Tibetan Buddhism has a holy umbrella to symbolize the spiritual preservation of 'Dharma' and protection of mankind from illness and other nasties. So why shouldn't we be surprised to find a holy umbrella in Christianity?
The Umbrella Cross appears more by accident rather by design.
An Umbrella Cross? Have these people at Seiyaku.com gone raving mad?
You know what it's like; you set off walking, notice big black threatening rain clouds, and have to make that critical decision: Do you go back home for your umbrella, or do you feel superior to nature and tell yourself, "No, it's not going to rain."
Nevertheless, you decide to go back home, get your trusty brolly, and set off on your walk again. Of course, the clouds thin out and it doesn't rain. But you feel smug with the knowledge that if you hadn't taken an umbrella, you would have got drenched.
It's rather odd that we have this fear of getting wet in the rain. It doesn't bother us to go swimming or take a shower; in fact we quite enjoy that experience. But we have this desperate need to have control of our lives, to the extent that WE decide when we get wet, not Mother Nature.
Two thousand years ago people were more relaxed about such things. Most people had more pressing things on their minds than not spoiling their hair style. They were far too busy protecting their livestock from wolves, getting the harvest in, and following the necessary magic rituals to protect their offspring from disease.
That was life.
Then along came this guy who started telling people that there was an even more important thing they should be taking care of. He told them that their very souls were in danger of eternal damnation unless they followed his teachings, love their neighbours as themselves, and things like that.
So they crucified him.
Some people at that time, however, understood what Jesus had been talking about, and believed it was in other people's interest to understand this also. They set about spreading the message around the world, using the cross as their logo. The Christian religion spread, along with its accessories such as the Church, its Bible, and its liturgical rituals such as celebrating Easter; the time of Jesus' sacrifice.
Easter is quite a complex celebration. Traditional preparations include 40 days of fasting (Lent), which is preceded by Ash Wednesday. The day before Ash Wednesday is a day of feasting, a bit like carbo-loading some marathon runners do before a big race. The day is variously known as Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Day or Fat Tuesday, which in French is Mardi Gras. This celebration was exported in the late 17th century to the French territories of the southern American States in places like Nouvelle-Orléans (New Orleans), where it has been refined to one of the world's most raucous carnivals.
New Orleans is famous for its jazz, which finds its way into all aspects of life. And death.
In a classic New Orleans jazz funeral procession, the family members of the deceased are the 'First Line' of mourners. These are followed by a jazz band, and bringing up the rear are the 'Second Line' mourners, the friends who come to pay their respects. These people help celebrate the life of the deceased through dancing that follows the burial. Their accessories include fans, handkerchiefs and black umbrellas, which have been carried to protect the mourners from the scorching sun.
Over time, these 'Second Line Umbrellas' have become essential paraphernalia at weddings, where the umbrellas are made of white lace with streamers, and at Mardi Gras carnivals, where all sorts of bright colours are seen.
The New Orleans Mardi Gras is in February when the temperature is not too hot (about 13°C/55°F) but the sunshine can be strong and revellers' parasols can be functional as well as decorative. Many are decorated with a cross, to remind people of the origin of the celebrations.
Whether it's a little 40 cm wide Second Line parasol or a 2-metre wide SUV type (designed for the golf course but increasing used on city streets to show people that my umbrella is bigger than your umbrella because I'm more important than you...) the construction is usually eight panels. Many are made with two colours and these inadvertently form a Maltese Cross.
Not enjoying the same sort of temperature as New Orleans, but another city with a sizeable downtrodden population is Glasgow, Scotland. In the district of Bridgeton Cross, a shelter was built in 1875 for homeless people and became affectionately known locally as the Brigton Cross Umbrella.
A Scottish joke says the man who invented the umbrella was a slow-witted Sassenach (Englishman). He decided to call it "brella", but hesitated. Over the years ummmm-brella has been shortened to today's more famiiar name.
Alternatively, and more likely, the name comes from the Italian ombrello, which in turn is from the Latin diminutive of umbra, meaning "shadow" or "shade" and from which we get the word "umbrage".
Rainy days are gloomy, so look out for those umbrellas that sport two different colours. They remind us of Christ's sacrifice. Then when the sun breaks through, look out for the rainbow; another sign of God's love.
The umbrella saves people from getting wet. The Christian cross saves people from spiritual death.