What's Behind the Franciscans' Tau Symbol

Author Reveals Its Origin and Meaning for St. Francis

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PADUA, Italy, JULY 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- A major scholar on the Franciscans wrote a book on the meaning of the signature symbol of St. Francis of Assisi, the Tau.

Order of Friars Minor Father Damien Vorreux, who died in 1998, explained in this posthumously published work that this letter, the last of the Hebrew alphabet, and the Omega in the Greek, was very well known at the time of St. Francis, and was already used by the Semites, Greeks and Latins.

He heard, for example, Pope Innocent III open Lateran Council IV with an invocation to this symbol already present in the Old Testament, which for Christians was related directly to the cross and salvation.

In St. Francis’ time, devotion to the Tau was accompanied by devotion to the name of Jesus, which was incessantly repeated, and was also understood to mean conversion, explained Father Vorreux.

With this symbol, he wrote, «St. Francis expresses his devotion not only to the cross, but to the whole person and mission of Christ.»

The Tau can be seen in Assisi, on the door of the Pilgrims’ Oratory or in various places inside the basilica named after the saint, as well as above cells and other areas of Franciscan monasteries.

The book, which has been translated from French to Italian, is entitled «Tau, Franciscan Symbol: History, Theology and Iconography.» It is published by Messaggero de Padova.

Father Vorreux, who entered the Franciscan order after being in obligatory work service for the Vichy government and then escaping from a forced labor camp in Germany, lived in a monastery in Paris from 1975 until his death.

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