The Papal Cross is representative of the ultimate authority of the Roman Catholic Church. This emblem of ecclesiastical heraldry is specifically assigned to the Pope, who heads the Church. It is made of a staff that has three horizontal bars at the top, placed in an order of diminishing length. As it is the official symbol of the papacy, the use of Papal Cross for any purpose by any other church and organization has been strictly prohibited.
The Papal Cross is distinct from the Archiepiscopal Cross, which is a two-barred cross and is used to signify an archbishop. It is also not to be confused with the Cross of Lorraine that comprises of two horizontal bars, evenly spaced on a vertical bar. This is a heraldic cross that was granted to the original Knights Templar and carried by them to the Crusades. Relative to the Catholic Church, this equal-armed Cross Lorraine represents the office of the Cardinal.
The three bars of the Papal Cross is generally considered to be representative of the Trinity – the Father God, the son Jesus and the Holy Spirit. They are also believed to symbolize the realms that come under the Pope’s authority, namely the Church, the heaven and the world.
Some physical crosses have also come to be called ‘papal crosses’ on account of being associated with a pope. For instance, a 35-meter high white cross made of steel girders erected in Phoenix Park in Dublin, Ireland is popularly referred to as the Papal Cross. This is so because it was installed there on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit in 1979.
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