Background:

The “Christian” or “Cross & Bible” Historic Door

battenThe earliest type of doors constructed in colonial America were almost always “batten” doors, which were quite basic. They were built with vertical wood planks, and were reinforced on the backside with a few horizontal boards that held everything together. These batten-style doors are sometimes also called “plank” doors, for obvious reason, or “frontier doors,” probably since they were used by settlers wherever America was still a frontier — whether 17th century Massachusetts or 19th century Kansas.

panel_door2However, during the Georgian period (the early 1700s in America), both exterior and interior doors began to evolve to a more stylized & practical design. This new “frame & panel” door was almost the only door style used during the Classical era (Georgian, Federal, Greek Revival), and despite a great amount of variation over the last 150 years, frame & panel doors are still, to this day, the most popular style of door.

A company specializing in reproductions of historic doors, appropriately enough named Historic Doors, points out that the shift to paneled doors included benefits far beyond style:

“Most important, it helped resolve the problem of seasonal expansion and contraction of wood. In frame-and-panel doors, two vertical ‘stiles’ ran the length of the door on either side, connected by horizontal ‘rails’. This frame was then filled in by ‘floating’ panels that fitted into grooves cut into the stiles and rails. The overall effect was a door that minimized the tendency to swell and shrink, thus remaining more air-tight.”

Frame & Panel doors varied a great deal. In Connecticut, I have seen dozens of variations — 2 panel, 5 panel, 6 panel, 3 panel, 8 panel. (The 3 paneled doors usually consist of one large panel, rather than the two smaller panels, on the top or bottom).

But the one configuration that seems to have taken on a bit of a legend is the 6 panel door that has come to be called a “Cross & Bible door” or “Christian door.” I cannot find exactly when this became a popular nickname for this particular style of 6 panel door, but the name seems to have stuck in the Northeast as well as the South.

panel_door2aIt is pretty easy to see why the door came to be named “Cross & Bible.” If you look at the photo of the 6 panel door on the left (I worked for hours on the artwork — only the best on Historic House Blog), you can easily see how the framing of the bottom 4 panels resembles a cross. And with perhaps a lot more imagination, you can visualize the 2 smaller panels at the top as the pages of an open Bible. Thus, the “Cross & Bible” or “Christian” door.

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UPDATE:  11/17/10 – OK, so almost 2 full years after originally writing this article, I have decided to add a “correct” illustration of a cross & bible door.  The comments below make it clear that the consensus strongly favors the cross on top, not the bottom.  After having this pointed out to me, it seemed fairly obvious to me, too.  The proportions for an actual crucifix-style cross make sense that way, but not so much with the cross on the bottom as I 6_panel_mahogany_interior_door1originally drew the illustration.  So without further delay, below I redeem myself with a new, skillfully crafted display of the cross & bible you can ‘see’ in a Cross & Bible door.

So, if you hadn’t heard of this name for this very common door style, perhaps you will notice Cross & Bible doors in your historic house listings in the future. This certainly is a fun story to share with both sellers and potential buyers of an historic home that has “Christian doors.”

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38 Comments

  1. by fred palmer, on 02.20.09 @ 1:40 PM

     

    “cross & bible”door – Freemasons constructed these doors to provide new immigrants the location of a ‘safe’ house. Many early immigrants fled religious persecution. Sorry, cannot provide an expert opinion; my knowledge comes from family folklore, my roots being in Massachusetts.

  2. by hhmadmin, on 02.20.09 @ 3:17 PM

     

    Interesting . . . I had never heard that one before. Thank you for sharing some of your family folklore!

  3. by Chris, on 07.26.09 @ 2:02 PM

     

    I think you got it wrong- the cross is up top, the bible on the bottom. At least, that is how I see it.

  4. by Kristin, on 09.07.09 @ 2:24 PM

     

    Chris: that is how I see it too! i’ve always noticed the cross up top and thats actually how i found this page! i was searching to see if anyone saw the same! :D

  5. by Michael of Historic House Blog, on 09.08.09 @ 5:28 PM

     

    WOW . . . That is how I see it, too! And I wrote the blog post! (I am Michael from HHB) I think I have always been influenced to see the cross on the bottom because it is larger, while the Bible (a book) should be smaller. But now that I browse photos of 6 panel doors all over the internet, there is no doubt that the top portion of the door bears the cross (pun intended). The proportions are correct, versus the bottom, which usually is more of a “+”. Thanks for pointing that out.

  6. by Allen R. Coggins, on 10.03.09 @ 12:11 PM

     

    As a former interpretive naturalist and later a professional tour guide, I have not only pointed this out to countless people on tours, but alto to other appreciative tour guides. When my wife and I travel, we almost always take local tours to acquaint ourselves with new people, places, things and evens. And besides, I can write the entire trip off as a tax deduction since I am gathering information and inspiration toward perfecting my own enhanced tour delivery skills. It never ceases to amaze me how a EUREKA smile comes over faces of people when they suddenly see the symbolism. It makes architectural sense, but also symbolic sense and yes, I too think the cross is on the top and the bible on the bottom. I can’t cite a historical reference that “proves” the “Christian Door Theory,” but coincidence? I think not . . .

  7. by Judy, on 10.17.09 @ 11:05 PM

     

    I just know that in our family the top two panel form the cross. My daughter has disability and we need a 1/2 to keep her out of the kitchen and my mother would not let my father cut the top small panel off because that would cut off the cross. The house that grew up in had a solid oak front door and at Easter of every spring my mom would hang a wreath on the center of the cross. We always thought she just make this up but it is really true. I wonder if other faiths have door to let people know that it was safe to talk of their faith. I live in the northern mid-west and know many of the stories of the under-ground railroad safe houses, but not this about my own faith.

    Judy

  8. by Matt, on 11.07.09 @ 9:14 PM

     

    I am glad to hear that the myth of the classic Christian door depicting the cross and open bible is a fun story to tell potential buyers of old homes.

    Here is another one for you. The reason them ole timers built massive fireplace stacks had nothing to do with thermal mass. It was because they did not know how to count when cooking the bricks and ended up with too many.
    Rather than pay to have them hauled off to the municipal dump, they just stuck em in there…

  9. by Did Jesus Have The Weirdest Torso Ever? « Just Another Pretty Farce, on 11.16.09 @ 12:51 PM

     

    [...] of the woman’s carpentry and thought “what is a cross and bible door?” so I looked it up on the internet. Turns out this is why they’re called “Cross and Bible”–thank you, Historic [...]

  10. by Janet Bowersox, on 11.22.09 @ 7:49 PM

     

    I am in agreement with Chris and Michael regarding the Cross being on the top and the Bible on the bottom. Every door in our house is of this style and I had not heard of the “Cross and Bible” until reading the “Outlander” series of books. It is referred to in one of the volumes, which one I just can’t remember.

    As A Christian, it gives me a whole new perspective each time I look at all our doors!
    Thanks for sharing the historical information regarding this style of door.
    Janet

  11. by A Meowing Veteran » VWOM Blog, on 01.02.10 @ 5:59 PM

     

    [...] just noticed how the dress hanging on the “cross and bible” door creates a weird image. Or maybe I need a break from the computer. Next thing you know [...]

  12. by Susanne, on 01.09.10 @ 10:49 PM

     

    A few years ago, I was on a tour of the Brandywine Battlefield in Chadds Ford, PA, and I believe remembering that the guide indicated the door was of Quaker origin, that the cross was at the top (as others have indicated) and that the bottom two panels represented the Old and New Testaments.

  13. by Sue, on 01.18.10 @ 9:16 AM

     

    Cross at the top.

  14. by rockie janto, on 02.07.10 @ 2:10 PM

     

    Central upstate New York. Have been trying to date construction of our house. Have two doors of the Cross And Book design.Definitely Cross at top Book at bottom. From maps I have researched our house on a hill
    was one of a very few in the area around the mid 1700′s.

  15. by shara, on 10.27.10 @ 7:11 PM

     

    I have always known the cross and bible doors to be of quaker origin. they are called cross and bible because the cross is on top and the bible on bottom, otherwise they would be called bible and plus sign doors.

  16. by AL Wellman, on 12.19.10 @ 12:57 PM

     

    I grew up in a an old New England connected farm in southern Maine. The building was on maps produced in 1800, so was presumably built in the 18th century. From interior framing, one could determine construction occurred in stages. The carriage house was oldest, then the kitchen, pantry, and mud room built around a large brick oven supported by an 8-foot square brick arch in the cellar. There were two built-in iron cauldrons in the mud room possibly used for soup or to manufacture soap. Two more stages of downstairs living areas and upstairs bedrooms extended away from the carriage house. The oldest bedroom had apparently been used by the proprietor when the home served as a stage stop with boarders utilizing the other bedrooms. The oldest bedroom had three 6-panel doors leading to the hallway with boarders’ bedrooms, a stairway down to the kitchen, and a closet. All remaining doors in the house were 4-panel doors. Old residents of the town referred to the cross formed by muntins above the middle rail as a “witch’s cross” believed to prevent witches from crossing the threshold, and presumably protecting room occupants from the terrors of the night — even those originating in the closet.

  17. by Pete, on 12.30.10 @ 11:26 AM

     

    I guess this means I should change out my six panel doors for something more agnostic. Love how house builders assume how the owner is going to be Christian.

  18. by Kevin, on 04.17.11 @ 7:44 PM

     

    We refinish Cross and Bible door and build them from scratch as well. Our homes in Charleston SC have many historic examples of these doors south of Calhoun street which dates to the 1680′s. Cross on top – bible on bottom.

  19. by Paul, on 11.02.11 @ 2:48 AM

     

    I was lying in bed around mid-night thinking about my despicable sin (Lev27-30)and noticed the door had a cross at the top, 35 years old and never heard it till now. Thank you Lord for always showing up when I need you and for having a funny way of using things to shine your light, for instance a search lead me to a blog about doors and that blog turned into the truth about doors..

    Very honorable to leave the original diagram for reference. Thanks for sharing Michael.

  20. by ron, on 12.27.11 @ 11:07 AM

     

    What about the four panel door where the cross is inverted. Is this a house of Satan?

  21. by Michael, on 12.27.11 @ 4:06 PM

     

    Ha! I guess that must be the case!

  22. by Graham, on 01.02.12 @ 5:20 AM

     

    As a Jew living in the US, a Christian country, I have nothing but admiration for those responsible for bringing a Christian significance to the most standard design for residential doors.

    What I do not understand is why Christians in Christian dominated countries persist in using the names of pagan gods within the names by which they call the days of the week and months of the year. The least they could do would be to rename their Sabbath day by changing one letter, making it Sonday.

    I do confess, that because I learned to recognise the ‘Cross and Book’ doors many years ago, when my home was remodeled recently, I chose doors of a different design.

  23. by Bill, on 01.12.12 @ 11:49 AM

     

    Our recent-vintage (1977) house in what was once a heavily Quaker area of southern Ontario (Prince Edward County) has several of these as entry doors. But there’s another symbol in its design all the posters have missed — the two candles and flames flanking the cross. So it’s really a cross, book and candle door.

  24. by Michael, on 01.12.12 @ 6:47 PM

     

    Ahh…..I see. So you’re saying the two small squares on the “shoulders” of the cross would be the “flames” of the candles? And the actual candles are the vertical rectangles on either side of the cross’s post? I can see that. But the other revelation (no pun intended) in your comment is that there was a heavy Quaker population in Ontario. Didn’t know that.

  25. by Margie, on 03.03.12 @ 4:19 AM

     

    I was out this evening noticedd the door to the office was a Christian door. The people next to me had never heard the story. When in Hawaii (1983), we toured a missionary’s house. The guide said the door was made by a Christian carpenter: six
    panels. Top section is the Cross and bottom represents the tablets of the 10 Commandments. A few years ago, I heard the interpreation that the left is side is the
    Old Testament and the right side is the New Testament. The people liked the story and
    I came home and found this interesting blog about historic houses! Thanks!

  26. by Michael, on 03.03.12 @ 9:50 AM

     

    Hi Margie,

    Thanks for visiting the blog! Yes, when people see a Cross & Bible door for the first time, it’s a real “a-hah” moment! It’s a fun conversation piece, for sure. This blog posting continues to be one of the more popular on the site, and I continue to hear different theories on the origin of this design & the meaning — if any. It’s pretty fun!

    -Michael

  27. by Mark Marks, on 03.04.12 @ 12:23 PM

     

    It is funny to think of all the atheist that have the cross and book doors.
    Seriously, though, it is a “picture” of the Passover, instead of blood of animals you have the symbol of Christ’s place where His blood was shed. Hence it is a symbol of true believers that will have death passed by them when Chrsit returns or signify those who will be raptured.
    It is a beautiful door and is great how even non Christ believing people liked the look of the door or how they thought it may help them spiritually. It also shows how little we know of history of faithful people and what they went thru in their time period.
    I was told one time that the reason people had a nail in the back of a door was from when slaves agreed to willingly continue working for their masters. The salve would drive a nail thru their ear into a door. We have them as coat racks but has anyone else heard this before
    Thank you for this nice blog. Great to keep building traditions going an helping the next generation to learn them.

  28. by Leslee Eastwood, on 03.10.12 @ 5:09 PM

     

    My parents were born in Johnstown, NY (1916 + 1918). According to them, this is a Cross and Bible door, cross on top, bible on bottom. This is not a myth. My mother’s heritage goes back to at least the early 1700′s. It may be the Quaker’s used the door, but my mother’s heritage was Dutch Reformed. The door shows the “scripture alone” theology of the protestant reformation. THe colonists were bible centered CHrist believers and sought to live here seeking Christ first. People who say this is a myth are buying into a lie, are lying, or are misinformed.

  29. by Leslee Eastwood, on 03.10.12 @ 5:41 PM

     

    In addition to the note regarding the replacement of CHrist’s blood shed on the cross for the blood of the lamb placed on the door frames at the passover in Egypt, the door also states visually Deutoronomy 6:9 ” Write these on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates.”(meaning the commandments of the Lord) and also Joshua 24:15 “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”

  30. by Marilyn from NY, on 03.20.12 @ 8:08 AM

     

    I live in a Senior Citizen Building and we just got the apartments remodeled. The new doors to our bedroom and bathroom are the Cross and Bible doors. Being a Christian-I like them. I remember these doors from back when I was a child. Thank you for having the history of the doors.

  31. by Peter Joel Harrison / Author, on 01.21.13 @ 11:18 AM

     

    For three years now I have been completing a book for Bauer & Dean titled American Doors. What I have found interesting is that the pannel door was in use in the 17th century here in America more than we first thought. Some examples are the 1690′s House Ridge Stone New York,the Tile House, New Castle, Delaware and the Yeocomic Church Kinsale,Virginia. There are 14 others illustrated in the book.

  32. by Michael, on 02.05.13 @ 10:00 PM

     

    Hi Peter! How interesting! I live just a few minutes from New Castle, DE. Unfortunately, the Tile House didn’t survive, so I can’t see it in person. I’ll keep an eye out for your book!

    -Michael @HHB

  33. by Teresa, on 02.07.13 @ 12:06 AM

     

    This is amazing. I had just said the other day Lord keep me near the cross.After seeing this I counted I have 12 doors in my house like this and my front door has the cross and my back door has the bottom opened book.Lord I feel really safe.
    After living here 6 years I never knew.
    I had this house built,now I know it was a blessing from the Lord.

  34. by Karl Frank, on 02.15.13 @ 2:07 AM

     

    What’s your point? It’s a man-made door with man-made influence.

  35. by Laurie Hostetler, on 03.02.13 @ 7:27 PM

     

    I have a Queen Anne Victorian Manor that has many doors with the Cross and the open Bible. They also have the Ten Commandments, the Trinity and the circle of Eternal Life. I know there is still more symbolism but don’t know what it is, and would be most grateful if any of you know more than I know.

    We have four large pocket doors that have all these symbols on both sides and in different woods that match the room they face. Two parlors are cherry, and other rooms are butternut, white oak, red oak and ash. The doors all have these symbols on both sides, but when the doors are closed,the wood will match the room they face. I’m curious to know why they used different woods in different rooms. I like it very much, but feel there was probably more purpose than for esthetics.

  36. by Michael@HHB, on 03.04.13 @ 10:44 AM

     

    Hi Laurie,

    Those doors sound really cool! I don’t know anything further about the symbolism, but I’d love to see pictures of the doors?

    Michael

  37. by John, on 03.29.13 @ 7:39 AM

     

    Just found your website this morning, but I heard this explanation as a kid on an historic home tour in the early 1960′s. The door was called a Christian door with the cross at the top and an open Bible at the bottom. Very simple, and I have them in my home now although the builder called them colonial doors and did not know the symbolism until I explained it to him.

  38. by Carrie, on 04.04.13 @ 8:11 PM

     

    We were discussing this very subject in Church on Sunday. Take a look at the back $2 Bill. There are 3 crosses in the background of the signing of the Decleration of Independence. These three crosses are the result of 3 – 6 panel doors. I do not believe this to be an accident, but the symbol that our nation was founded under God.

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