The cross is a familiar symbol to both religious and secular groups. But few people are familiar with the many myths and legends behind one of the earliest forms of this Christian symbol. The Cross of Tau or Tau Cross, named for the Greek letter T, is thought to have been the first cross used in Christianity, but its origins are believed to date back to the Egyptians. The Egyptian cross called an Ankh is a simple T-Cross mounted with an oval called the Ru.
In its long history, the Tau cross was also the symbol of the Roman God Mithras and the Greek God Attis. In Norse mythology, the hammer of Thor is seen as a Tau Cross. The Bull as the Astrological sign of Taurus gets its name from the Tau and Ru. Even the Druids used the Tau when venerating trees by scrawling the symbol into the bark of their sacred oaks. The Tau Cross was first alluded to in the Bible in the Old Testament book of Ezechiel.
As Christianity gained followers, the pagan symbols were converted into Christian ones. The Tau was used as the first cross of the followers of Christ and many believe that the cross of the Crucifixion was actually T-shaped, and many early Christians adopted the Tau as the symbol of their religious belief. St. Anthony Abbott (251-356), an Egyptian monk and one of the first Christian monastics used a crutch in the shape of a Tau. When he visited another monk, he would place the crutch outside of the cave, making it a symbol of communion with God. In 1095 the Antonines were founded by a French nobleman after his son was cured of a disease following a vision of St. Anthony instructing him to plant a Tau as an instrument of healing. As a result, Tau Crosses were used in amulets as a protection against disease in the Middle Ages. The most common reference of the Tau in Christianity is with the Franciscan Order of Saint Francis of Assisi who adopted it as his personal symbol of faith and used it as his signature.
Today, few Tau Crosses still remain. The most well known is the Tau Cross on Tory Island in County Donegal, Ireland. Tory’s mica slate cross stands 1.9 m high. It is situated by the West Town pier and is a lasting reminder of St. Colm Cille and the monastery he founded on the island in the sixth century. Island legends say that a Cromwellian soldier by the name of Aindreas na gCros hated crosses and tried to break Tory’s Tau with his sword. Miraculously the Tau would not break, but the marks of his sword are still discernable today. Because of this, Tory’s fishermen believe it to have powers of protection and pray to it before going out to sea.
In my young adult fantasy novel, Tory’s Tau is a symbol of the island’s mysterious past and the curse hanging over it. Arella Cline, the book’s main character, learns the means to breaking the island’s curse by discovering a Tau glyph on a map of the island in a mysterious book of prophecies. The Tau Cross becomes an important stop on her journey into the past, a journey she must take in order to return to the present. Island of Tory is due to be released in March 2012.