The Tau of St Francis

A Symbol of Spiritual Transformation for Pilgrims on the Via di Francesco

As you embark on your transformative journey along the Tuscan stages of the Via di Francesco, you will undoubtedly encounter a symbol rich in history and meaning: the Tau. 

Tau bracelet on pilgrim

Pilgrims and the Tau

Shaped like a T, the Tau is deeply connected to St. Francis of Assisi and has become a beloved emblem for pilgrims, regardless of their faith or background. 

Just as the shell is a symbol for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, the Tau serves as a powerful reminder of the spirit of pilgrimage on the Via di Francesco.

St Francis and the Tau

Around Assisi at the time of Frances, followers of St Anthony wore the Tau on their clothing while tending to lepers and the sick of the area. The Antonines regarded the Tau as a symbol of healing. 

St Francis admired their devotion, and he adopted the symbol to mark his own spiritual awakening. He was known to sign his letters with the Tau and paint the symbol on the walls of places he stayed.


Meaning of the Tau

This powerful symbol transcends religious boundaries, uniting us in our shared quest for spiritual growth, self-discovery, and connection with something greater.

Amongst ancient religions, the Tau represented one’s turning toward a life of goodness. 

For the Franciscan Order, the symbol reflects a devotion to living a life of simplicity, humility, and service to others. 

For Francis, the Tau symbolized conversion, hope, and the call to serve.

For some pilgrims, the Tau symbolizes the ongoing process of self-discovery, the path to spiritual awakening, or a bonding with the spirit of St Francis.

As you hit the trail, reflect on what the Tau represents for you, or allow its meaning to unfold for you in the perfect way.

The Three Knots

Tau necklace with three knots
Tau necklace with three-knot rope

In the Franciscan tradition, the Tau is typically adorned with a three-knot rope, symbolizing the three vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. 

This simple yet profound emblem reminds us to continually strive for personal transformation and service to others.

The Tau on the Trail

As you journey along the Via di Francesco, the Tau serves as a bridge, connecting pilgrims from all walks of life. 

You will find the Tau in various forms throughout your pilgrimage, marking the way for pilgrims.

Where to Obtain Your Tau

Many pilgrims choose to carry the symbol on a necklace or a patch on their backpack.

In Florence, you can discover it in shops near Santa Croce.

The Santuario della Verna bookshop also offers beautiful Tau crosses and other keepsakes to commemorate your journey.

Keep your eyes open when visiting churches along the Via di Francesco, as some offer Tau keepsakes along with cards describing saints and religious figures.

Embracing the Tau

As St. Francis once said, “Let us begin again.” 

With every step you take, allow the spirit of the Tau to inspire you, to challenge you, and to remind you of the goodness and love that permeate this sacred journey.