ANCHOR . While the anchor has had some currency in various cultures as a symbol relating to the sea and to virtues like constancy and hope, its religious significance became paramount only with the growth of Christianity. In fact, the anchor as we know it and as the object early Christians turned into a symbol did not appear until well into Roman times; the Greeks used an anchor that was essentially an arrangement of sandbags.
Both the appearance and the function of the anchor played a role in its development as a religious symbol. Early Christians saw in it an allegorical and disguised form of the cross. Its function became metaphorical in the New Testament in Hebrews 6:19: "We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner shrine behind the curtain where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf."
Signifying steadfastness and hope, the anchor became one of the commonest symbols in the catacombs and on early Christian jewelry and seal stones. It was also associated with other symbols, as, for example, in the anchor cross, which combined the two shapes to make one that showed the Christian's hope firmly joined to Christ.
The anchor also appeared with the letters alpha and omega to represent eternal hope, and with the fish to signify, again, hope in Christ. In combination with the dolphin, the anchor came to mean the Christian soul or the church guided by Christ. The speedy dolphin was represented with the anchor to illustrate Augustine's motto Festina lente ("Make haste slowly").
Another early, if odd, use of the symbol was to identify Clement of Rome, a church father and one of the earliest bishops of Rome. Legend relates that Clement's persecutors tied an anchor around his neck and tossed him into the sea. The prayers of his followers made the waters withdraw, revealing a small temple where his body was found. Clement was frequently portrayed with an anchor around his neck or beside him.
The anchor was popular as a symbol until the medieval period, at which time it largely disappeared. When it reappeared it was, for example, as a symbol of Nicholas of Myra, because of his patronage of sailors, and as the attribute of hope, one of the seven virtues in Renaissance art.
Other, more exotic, ideas grew up around the symbol in some forms of magic and mysticism. Evelyn Jobes (1961) describes the bottom of the anchor as a crescent moon (ark, boat, nave, vulva, yoni, or female principle), in which is placed the mast (lingam, phallus, or male principle), around which the serpent (fertility, life) entwines itself. With the crossbeam, the parts add up to the mystic number four, and the anchor thus also symbolizes the four quarters of the universe, as well as both the sun and the world's center. The entire symbol expresses the idea of androgyny and of the union that results in new life. Finally, Ad de Vries (1978) ascribes to Freud the concept of the anchor as a combination of the cross (the body of Christ rising) and the crescent (Mary), the whole representing life.
The anchor is included in almost any book of Christian symbols. An example is Signs and Symbols in Christian Art by George W. Ferguson (Oxford, 1954). More far-ranging interpretations can be found in the following: Dictionary of Mythology, Folklore and Symbols by Evelyn Jobes (Metuchen, N.J., 1961); Dictionary of Symbols and Imagery, rev. ed., by Ad de Vries (New York, 1978); and Dictionnaire des symboles by Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant (Paris, 1982).
Elaine Magalis (1987)
an·chor / ˈangkər/ • n. 1. a heavy object attached to a rope or chain and used to moor a vessel to the sea bottom, typically one having a metal shank with a ring at one end for the rope and a pair of curved and/or barbed flukes at the other. ∎ fig. a person or thing that provides stability or confidence in an otherwise uncertain situation: the European Community is the economic anchor of the New Europe. ∎ (in full anchor store) a store, e.g., a department store, that is the principal tenant of a mall or a shopping center. 2. an anchorman or anchorwoman, esp. in broadcasting or athletics. • v. [tr.] 1. moor (a ship) to the sea bottom with an anchor: the ship was anchored in the lee of the island| [intr.] we anchored in the harbor. ∎ secure firmly in position: with cords and pitons they anchored him to the rock. ∎ provide with a firm basis or foundation: it is important that policy be anchored to some acceptable theoretical basis. 2. to act or serve as an anchor for (a news program or sporting event). PHRASES: at anchor (of a ship) moored by means of an anchor. drop anchor (of a ship) let down the anchor and moor. weigh (or raise or heave) anchor (of a ship) take up the anchor when ready to depart.
A symbol of safety, so regarded because of its importance in navigation. The Christians, in using the anchor on funeral monuments, jewels, and rings as a symbol of hope in a future existence, gave a loftier signification to an already familiar sign. In early Christian thought, hope in the salvation assured by Christ was of paramount importance. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews is the first to connect the idea of hope with the symbol of the anchor: "We have hope set before us as an anchor of the soul, sure and firm" (Hebrew 6.19–20). clement of alexandria mentions its use on jewels and rings (Patrologia Graeca, ed. J. P. Migne 8:633). The anchor, appearing in the epitaphs of the catacombs and the cemeteries of SS. Priscilla, Domitilla, and Callistus during the second and third centuries, was an expression of confidence that those departed had arrived at the port of eternal peace. Seldom used as a symbol in medieval ornamentation, the anchor reappeared in the baroque period associated with the patrons of sailors, with ports, and particularly with representations of Pope St. clement i. In the sepulchral ornamentation of the late baroque and the classical periods, it reassumed its original Christian character as the symbol of hope in life eternal.
Bibliography: c. a. kennedy, "Early Christians and the Anchor," Biblical Archaeologist 38 (September–December 1975) 115–124.
[m. a. beckmann/eds.]
1. Rock anchors are long bolts or cables with one end grouted into a drill hole and with a plate and nut on the exposed end. These can carry considerable loads, although slow failure of the rock will lessen the support.
2. Soil anchors may be used in sediments where the material is strong enough to provide sufficient reaction to the load. Holes must be drilled and the anchor installed and grouted quickly, as soil around the hole may crumble and reduce the strength of the bond.
1. Misnomer for the arrow-head, dart, or tongue-like ornament alternating with the egg-like form enriching e.g. the ovolo moulding or the echinus of the Ionic capital.
2. Exposed head of a metal tie or anchor-beam preventing the bulging of walls, often associated with a circular plate, or S-, X-, or Y-shapes on the external face of the wall.
3. Attribute of Hope, later of Hope.
weigh anchor (of a ship) take up the anchor when ready to start sailing.
See also foul anchor.