THE TAU CROSS
“The early biographies of Francis tell us that he used the TAU very often as an expression of his devotion to the Cross of Jesus. The TAU was also spoken of at the IV Lateran Council by Pope Innocent M.” It is recorded: “The person who bears on his forehead the sign of the TAU shows in his way of life the splendour of the Cross -, who bears the TAU has crucified the flesh with its vices and sins; who bears the TAU affirms by this: in nothing else do I wish to glory except in the Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ… Who bears the TAU will find mercy, in this, sign of a life converted and renewed in Christ… Therefore, be ye champions of the TAU and of the Cross!”
“Obedient to the call of the Pope, Francis signed himself with the TAU of penance. It would be his favorite symbol reminding him and his friars of their vocation to preach penance and conversion to Christ. This would be the Crusade of St. Francis, a crusade not of armed soldiers to recover Jerusalem, but a crusade of penitent men from Assisi to preach to everyone: ‘Do penance… be converted and bring forth fruits worthy of penance.'”
AN EXPLANATION OF THE TAU SYMBOL
This coat of arms has been the symbol of the Franciscan Order for many centuries. The image of the two crossed arms, each with a nail wound in the hand represent both Christ and St. Francis who received the Stigmata (the wounds of Christ) in his body two years before he died.
The cross behind the arms is actually the letter ‘T or ‘tau’ which is the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
Francis was very fond of the passage in the prophet Ezekiel (9:4) which refers to the faithful of God all being signed on the forehead with the letter ‘tau’. Francis often signed his letters with this symbol. Pope Innocent III used this image from the prophet Ezekiel for the theme of the opening homily of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215). The Tau became a symbol from the Council for spiritual renewal in the Church. It is thought that Francis was present at this council and used the Tau from that moment on.