church, Tarvin, and St Michaels and All Angels Church, Middlewich, the decorative friezes are a variant from the above, and are actually made up of quatrefoil panels, and alternating quatrefoil and trefoil panels, respectively.
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