Almost all art in the early days expressed religious thoughts by means of symbols.
To communicate ideas by emblematical signs in this way has been the desire of man from the earliest times. It is a more concrete method of expression than that which can be conveyed by the picturing of realistic figures and scenes. Symbols were frequently introduced into tapestries and embroideries containing sacred figures, and the embroideress will find the study of Christian symbolism a very great help to her in her work. As a rule these signs and attributes are very simple and severe in form. The fylfot shown on Plate No. 1 is believed to be the oldest Aryan symbol. It originally signified their supreme god when used by them as a cross; the lateral flanges added to the ends of the cross gave it the optical indication of revolving, which is supposed to indicate the axial volution of the heavens round the Pole Star; later it was used as a benedictory sign or mark of good luck. It became a common emblem in all countries, for not only is it seen on the relics of the early races of mankind, but in Scandinavian, Celtic, and Anglo-Saxon work, on Roman altars and in our cathedrals.
Plate No. 1.
Egyptian Lotus In WATER.
FYuF°T. also called the Gammadion. (see 7' RocK.4
Cross Potent 2.
Cross Patee . Frequently Confunded With The Maltese-Cross
Latin Type Employed Ity. The. Lower Step Is Charity
The Middle Step Is Hope Upper Step Is Faith
The Egyptians used the zigzag to signify water. Many patterns are constructed upon zigzag lines in Polynesian ornament, and it is believed that it was thus used to interpret another meaning. In later times, as an ornament, it occupied a prominent place in Scandinavian decoration and in Romanesque architecture. On Plate No. 1 it is given in combination with the lotus. The lotus, symbolising new birth and resurrection, was also sacred as the type of coming plenty, as it appeared previous to the springing of the crops, and directly after the subsidence of the Nile. As a forerunner of their harvest, there was every reason for them to worship it. Perhaps next to the lotus in importance is the palm surrounded by the sacred horn, called the "tree of life." It was the date palm from which inebriating drink was first made by the Aryans. It is found in Babylonian, Persian, Indian, Greek, and Roman art. Its conventional form was changed as other plants, by fermentation, came to the front, containing what appeared to be the "spirit of life." The sacred horn or holy tree is believed to represent the tree of life spoken of as growing in Paradise.
The winged globe, so frequently used in Egyptian art, is symbolical of the sun, and the outspreading wings the overshadowing of Providence. Ancient Egyptian art was a symbolic language. The numerous emblems they used were, in themselves, perfect specimens of severe and beautiful design.
Our museums and cathedrals contain many examples of ecclesiastical needlework in which the expression of religious thought is revealed by symbols, and it is the duty of the modern embroideress to become acquainted with these masterpieces, especially if she is called upon to undertake church work. Not that she is advised merely to reproduce the designs, as they are not suited to modern requirements. The same principles can, however, be applied ; the chastened reserve, and those laws of fitness and limitations observed which make the design suitable for the highest purposes to which such embroideries can be devoted.
In Christian art the cross as a symbol of Christ is acknowledged to be equal in importance to His other symbol, the lamb, or the symbol of the Holy Ghost, the dove. In representations of the Trinity, where God the Father is depicted as a man and the Holy Spirit as a dove, Christ is at times imaged by the Cross alone.
The Latin cross represents the actual cross on which our Saviour suffered; and in its simple, unadorned shape is usually called the Calvary Cross.* The Greeks rather departed from the original cross, and made it more suitable in shape for ornamental purposes. When the Latin type was employed as the emblem of Christianity, it was frequently shown placed on three steps. The lowest step, which rests firmly upon the earth, and which will be seen is the largest, is Charity, the greatest of all Christian virtues; the middle step is Hope; and the upper is Faith, in which the cross is firmly embedded.
* See Plate No. 1 for illustrations of crosses.
The forms which the cross assumes are almost countless. Although nearly all based on the Greek and Latin types, the cross of St. Anthony in heraldry is termed the cross potent; we also get the Maltese cross, the cross patee, the cross botonee, the cross pommee, the cross moline, the cross fleurie, the cross patonce, the cross potent rebated, and the cross crosslet.