We had a donkey at church on Palm Sunday and since then there have been many conversations about Donkeys and whether they all have the marks of the cross on their backs. I decided to do some research to see what I could find.
Most, if not all, donkeys have a narrow strip of hair that runs down their backs and each of their shoulders in a darker shade than the rest of their coat. This naturally makes the shape of a cross.
Since donkeys have been used by mankind for over 5000 years with very little change, it seems likely that through this time they've always carried the cross markings.
There are a number of theories about why this might be, with the most evolutionarily sound being ... the cross is what remains of a stripey coat which would have been camouflage in their natural homes on the edge of deserts. Darwin noted the relative frequency of double shoulder stripes in donkeys.
The donkey is mentioned numerous times in the Old and New Testament and has a key role on Palm Sunday when a donkey was chosen by Jesus to be his route into Jerusalem Matthew 21:1-11. The fact that Jesus rode a donkey into Jerusalem fulfilled a prophecy spoken 500 years before that the Messiah would ride a donkey into Jerusalem" Matthew 21:5 and Zechariah 9:9.
From this came a legend of the donkey's cross. The little donkey that had been Jesus' mount on Palm Sunday, came to the hill of Calvary. Seeing the tragic event occurring there he wished with all his heart he had been able to carry the cross for Jesus as he was the proper one to carry heavy burdens. The donkey turned his back on the sight, but he could not leave because he wished to stay until all was over because of his love for Jesus. In reward for the loyal and humble love of the little donkey the Lord caused the shadow of the cross to fall across his back and left it there for the donkey to carry forevermore as a sign that the love of God, no matter how humble carries a reward for all to see. It's also told that the leg stripes were received from walking through the palm branches that were laid in it's path in honor of the burden the donkey was carrying.
One of the most fascinating facts I've found is that during the Middle Ages, Europeans used hairs from the cross on a donkey as folk remedies to cure illness. Around 1400 AD, one physician listed riding backwards on a donkey as a cure for scorpion stings.
So, do all donkeys have a cross on their back? Yes, although its not always easy to see. It's an evolutionary advantage and a blessing to us as a reminder of their gift to Jesus.