Anchor as an Early Christian Symbol

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson

Anchor, Catacomb of Priscilla, Rome
Anchor, IV sec. d.c., Catacomb of Priscilla, via Salaria Nova, Roma

The anchor was an early Christian symbol commonly found in the Roman catacombs as a symbol of the hope we have in Christ beyond this life, and is a fitting inscription for a Christian tomb. The symbol doubtless comes from this verse:

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek." (Hebrews 6:19-20)

The anchor is found in the first century cemetery of St. Domitilla, the second and third century epitaphs of the catacombs, and especially in the oldest parts of the cemeteries of Sts. Priscilla (about 70 examples in this cemetery alone), Domitilla, Calixtus, and the Coemetarium majus.


Christian Roman epitaph of Atimetus from the catacombs of St. Sebastian on the Via Appia, Rome. Inscription flanked by Christian symbols, an anchor and a fish.

 

Anchor with two fish, found in the catacombs"When the early Christians did represent the sign of the cross on their monuments, nearly all sepulchral in character, they felt obliged to disguise it in some artistic and symbolical way. One of the oldest of the symbols of the cross is the anchor. Originally a symbol of hope in general, the anchor takes on in this way a much higher meaning: that of hope based on the Cross of Christ. The similarity of the anchor to the cross made the former an admirable Christian symbol."  (Orazio Marucchi, "Archaeology of the Cross and Crucifix," Catholic Encyclopedia (1908), Vol. 4)

In some anchors, the "stock" at the top of the anchor reminded Christians of a cross.

Large iron anchors were found in the Mediterranean as early as the third century B.C. Ancient anchor.

Maurice M. Hassett, The Anchor (as Symbol), Catholic Encyclopedia (1907), vol. 1.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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