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Crenel Cross

This simple design provokes thought into some of the shameful realities of life

Crenel Cross

Crenel Cross
Crenel

Raguly Cross
Dovetail

Raguly Cross
Ragulee

The Crenel Cross, sometimes called an Embattled Cross (Fr: Croix Bretessée), is a heraldic cross and symbolises strength. Stylistic variations include the Dovetail Cross (see Dove Cross) and the Ragulee Cross (also Raguly, Ragged or Rugged Cross).

In a religious setting, it can be symbolise 'Church Militant', that is, the church here on earth as opposed to 'Church Triumphant' (the church in heaven), or in Roman Catholicism 'Church Suffering' (the church in Purgatory).

Gravestone
Gravestone in Rudna Glava, Serbia. Photo by Nenad Bačilović
(Click image to enlarge)

It is, however, mainly seen in heraldry. A possible exception is the late-19th century crenelled gravestone shown on the right. This was photographed in a Rudna Glava village in eastern Serbia and may have Vlach influence.

As far as we know there are no detailed cemetery records to indicate whether the deceased had a senior civic or military role, so we don't know if this crenelling is heraldic, religious or perhaps just the whim of the mason or the deceased's relatives. If you have information about this, please let us know.

Crenel (or crenelle) comes from the Latin crena, which means 'notch'. A similar word in English is 'cranny', as in 'nook and cranny'.

Crenel is an architectural term used to describe an indentation, particularly in a battlement you might see atop the turret of a medieval castle or fort. The complement (loosely speaking, the "opposite") of crenel is merlon. In other words, the gaps in a parapet are called crenels; the raised bits of wall between them are called merlons. For the Crenel Cross, understanding these different terms is important.

Great Wall of China
The 'Great Wall of China' has around 10 million crenels (and a similar number of tourists tramping over it every day). Was it really built by Balbus?

In battle, the defenders behind the battlements are protected from incoming missiles by merlons and they fire their arrows or cannon through the crenel. So when we refer to a Crenel Cross, we think 'attack'.

Attack and defence are opposites, but we often use the word 'defence' as a euphemism for war. If this cross was being invented today, we would no doubt use the euphemism Merlon Cross. We use strange language in warfare, and when you think about it, some of our choices of words are quite silly. For example, the oxymoron 'Humanitarian war'.

You can see more revolting and sly euphemisms here that desensitize mass killing, prevent shareholders from pulling their support away from the arms industry, and enable politicians and voters sleep at night.

In Norman England, noblemen could only include battlements in their buildings if a 'licence to crenellate' had been granted by the king or an authorised bishop. Today, local planning officers probably don't mind too much, but be warned; firing arrows or cannon from battlements might attract frowns from the police.

And if you fancy a puzzle, see if you can explain why battlements appear on this symbol.

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