The papal cross or ferula is an emblem of the papal office. As a material cross, it was carried before the Roman pontiff in processions or was used by him as his pastoral staff.
In the past, this design of the cross was often used in ecclesiastical heraldry, as a distinctive mark of his office. It has three horizontal bars near the top, in diminishing order of length as the top is approached. It is thus analogous to the two-barred cross used in heraldry to indicate an archbishop, and seems to have been used precisely to indicate an ecclesiastical rank still higher than that of archbishop.
Symbolism connected with the papal powers have been attached to the three crossbars, similar to the symbolism attached, with greater historical foundation, to the three bands on the papal tiara. The crossbars have also been said to represent the three crosses on Calvary.
In modern times, the pastoral staff carried by the popes since Pope Paul VI is a contemporary single-barred crucifix, designed by the Italian artist Lello Scorzelli and carried in the same manner as a crozier. However, the cross bar is bent much like the paterissa carried by an Eastern Christian bishop. On 16th March 2008, at the Palm Sunday celebrations in St Peter's Square, Pope Benedict XVI used the Papal Cross that had been previously used by Popes Pius IX and Pius XII. He also used this Papal Cross subsequently during some of the Liturgical celebrations of the Easter Triduum in that year.
Various physical crosses have been called papal crosses because of their association with a pope. An example is the large white cross situated in Phoenix Park, Dublin, Ireland, generally spoken of as "the Papal Cross". It was erected for the visit of Pope John Paul II in September 1979. At this cross he held Mass for over a million people.