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Glossary: Forms and Topics

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Christ on the cross as seen in Shroud of Turin
based on Turin Shroud
Composite, Brooklyn, NY
20th Century
14 inches

How Christ appears in religious art is often based on the tradition of images that were created miraculously and "not by human hands" (Acheiropoitos). The term appears in Paul’s speech on the unknown god in Athens that shrines and images created by man do not contain god (Acts 17:24-31). These miraculous images include the impression formed when a cloth touches the face of Christ, the Mandylion, a gift to heal King Abgar, and the Veronica, formed when a woman offers Christ a cloth to wipe his face when he falls on the way to Golgotha; the entire body of Christ on a burial shroud, the Shroud of Turin ; and a carved Christ on the cross, the Volto Santo crucifix. Portraits were also believed to have been painted by St. Luke. According to the story, after finishing a portrait of Mary, he began painting one of Christ and fell asleep. While he slept, angels arrived and completed the painting. Less well known is the Oviedo cloth, the linen cloth wrapped around the head of Christ at death, but there is very little image to the relic. The importance of these images, revered and much copied in both the East and the West, is as a direct connection to the historical Christ and that Christ intended the image to be made.

Belting (1994), 56; Guscin, 22-32.
Agnus Dei on cross
Wooden Trinity cross
Lamb of God as Christ
Hand as God
Dove as Holy Spirit
20th Century
10 inches

Agnus Dei

The Agnus Dei, the Lamb of God, symbolizes the sacrifice and the victory of Christ. The image of the lamb follows the words of John the Baptist who announces that Jesus is the Lamb of God (John 1:29). His comparison is based on the Old Testament prophecy in Isaiah 53:6-7 and Jeremiah 11:19, where the lamb is a metaphor for the suffering servant. In John 19:14, Christ is crucified on the day of preparation for Passover, when the paschal ("passover") lambs were sacrificed. In iconography, the lamb appears in early Christianity at the foot of the cross and then moves up to the center. There are a several different types of images of the lamb to represent Christ. One, reclining as a sacrifice, usually with the cross banner of victory. Two, standing triumphant giving the saving blood into a chalice. Three, appearing as the fantastic animal in Revelations. In 692, the Council in Constantinople decreed that the use of the lamb as a symbol of Christ should be replaced by a human figure. However, the image continued to be used in the West. Lambs were one of the sacrificial animals in many cultures. This idea carried over into the mass. The meaning of "host" in Latin is hostia, meaning a sacrificial animal. In the Eastern Orthodox church, the unconsecrated (and leavened) bread is called "the lamb."

Laliberte, 34; Martin, 27; Robertson, 13; Weizmann (1982), 416.
Altar cross, Nickel, Germany, 19th century
Altar crucifix
Nickel, Germany
19th Century
Passion symbols on back
12 inches

Altar Cross
Placing a cross on the altar along with candles and the host was not practiced consistently in the East or West until the second millenium. According to C.E. Pocknee, the Catholic church did not require a crucifix on the altar until the 18th century. A crucifix had been increasingly used in the Western church after the Eucharist is viewed as the embodiment of Christ in the 13th century. Together, the cross and the host created a real and visual presence of Christ at the altar. After 1265, the Eucharist is raised by the priest to emphasize the visual aspect of the transubstantion. By the Renaissance, paintings of the crucifixion were often placed in the sacristy of the Catholic Church, where vestments and liturgical instruments were stored. Some cross scholars have placed the use of a crucifix on the altar to the 6th century, when the Council of Tours declared that the Eucharist should be placed underneath the cross on the altar. Pocknee observes that this is a misunderstanding and that this simply said that the parts of the Eucharist should be lined up in the shape of a cross. Pocknee notes that very few reproductions of altars in art up until baroque period are shown with a crucifix. Crosses affixed to staffs were a part of the procession of worship, carried beside candles and the Evangelium (Gospels). These were inserted in a holder at the back of the altar, hung on a wall behind the altar table, or placed near the altar. Tradtionally, five consecration crosses were carved on stone altars, representing the five wounds of Christ. Stone altars were standard in the Church, having replaced wood. Later, wood altars were reintroduced, and metal altars were used as well. Protestant traditions did not place a cross or crucifix on the altar, with the exception of the Lutheran Church.

Bowen, 153; Murray,8-10; Pocknee,71-77.
pilgrim souvenir ampullae
Souvenir ampullae
Tin Replica, England
20th Century
2 inches

Some of the earliest crucifixion scenes are found on ampullae, small souvenirs of a pilgrimage that contained either earth from the holy site or oil that burned in lamps over a relic. Examples from the 6th century are part of the collection at the Monza cathedral in Italy. In the crucifixion scene, just the head of a bearded Christ is shown above a floriated cross. The thieves are shown on either side in a cruciform position. Two figures kneel on either side of the cross. A tomb scene is shown underneath. A PDF article by Gary Vikan on Byzantine Pilgrimage Art provides illustrations and much additional information. In medieval times, a variety of inexpensive pins (crosses, images of Mary and saints, attributes such as shells) were sold to pilgrims, which were affixed to their hat. Lead ampullae containing water were also distributed at pilgrimage sites known for holy wells or springs. At one of the most famous sites in England, water from the well at Canterbury was believed to contain blood from the martyrdom of Thomas Beckett and have healing powers. The example here is a replica (sealed with water) of a medieval ampullae on display at Salisbury Cathedral, England.

Heath, 112-113.
anchor cross
Anchor cross
US Naval Academy
Metal and glass
20th Century
3 inches

The anchor sign is a symbol of hope. With the horizontal bar at the top, it becomes an anchor cross. The image is considered one of the veiled or disguised symbols, dissimulata, used by Christians during the early centuries to secretly indicate their affiliation. According to Charles A. Kennedy, there are 35 different anchor images and anchor crosses in the catacombs, usually combined with fish, palms, or birds, all of which indicate the promise of a heavenly afterlife. When the anchor is found as a mark on a tomb, Kennedy believes the use of the anchor sign inserted within the inscriptions is based on the similarity between the Greek word for anchor, "ankura," and the Greek phrase en kurio ("in the Lord"), meaning that "the Christian dead are sealed with the name of the Lord; they are in the Lord, under his protection and sharing his resurrection glory." As a protective sign, the anchor cross was believed to prevent a ship from sinking in a storm and has been popular with those who live near the sea. Sometimes it is combined as a crucifix.

Kennedy, 115-123.
Egyptian ankh
Bronze, Egypt
20th Century
8 inches

One of the Egyptian hieroglyphs, the ankh is a sign that means life or life giving forces. Origins of the shape may be its similarities to the shape of a sandal or a combination of male and female symbols. Prior to Christianity, the sign is combined with figures and gestures to represent life forces in different aspects, as air, water, food, plants, and sex. The symbol is often found in early Coptic art and represents the Tree of Life. In appearance, it is like a man with outstretched arms. The Coptic Church accepted the ankh as a Christian symbol as early as the fourth century. In a number of murals and carvings from the 4th to the 9th century, the ankh is shown together with a Greek cross and a Chi Rho, representing the merging of meanings. In heraldry, the ankh is the crux ansata, relating to how the ankh is often held in the hand by Egyptian figures (Latin, ansa, "handles").

Cannuyer, 46-47; Wilkinson, 168-69.
Peru passion cross
Passion cross
Ceramic, Peru
20th Century
12 inches

Arma Christi, Arms of Christ
The instruments of the passion are often placed on crosses. These may include the ladder, crown of thorns, hammer, nails, spear, dice, scourge, rod and sponge, column where scourged, robe, cock for Peter's denial, and pincers for removing the nails. Sometimes other symbols are used, such as the chalice, Veronica or Mandylion, and the sacred heart. Arma Christi is a term of heraldry, a reference to the instruments used by Christ to defeat satan. Prints with these reminders of Christ suffering were especially popular in the 16th century. Rather than include all the symbols, specific instruments were often selected, sometimes for specific reasons. Certain instruments were popular in different cultures. In New Spain, instruments that caused blood to flow seem most typical, as blood is sacred to the indigenous cultures. In Russia, the lance and the sponge are prominent on their calvary crosses, as in this birch, laser cut example.

Metford, 34, 128; Murray, 32.
Armenian cross on church door
Armenian cross
Detail, Commemorative cover, Argentina

Armenia was the first country to accept Christianity (321) and recently celebrated its 1700 anniversary. Ethiopia followed around 330. Theodosius I decreed Christianity the offical religion of the Roman Empire in 380. The typical Armenian cross is an interlacing pattern that may have influenced Celtic crosses. Early Christian art applied the interlaced forms and vine and floral morif used in Greek and Roman pastoral designs to cross images. Rather than a plain sign, most early crosses are adorned with decorative forms to represent the hope of paradise.
Atrio Cross
During the discovery of the Americas, explorers planted a cross to claim the territory for their regent and the church and to mark new settlements. Cortes for example erected crosses in important villages as he moved through Mexico in the early 16th century. When friars established missions in Mexico, a cross was initially placed at the center of the atrio, the future open courtyard where worship would be held outside. In consecrating the areas, native temples were destroyed and any sacred stones and statues broken. Some of these crosses were extremely tall. A cross at the atrio of San Francisco (Mexico) was 200 feet tall. Attracting lightning became a problem with the tall crosses. As a result, the friars announced that Christ was crucified on a cross that was not tall. The wood crosses were placed on stone bases and then were replaced with shorter stone crosses, usually the height of a man, although a few were as tall as 20 feet. A number of these stone crosses still survive. The carving has some variations but often have instruments of passion such as a crown of thorns at the center and an image of dripping blood where the nails would be. The body of Christ is rarely carved on these crosses. At the most, the head of Christ would be carved at the center. However, there is one surviving cross with the body of Christ at Mani, which has been moved to inside the church. Stone and wood crosses were set up all over towns and outside private homes until the decision was made to limit their display to the Church.

McAndrew, 247-254.
Canterbury cross
Canterbury cross
Brass replica
original ca. 9th century

Canterbury Cross
A Greek cross (alisee pattee) with an unusual square center boss and anvil shaped arms. The cross was discovered under George's Street near the Canterbury Cathedral during the construction of a new drainage system in 1867. Believed to have been lost in the 9th century, in shape the brooch is similar to other well known crosses from the Saxon period, the Ixworth cross and St. Cuhbert's cross. While these are individually worked gold and cloisonne, the Canterbury cross is cast gold colored bronze of undetermined origin and has vine scroll and triquetra markings similar to objects and manuscripts from this time. After its discovery, the cross brooch (the pin has since been lost) was duplicated and copies sold as a souvenir. The location of discovery in Roman rather than Anglo Saxon Britain placed it as a connection to Latin Christianity, a connection that the Anglican church promotes. In 1899, the cross was selected to surmount the Martyrs Memorial in Kent, further popularizing its form as an Anglican symbol. Much simpler than the Oxford Martyrs Memorial designed by George Scott in 1841, the memorial also commemorated Protestants martyred under Queen Mary's reign in the 16th century. Beginning in the 1930's, copies of the Canterbury cross as wall stones were placed in Anglican cathedrals around the world. An example is this picture from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The cross has been presented on several occasions to the pope as a gift of interfaith cooperation. The Anglican Community designated a compass rose as their symbol in 1988. Originially designed by Canon Edward West, New York, the selected design is by Giles Bloomfield and includes a St. George cross as the center and the motto in Greek, "The truth shall set you free" (John 8:32).

Caravaca relic cross
Caravaca cross
Bronze, Italy
20th Century
5 inches

Caravaca Cross
The Caravaca cross with double cross bar, body of Christ, and two angels is one of the most popular forms in Mexico and Spain. Franciscan missionaries brought the cross to the new world. In 1943, when the burial crypt of Father Serra (1713-1784), the Franciscan founder of the California missions, was opened, a Caravaca style relic cross was found. The cross is now on display at the Carmel Mission. One version of the legend of the origin of the Caravaca cross is as follows. When the Moors captured their prisoners they determined whether they had any particular skill, and if the skill was worthwhile their life would be spared. One day they captured a priest and asked him what tools he needed to show his trade. He asked for a table, three linen cloths, two candles, a cup, bread, wine, and a crucifix. He was provided with everything except for the crucifix. Without the crucifix, he could not perform his trade. On the verge of being put to death, two angels arrived carrying a cross. They held it over the table while the priest said mass and his life was spared. The cross was attributed to the patriarch of Jerusalem and included a piece of the True Cross. Another version has the cross appearing while the priest was taken to be executed. The Moorish lord converted, and the priest was saved. The townspeople of Caravaca, Spain shaped a replica of the cross out of metal and provided space for relics to be inserted. A Festival of the Holy Cross is held there every May. Not all crosses include the angels on the side.

Celtic cross
Killamery High Cross
Stone, Ireland
20th Century
Replica, 14 inches
Actual, 12 feet

Celtic cross
A Celtic cross places a circle around the arms of a Latin cross. A cross within a circle or cross with multiple rays like spokes from a wheel is an emblem of the sun and is found on many stone carvings and objects prior to Christianity. The sun cross became the Celtic cross, uniting Christ with the luminous and cosmic power of the sun. Today, there are 60 to 70 remaining Irish High Crosses.The average height is over 10 feet. A few (Monasterboice) are as tall as 22 feet. Including all the British Isles, about 300 high cross monuments remain out of the several thousand. Many were destroyed during anti-Catholic periods. The large stone crosses developed from different influences, Egyptian and Armenian as well as Celtic. Biblical and local scenes were carved on the fairly soft (mostly sandstone) stone crosses. These crosses are generally found on or near monastic sites. Irish High crosses were used to mark boundaries, for gatherings and instruction, and for prayer. Some crosses request a prayer for the person who donated the cross. Originally, like illuminated manuscripts, the crosses were most likely brightly painted.

Allen, 131; Henry, 13-14; Richardson, 21; Streit, 114.
Chi Rho sign
Chi Rho sign
Micromosaic pectoral cross, Rome
20th Century
5 inches

Chi Rho
The Greek letter Χ combined with the letter Ρ represents the first two letters of Christ (ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ) and is the most common monogram of Christ. The sign was an abbreviation of chreston, "auspicious," used by scribes to mark a good passage in a papyri. The sign is often combined with the Greek letters for Alpha and Omega to indicate Christ as the beginning and the ending.In early Christian uses, the sign is found on oil lamp handles, glass gold plates, various utensils (spoons for the host, for instance), and marked or carved in the catacombs. It is one of the most frequently found symbols on early Christian rings.

Finaldi, 22; Fox, 616.

coin with jewelled cross
Gold solidus 420-422
Theodosius II
Victory holding jeweled cross staff

Church of the Holy Sepulchre
The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was built in the early fourth century and enclosed the traditional location of the tomb and Golgotha, the crucifixion site of Christ. Practices developed in Jerusalem, especially surrounding the passion, spread to other parts of Christianity. Theodosius II placed a jeweled cross on Golgotha in 420 in response to a miraculous happening in Jerusalem in 419. Pilgrims there saw Christ in the sky and crosses appeared on their clothing. A reproduction of this cross held by victory appears on his coinage shortly thereafter. The jeweled cross is a prominent part of early Christian iconography. During the excavation of the site for the construction of the church, it was believed that the True cross was found. By the late 4th century, pilgrims reported that the church displayed a large relic of the True Cross on Good Friday. During the Persian conquest of Jerusalem, in which this church was leveled, Peter Brown writes that the relic was taken and given to the Nestorian Christian community. Heraclius, a Byzantine emperor, defeated the persians and retrieved the cross (he also celebrated Christmas with the Nestorians) and delivered it to Jerusalem. Later. the piece in Jerusalem was moved to Constantinople in 635 for safe keeping. However, when the Crusaders arrived in the 12th century, they found a piece of the relic that they used to lead their armies until it was lost in one of their defeats to Salidin in 1187. The church had been leveled in 1009 and rebuilt by the Crusaders.

Brown, 178; Cotsonis, 5; Grierson, 142; Murray, 218-221.

Varieties of crosses

A cross is the sign of Christianity, a rememberance of the crucifixion of Christ. As a symbol, the cross represents many meanings. The intersecting lines mark a center, from which a radiance or life itself flows outward. The cross of Christ, like the tree of life, became the center of the world. The two crossing lines create the meeting of two unique, often contradictory principles, like the meeting of heaven and earth or God and man. In a strict sense, a Christian cross is without the figure of Christ, showing that Christ has risen or that Christ is the cross. Prior to Christianity, the equal armed Greek cross is the form found in most cultures. Christianity uses all forms of the cross but places special importance on the Latin cross, where the cross piece is higher on the vertical axis, so that the cross resembles the figure of a man.

Mexican passion cross with crown
Passion cross
Silver, Mexico
20th century
5 inches

Crown of Thorns
The crown of thorns is one of the instruments of Christ’s passion. In iconography, the use of the crown of thorns on Christ becomes widespread in western art after the 13th century when relics arrived in France. St. Louis, King of France, built the Ste. Chapelle in Paris in 1248 to receive a piece of the thorn along with part of the True Cross, both purchased for a very large sum from King Baldwin II of Constantinople. A part of the relic was saved during the French Revolution and is now in Notre Dame in Paris. The relic appears more a crown of rushes than a crown of thorns. Joan Cruz reports that the relic has been identified as part of a large thorny bush that still grows around Jerusalem, called Zizyphus Spine (spina) Christi, although there are other thorny plants that could have been used as well. The crown appears on passion crosses and on prints of the passion and is generally placed at the center, as in this example, or may be inserted on the cross.

Cruz, 35-36; Murrary, 125; Pocknee, 48, 62, 65.
Crucifix by Merida
Clay and wood, Peru
Edilberto Merida, 20th century
14 inches

Crucified People
In the 20th century, liberation theology in Latin America identified the suffering of Christ with the suffering of the crucified people in the third world. The images created tie in with the view of Christ as the suffering servant from Isaiah 53:2-3 (NJB)
Without beauty, without majesty (we saw him),
no looks to attract our eyes;
a thing despised and rejected by men,
a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering,
a man to make people screen their faces;
This is expressed by Archbishop Romero (as cited by Sobrino), "In Christ we meet the type of liberator, the man who is so identified with the people that biblical exegetes can no longer distinguish whether the Servant of Yahweh proclaimed by Isaiah is the suffering people or Christ come to redeem us." The crucifix here is made by Edilberto Merida, a Peruvian artist, whose work illustrates liberation theology. He says, "I think that my art’s style should be called indigenous expressionism: I show the reality, often terrible, of the people of the Andes." Striking and unforgettable, his images draw from Inca traditional figures and some of the small silver colonial crucifixes that show a similar posture of suffering with oversized hands and feet.

Sobrino, 160; Lore, 1.
Indonesian Crucifix
Wood crucifix
20th Century
14 inches
More examples

Often the terms cross and crucifix are used to describe the same image: the figure of Christ on the cross. In the earliest images, Christ is shown as triumphant with arms outstretched and eyes open. The usual interpretation is that this shows the resurrection of Christ. An alternative view is that early artists and craftsmen were unsure how to represent Christ on the cross and therefore showed Christ as still alive. Beginning in the 9th century, Christ began to be depicted as dead with eyes closed, an image that confirmed Christ's humanity. The East and West developed this image in two different directions. The West more and more emphasized the human suffering of Christ. The East developed an image that showed Christ as the incarnation of God. The Eastern church established a set iconography in which each element of a scene represents a theological position and that tends to vary only in small degrees. As this view is the deification of Christ, his body appears without great suffering. The Orthodox also did not use 3-dimensional art, which they associated with idolatry. In the West, the Catholic tradition embraced a wide variation of forms of Christ on the cross. Some images reflected a greater emphasis on realism as well as an increased devotion to the crucified Christ. Protestants, with the exception of Lutherans, treated the crucifix as a Catholic symbol and either did not use a cross or crucifix or used just a plain cross. Click slide show to see a few of the many variations.

Varieties of crucfixion
Varieties of Crucifixion
Dutch copper engraving
17th century
13 x 8 inches

Crucifixion: Capital Punishment
The Roman hierarchy of capital punishment was decapitation, burning, and then crucifixion. If an arena was available, another alternative form of death sentence was being thrown to wild beasts. Crucifixion was used for political crimes and against slaves, provincials, and those who were not Roman citizens. Romans adapted the use of crucifixion as a capital punishment from the Persians. The numbers can be staggering. Nearly 6000 slaves were crucified with Spartacus (71 BCE). The Jewish historian Josephus reports large scale crucifixions in Judea, up to 500 a day during a siege of Jerusalem, and in the summer of 4 BCE, 2000 Judeans were crucified. Even as a show of power, there are few extant images of crucifixion prior to its use as an image in Christianity. Kyle reports that one of the acts of Constantine was to replace the cross with a furca, a forked instrument used to lift and strangle the criminal. The extent of the prohibition against crucifixion by Constantine is questioned by other scholars. Sloyan writes that Constantine prohibited breaking the legs of the crucified but crucifixion apparently continued until outlawed in the Code of Theodosius (438). Although many people were crucified, few remains of a crucified person have been uncovered, most likely due to being left on the cross to decay. In one skeleto n that was found a nail was inserted through the heel into the cross. The person appears to have been nailed with knees together and bent as if squatting. The presence of a footrest seems unlikly. The print here shows Christ, St. Andrew, and St. Peter crucified in different ways.

Encyclopedia Judaica, 1134; Hengel, 51-63; Kyle, 11, 53; Merbeck, 202; Sloyan, 125.
Ethiopian pendant with crucifixion scene
Pendant Icon
with Mary and John
20th Century
5 inches

Crucifixion scene
A crucifixion scene shows the historical event and includes one or more persons, most often Mary and John the Evangelist as witnesses. Basic scenes represent the versions presented in the Gospels and may include other information from apocryphal accounts. Other figures include Mary Magdalene and Martha (sister of Lazarus), the good and bad thief, Stephaton and Longinus, and Roman soldiers. The sun and the moon are often in the sky on either side of Christ and indicate the cosmic importance of the event. The walls of Jerusalem may be inserted in the background. By the Renaissance, many paintings of the crucifixion greatly increased the number of participants. By the Catholic Reformation, scenes of activity, such as the Raising or the Descent from the cross, became popular. A crucifixion scene sculptured in the round is called a Calvary, as in this station from St. Anne de Beaupre in Quebec. Devotional scenes unrelated to the narrative event appear as the results of visions by various saints or religious people, such as Bernard of Clairveaux, where the saint may be shown drinking the blood of Christ from his side, or as with many saints, embracing Christ as if present during the Descent of the Cross. Visions such as those by St. Bridget of Sweden (1303-1373) and Anne Catherine Emmerich (1774-1824), an Augustinian nun from Germany, added more details to the passion story, which became part of the iconography.

Bronze Icon, Savior The Almighty , 19th century
Savior The Almighty
Brass Enamel Icon, Russia
19th century
6 inches

Cruciform nimbus
The cruciform halo appeared early in Christian iconography as a visual reminder of the instrument of his death. In the Orthodox tradition, the Greek letters ΟΩΝ, each inserted into a ray to signify the incarnation of God in man. The combined meaning is "the one who is." The phrase occurs when God appears to Moses in the burning bush. "And God said to Moses, ’I am who I am.‘" Ex 3:14 (NJB) A halo or nimbus may appear around other persons in crucifixion scenes. These designate the following: circle, saint; square, a person still alive, such as the donor; triangle, God the Father or the Trinity; hexagonal, a symbolic figure, such as one of the Seven Virtues. One of the engraved gems showing a stylized crucifixion scene from the second or third century shows a cruciform nimbus. In Orthodox art, Christ always has a halo with an engraved cross. Western art has a number of variations, from a similar gold circle to a ring of gold to rays of light. Cavarnos traces the theological use of the halo in part to Mathew 13:43: "The righteous shall shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Halos were adapted from Hellenistic and Roman practices to separate holy personages (including emperors) from mortals.

Cavarnos, 30-32; Metford, 182; Meyendorf, 243; Murray, 224-225; Sloyan, 124.
Spanish Jeweled cross
Gold cross with semi-precious stones
20th century
14 inches

Crux gemmata
Gold and precious stones were used on crosses to represent the glory of God. Theodosius II placed a jeweled cross on Golgotha around 420. One of the most famous crosses is the Crux Vaticana donated by the emperor Justin II in the sith century, which has hardstones on one side with a piece of the True cross at center (the container is a 19th century replacement) and a gold reposse on the other side with an Agnus Dei at the center. The influence of cross styles from Palestine and Byzantium spread throughout the Christian world. The example here is a jeweled cross from Spain created to capture light and represent the hope of paradise. There were several variations of the crux gemmata. In some cases there were five stones on the cross, representing the five wounds of Christ, others had 13, for Christ and the 12 disciples. Similar crosses with chains hung from a votive crown in a church.

Lopez, 55-59.
Doubting Thomas
Doubting Thomas
Detail, German Woodcut
4 x 6 inches

Crux Invicta, Cross of Victory
Images of Christ often show him holding a crux invicta, a cross of victory. This may appear in the early passion scenes with his carrying on his shoulder a relatively small cross, as on the ivory box in the British Museum. In later iconography, either as a child or after his resurrection, he is shown with a cross staff just as most Christian martyrs are shown in art with a palm. Another sign is Christ holding a cross banner of victory.

St. Dismas
St. Dismas
Ceramic, United States
20th century
15 inches

Dismas, Dysmas
According to Luke, one of the thieves crucified with Christ recognizes the innocence of Christ and asks to be remembered by him in his kingdom. Christ responds, "Today you will be with me in paradise." LK 23:43 (NJB) The good thief, generally to the right of Christ, is named Dismas in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemis. A legend of the Gospel of the Infancy of the Saviour relates that a group of robbers descended upon Jesus and his family as they fled Egypt. In this account, the two thieves have different names, Titus and Dumachus. Titus senses that this family is different and should not be robbed. He prevents the robbery by providing the other thief with 40 pieces of gold. Mary praises him and Jesus says that he will be crucified with the two thieves in 30 years in Jerusalem. Dismis is the patron saint for prisoners.

Metford, 84.
Postcard, Ruthwell Cross
Ruthwell Cross
Postcard, Dumfries, Scotland
early 20th century

Dream of the Rood
Almost as famous as the Irish High Crosses are the Ruthwell and Bewcastle crosses in Scotland. The Ruthwell cross is carved with mostly New Testament scenes and runic inscriptions, including The Dream of the Rood, an Anglo-Saxon heroic poem with the cross of Christ as the main character. Here are a few lines from a translation by Jonathan A. Glenn. The rood is speaking:
The young hero stripped himself— strong and stout-minded. He mounted high gallows,
bold before many, when he would loose mankind.
lines 39-41
Unlike Celtic crosses, the Ruthwell cross does not have a ring and represents a Northumbrian perspective. The cross was carved around the 8th century and is over 17 feet tall. In the 1600s, the cross was pulled down and partially destroyed. A century later, the cross was moved inside the church and then further restored in the 19th century by the priest at the church. The cross sits in a four feet deep pit. Like the Irish High Cross, it has been extensively studied.

Murray, 124-125
Print of Queen Dagmir relic cross
Queen Dagmar relic cross
Print of Facsimile
Original, 12th century
3 inches

Beginning in the fourth century, pieces of the True Cross were embedded in gold or inserted into a relic cross, called in Greek, enkolpion, "on the breast," a general term for any small, personal reliquary. Among the earliest reports are a eulogy by Gregory of Nyssa for his sister in 379. She wore an iron cross and an iron ring, which contained a fragment of the true cross. These were worn on a chain close to her heart. John Chrysostom (347-407), bishop of Constantinople, writes that "both men and women had relics of the cross enclosed in gold and wore them around the neck." Other relics were also included in these small crosses, which normally had images on both sides. The Dagmar cross shown here is welded together and is one of the most beautiful examples of an enkolpion. Replicas of this particular cross became popular in the 19th century. In 1863, King Frederick VII of Denmark presented a copy of the cross on a diamond necklace to his daughter Alexandra upon her marriage to the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), creating a demand for a copy of the cross. Inside this Facsimile Cross he placed a piece of silk on which King Cnut’s head rested in his shrine, a piece of True Cross, and a small parchment naming the silk relic.

Drijvers, 91-92; Stephens, 9.
wood Portuguese cross with carved symbols of evangelists
Carved, inlay wood cross
19th century
19 inches

The symbols of the four evangelists are someimes placed on crosses. These are John, an eagle; Luke, a winged ox; Mathew, a winged man with a book; and Mark, a winged lion. The basis for the symbols are from Ezekiel 1:4-10 and Revelations 4:6-7. Following a tradition from Byzantium, the evangelists were usually placed on the reverse side of two-sided crosses along with Mary.

Metford, 96.
Ex Voto
Ex Voto
Paint on Tin
California, 1975
12 inches

Ex Voto
The practice of requesting help or giving thanks and making ex votos is ancient. Ex voto essentially means "from a vow." Painted images are placed in a sanctuary or pilgrimage site to give thanks for a miracle. The act provides a public display of the miracle performed. In Mexico, these paintings are generally on tin and have been especially popular for several centuries. The pictures record the event with the person included. The intercessory figure is occasionally Christ on the cross but usually one of the saints. In Mexico, the most frequent figure is the Virgin of Guadalupe. In the paintings, an inscription gives thanks for the miracle and includes the date. Many of the events are about regaining health or surviving brushes with death. While the tradition is reported to be fading, the practices continue as exemplified by a recent book that celebrates the artistry of the Roque family. The practice of using ex votos in the form of images of limbs or body parts (the Spanish milagras) to request help was discouraged by the Church in the 6th century. Freedberg reports that vigils or acts of charity were proposed instead. Often the ex votos had been hung on sacred trees, which were cut down to further discourage the practice. Paintings giving thanks emerge during the Renaissance. In the example here from southern California, a farmer gives thanks for the cure of his cattle.

Freedberg, 136-160, Roque, 9-16; Zarur, 69-77.
anchor cross
Fish (IXOYE) cross
20th century
3 inches

The sign of the fish is one of the most frequent images used by early Christians. The gospels present many stories with fish and fishermen. Fish are associated with the water of baptism and with the last supper. The Greek word is an acrostic (the first letters of a series of words spell a word) that stands for Christ. In Greek, IXOYE, meaning fish, forms the five letters of the initials of Jesus/Christ/of God/the Son/Savior. The acrostic was used by the fourth century, if not earlier. Tradition records that during the early years of persecution the sign of the fish is used by Christians to identify each other by tracing the sign in the sand or dirt. Other similar stories are that an image of a fish on walls is used to indicate the direction to concealed worship places for visitors and that when a fish sign was shown outside a house, the pagan meaning was a funeral banquet and the Christian meaning was that the Lords Supper would be held that night. Some scholars (Jenson) question whether this sign really was used for cryptic communication. Occasionally, the image of the fish appears on crosses as in this example taken from an image in the Calixtus catacombs. Today, an outline of a fish serves as an auto emblem and a profession of faith.

Jenson, 22, 50-51; McGee, 39; Rest, 9.
Majstang with flag
20th century
12 inches

Flags and Banners Many Euopean states and countries either feature a cross or have featured a cross in the past, a practice that originated with the crusades. The use carried over as a form of crux invicta. A white banner with a red cross is carried by Christ in resurrection images to show victory over evil and death, similar to the banner carried by St. George in his defeat of dragons. Use of flags traveled to the West, probably from China. Flags are found with the Roman banner standard (vexillium). A similar use is found with the armies of Islam, who either acquired the practice from contact with India or Byzantium. These banners were used for identification purposes and as signals. The initial crusaders used a red cloth cross to mark their commitment to Pope Urban III. Cloth with identifying marks were assumed as part of heraldry. Some of the origins of particular forms were maritime, as with the Union Jack. The Union Jack first combined the flags of England and Scotland and later added Ireland. The St. George flag is a red cross on a white background and was used by English in the crusades in 1189. The Scottish legend is much earlier from the 9th century. King Angus saw a white cross in the form of a saltire against the blue sky and rode to victory against the Saxons. St. Patrick’s cross of Ireland is in a similar saltire form and was added in 1801. Scandinavian countries all use a similar cross with different color combinations based on the Danneborg ("cloth of Danes"), now the Danish national flag. Legend has the flag falling from the sky in 1219 as a sign of victory for King Valdemar II in a battle against Estonia. The white cross stands for the holy cause of Christianity and the red background for victory. The example here is the Swedish flag on top of a souvenir maypole, majstang.

anchor cross
Fleur de Lis cross
20th century
2 inches

Fleur de Lis
A fleur de lis ("flower of the lily") is a stylized lily whose origins are most likely from Egypt. In Christian meanings, the fleur de lis represents the Trinity because of the three-fold separation. Similar to an Annunciation lily, the sign also can represent the Virgin Mary, although by the late middle ages the rose was also associated with Mary. Another association is from Song of Solomen 2:1: "I am the Rose of Sharon, I am the lily of the valleys." The use of a fleur de lis to add meaning or embellish the arms of crosses, occurs as part of the application of many different graphic devices to crosses with the emergence of heraldry in the 12th century. There are several origin stories for its association with the French monarchy. First, an angel presented a golden lily to Clovis I (481-511) as a symbol for his baptism as a Christian. Pastoureau elaborates that the angel told him to scrape off the three frogs on his shield and replace them with three fleur de lis. Second, during a desperate retreat from the Visigoths, Clovis I noticed water lilies growing on the Rhine River, meaning it was shallow enough to cross. His army was able to retreat successfully. Another explanation bases the origins to the irises that grow along the banks of the River Lys.

Hinkle, 1-31; Metford, 100; Pastoureau, 98-101.

Stepping on crucifix
Ceremony of Treading on the Crucifix
Print, Hurd (1790)

When Christianity was banned in Japan in the 17th century, an annual ritual is reported that required stepping on both an image of Mary and a crucifix to show that they were not Christians, an act called fumi-e. At first these were plaques with the images of either Mary or Christ. Later a crucifix was made for the ceremony. Those who did not recant at first were executed. This continued for those suspected of being hidden Christians, Kakure Kiristan. However, one of the last mass persecutiions led to exile instead. Christianity had been very successful in Japan after its introduction by Francis Xavier. Christian banners were flown by armies in the failed invasions of Korea by Japan in 1592 and 1597. The growing sentiment against the West led to the reaction against Christians. One of the initial acts of persecution was the crucifixion of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki in 1597, which included 6 Franciscan missionaries. within 20 years, Japan severely restricted contact with the West, a restriction which lasted until the reopening of Japan by the US in 1854. Christianity had continued in a very secret fashion and reappeared in the 19th century. Over the centuries, a few Japanese families apparently acknowledged their Christian beliefs by using disguised Christian symbols, including crosses, in their heraldic crests. Xavier reports being amazed at the similar forms of the cross found on Japanese crests, which were cruciforms based on the Japanese symbol for "10" ().

Dower, 148; Kodansha, Encyclopedia of Japan (online).

crucfixion scene in Spanish panel cross
Crucifixion Scene
Wood panel cross, Spain
19th-20th century
27 inches

Gestas, the bad thief, is shown to the left of Christ in crucifixion scenes. The names of the two thieves are first found in the Gospel of Nicodemus (or Acts of Pilate) from the 5th century. Shown on either side of Christ, they represent a comparison of good and evil, repentant and doomed. In European art, an angel may be seen helping Dismas to heaven while a demon drags Gestas down to hell. The thieves are distinguished from Christ in crucfixion scenes by either size, body position, being tied, clothing, or type of cross. In medieval scenes, the thieves are often shown broken and contorted, partly a message of the penal consequences of crime and partly a message of the potential of repentance. The example here is taken from a large Spanish panel cross. The thieves are shown with their arms behind the cross piece (normally these would appear to be tied instead of nailed). Christ is shown with his arms open, traditionally a way of showing Christ as embracing the world.

Merbeck, 230-41; Quenot, 169.
Justinian I coin with cross orb
Bronze Coin
Justinian I (482-565) with cross orb
Constantinople mint
40 mm

Globus cruciger
A cross on a globe shows the triumph of Christianity over the world. The image of an emperor holding a cross on a globe first appears on Roman coinage with Theodosius I (346-395). Emperors and rulers, such as Charlemagne, are shown with the cross over the globe. Many paintings and figures of Christ, especially as a child, show him holding this sign. It is a prominent symbol in images of Christ as the Savior of the World, Salvator Mundi. The sign is first found in the Cheops pyramid as a masonry mark. (The ancients knew the earth was round. Washington Irving created the story of the belief in the flat earth when he told the story of Columbus.) For a period prior to iconoclasm, the denomination on Byzantine coinage was indicated by the type of cross: stepped cross, solidus (gold, 4.55 g); cross orb, semissis (half solidus); plain cross, tremissis (third solidus).

Grierson, 11; Meggs, 87; Stevenson, 420-21.
small Byzantine Greek cross
Bronze pendant cross
6th-8th century
1 inch

Greek cross
A Greek cross has arms of equal length. While the Latin cross is identified with the crucifixion, the Greek cross is usually considered a sign of God. In many ways it is the graphic sign preeminent in the church and Christian society. In equal proportions, the space between the arms is often filled with other signs or abbreviations, as with the Jerusalem cross and the Greek insignia with ICXC and NIKA. From this basic form, most of the crosses in heradry were developed, which greatly expanded the variety of cross forms. The Greek cross is often found carved or marked on church furnishings and is the shape of the consecration cross. The Red Cross uses the form in the west (a red crescent is used in non-Christian countries). Symbols are also added to the arms. In the example here, the circles may indicate the wounds of Christ or may just be deocration.

Hulme, 73-82; Troyer, 85-119.
Two Ethiopian hand crosses
Two bronze hand crosses
19th and 18th century
14 and 5 inches inch

Hand Cross
Hand crosses are usually smaller than processional crosses, can be used to lead or participate in processions, and are used for blessings. One of the earliest pictorial examples is the archbishop Maximian leading the procession with a jeweled cross in the famous mosaic in San Vitale, Ravenna. In Ethiopia, there is an enormous variety of forms of crosses, from very large to very small. Many have the diamond shape. Others are much simpler, as with the smaller, and older, hand cross shown here. The base at the bottom is usually interpreted as a symbol of the tabot, the ark of the covenant. The examples shown here are carried by the priest and used to bless the congregation and individuals, who in turn kiss the cross.

More, 77; Sandin, 4.
Harrowing of Hell (Annastasis)
The image Harrowing of Hell or Anastasis emerged in Orthodox Christianity to show how Christ defeated death and satan and is closely associated with the crucifixion. Usually, Christ holds a cross staff in one hand and pulls Adam out of hell with the other hand. Adam in turn grabs others, usually Eve, as well.
King Edward crown
Cross Barbee
Brass, with fish hook
20th century
2 inches
Cross fitchie
Cross fitchie
Brass, US
20th century
2 inches
Engrailed Cross
Engrailed Cross
Nickle, US
20th century
3 inches

The language of heraldry emerged in the 12th century in Europe, first as a way to distinguish individuals at arms, then as a way to distinguish families and organizations (use of patronymics began at this time as well). These included geometric lines of varying design, along with a few plants (fleur-de-lys and rose) and animals (lions and eagles were the most popular) of a contrasting color against one of six backgrounds. W. H. St. John Hope writes, "As regards the cross, heraldric writers have gone mad..." While some claim up to 400 varieties, he lists the following as the most commonly used (the English and French descriptions are included since they do not always match):
St. George CrossSt. George cross (EN), croix (FR) formy CrossCross formy, splayed arms and flat ends: cross formy (EN), croix pattee (FR)
Cross crossletCross crosslet (EN), croix recroisetee (FR) moline Cross Cross moline (millrind), based on the metal piece that secures mill stones: cross moline (EN), croix anillee (FR)
bottonee CrossCrosslet with rounded ends is botonny: cross crosslet (EN), croix treflee (FR)Cross patonceCross paty (the ends look like paws): cross patonce (EN), croix enhendee (FR)
cross fitchieCross fitchy (spiked foot, pilgrims and crusaders secure cross in the ground for prayer): cross fitchy (EN), croix au pied fiche (FR)cross fleuryCross flowered at ends: cross fleuretty or flurty (EN), croix fleurdelisee (FR)
Patriarchal CrossPatriarchal cross (EN), la croix pastorale double, croix de LorraineTau CrossTau: tau-cross (EN), la croix en tau, croix de St Antoine (FR)
Crosses were either flat, extending to the end of the shield, or couped, which allowed decorative ends. Different lines (wavy, indented, engrailed, and raguly, for example), colors and location on the shield increased the variety. Shields were further divided to show merging of families. Knights not only wore the cross on their shield, but as part of an order, on their clothes and on their seals as well. Christ is shown with the banner of victory, usually a red plain Greek cross on a white background. The arms of Christ included the Agnus Dei and instruments of passion. In Bavaria, God was provided arms, consisting of a shield of the Trinity (a forked cross) surmounted with a crown and a dove. Heraldry survives in seals and logos used by organizations today. The three-dimensional samples here all depict simple forms of common crosses in heraldy.

Hope, 89-91; Pastoureau, 13-67. Neubecker, 106-107.
Hot cross bun
The use of these buns became particularly popular in 12th century England. Two slashes are made in the dough prior to being placed in the oven. As the dough rises the cross becomes wider. Similar buns are found in pre-Christian traditions.
Huguenot cross
Huguenot cross
20th century
3 inches inch

Huguenot Cross
The French Huguenots were one of the few Calvinist groups who designed their own cross. The suppresion of the Huguenots in France is as ugly as any of the many Christian against Christian war of the religions of this time. Thousands of Huguenots were killed during the St. Bartholomew Massacre on August 24, 1572. Persecution continued in various forms for the next century. Many ultimately immigrated to other countries. A few converted to Catholicism. There are two versions of the cross. The first hung a phial indicating annointing oil on the maltese form, to show their continued allegiance to the King of France. A second design, based on the medal of the L’Ordre Du Saint Esprit, is attributed to a jeweler in Nomes in 1688. The jeweler moved the dove from the center to hang from the cross. The fleur de lis, symbol of France, connects each of the arms. The Huguenots preferred the Maltese to the Latin cross. The prominence of the dove, symbol of the Holy Spirit, reflects its importance to the Huegenots. The cross is also known as the Cross of Lanquedoc, due to the location of its origin. The cross is still worn today.

ICXC as title on Russian enameled cross
Detail, ICXC
Brass, Russia
19th century
10 inches inch

The sacred abbreviation for Christ used by Orthodox, ICXC, is often placed at the title of crucifixes or combined with the abbreviation, NIKA. With each phrase on either side of the cross,the meaning is Jesus Christ Conquers. The NIKA is taken from the Greek form of In Hoc Signo Vinces ("En Touke Nika"), the words that Constantine heard when he witnessed the sign. A line above the letters indicate an abbreviation. The traditional inscription on Crucifixion icons is Christ as King of Glory rather than King of the Jews, which Christ denied. In John 18:36 (NJB), Christ says, "Mine is not a kingdom of this world; if my kingdom were of this world, my men would have fought to prevent my being surrendered to the Jews. But my kingdom is not of this kind." This is later interpreted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 2:7-8 (NJB), "It is a wisdom that none of the masters of this age have ever known, or they would not have crucified the Lord of Glory." The abbreviation is also used in the West, and is found on Italian panel crosses.

Cavarnos, 173; Tarasov, 164-165.
IHS from Flemish holy card
Detail, IHS
Flemish Holy Card
17th century

Metford explains the abbreviation IHS or IHC as the first three letters of the Greek word for Jesus (IHCUC or IHSUS, pronouced as Ieusus or Jesus). The abbreviation became widely used in Western iconography after the middle ages, often with a cross placed above the H. Bernadino of Sienna (1380-1444), a popular Franciscan preacher, placed the monogram on a tablet and held them before the crowd. Rays radiate from the sign. After a complaint from playing card maker that he was costing him his business, the saint advised him to put IHS on the cards, and he is said to have made a fortune. As the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits took the IHS as their sign. The IHS is also a device of their founder, St. Ignasius (1491-1556). Interpretations of the sign as an abbreviation for Latin, Iesus Hominum Salvator, "Jesus, Savior of Men" or for In Hoc Signes Vinces, in this sign conquer, are incorrect.

Metford, 49; 126; Murray, 238.
small Byzantine Greek cross
Inhabited cross
Ceramic, Germany
20th century
10 inches inch

Inhabited cross
When others are placed along with Christ or separately on the cross, the cross is considered to be "inhabited". One of the 19th century writers on iconography, Napoleon Didron, makes the point that Christ is in the cross even if he is not shown as a figure. His example lists the 12 warriors inhabiting the cross from Dante’s Divine Comedy, Paradise, Canto xviii, and no figure of Christ. Catholic popular practices place saints and popes on crosses. Byzantine figural crosses included a variety of different personages, from the Archangel Michael, to Old Testament figures, Greek fathers, and occasionally the donor. In the example here, Mary is capturing the saving blood of Christ in a chalice. are

Cotsonis, 66-105; Didron, 400-405; Miller, 99.
INRI on flemish cross
Detail, INRI
Flemish Crucifix
Early 19th century

Latin, Iesvs Nazarenvs Rex Ivdaeorvm, Jesus of Nazarus, King of the Jews. The abbreviation often found at the place of the title on the cross. In one of the earliest extant crucifixion scenes, the ivory box in the British Museum from the fifth century, the inscription is REX IVD [EORUM]. Legend has Helena discovering the title as well as the True Cross and nails. A portion of this title said to have been found by Helena was discovered in a hiding place in the 16th century in her church in Rome. A recent examination shows it is walnut, painted white, with the lettering carved and painted in either black or red. The size is 10 x 7.5 x 1 inch. Three lines survive. As part of the trend to represent the crucifixion realistically, painters and artists either showed the title in Latin or depicted it in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek, after the account in John 19:20.

Thiede, 93-94; Murray, 532.

Jansenist crucifix
Cornelius Jansen (1585-1638), the bishop of Ypres in West Flanders, initiated a reform movement within Catholicism that shared elements with Calvinism. One of the tenets was a belief in predestination in which the grace of God is required before a soul could be converted and saved. This results in fewer saved souls. The crucifix associated with this belief positions the arms of Christ so that they are straight up rather than spread out in an inviting gesture. Famous converts to Jansenism included Blaise Paschal, the French scientist and mathematician. His faith was reinforced in 1657 when his niece was healed from a hopeless disease when she touched a piece of the crown of thorns. This celebrated incident was promoted by Jansenists and Catholics as proof that miracles still took place. After his death, certain beliefs of the movement were declared heretical, suppressed in France, but remained active in the Netherlands, becoming one of the groups known as Old Catholics. This position of Christ on the cross becomes part of Christian iconography, but does not always have this specific meaning.
Lebrun, 97; Livingstone, 412-413; Murray, 249.
Jerusalem cross
Jerusalem cross with head of Christ
Brass, Jerusalem
20th century
6 inches inch

Jerusalem cross
The Jerusalem cross is a Greek cross formed by four tau crosses and Greek crosses within each quadrant, originally gold on a white background. In heraldry, the description is "argent, a cross potent between four plain crosslets or." This is especially unusual as it breaks the rule of placing gold upon silver (metal upon metal). The cross is associated with Jerusalem during the crusades and was on the coat of arms of Godfrey of Bouillon, the first Latin king of Jerusalem, although it may not have been added until Hugh de Luisgnan ascended the throne in the mid-thirteenth century. Reasons for the arms are varied. One lists the source as Psalms 68:13 , where the wings of the dove are covered with silver and the feathers with gold (this is a Psalm of victory). Another as a show of Godfrey’s humility. Interpretations of the design include symbolizing the five wounds of Christ; the different countries participating in the crusades (the crusade started with a plain papal banner); the four corners of the earth; and the four evangelists. Origins of the design are unclear. A Francsican newsletter relates the cross form to a similar cross within a circle, called a Cosmic Cross, which appeared around 427. At the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco, there is a Coptic textile medalion from the 6th century with a similar design but with forked crosses (search for 53970.1). A related cross is a cross cantonee, where the central cross is plain. Various orders use a red Jerusalem cross.

Seymour, 365; Woodcock, 7.
Constans bronze coin with standard
Labarum standard
Bronze coin
Constans, 337-350

The name of the sign seen by Constantine prior to his victory over Maxentius on October 28, 312. There are two different descriptions at the battle of Milvian Bridge. Licanthius (318) On the Death of Persecuters writes that the sign came in a dream. He describes the sign as "[the sign of] Christ on the shields: the [Greek] letter X intersected by the [Greek] letter I, bent at the top." Eusebius (340) Life of Constantine much later describes the sign as being seen in the sky and later in a dream. The standard is described as follows: "A long spear, overlaid with gold, formed the figure of the cross by means of a transverse bar laid over it. On the top of the whole was fixed a wreath of goldand precious stones; and within this the symbol of the Saviour’s name, two letters indicating the name of Christ by means of its initial characters, the letter P [rho] being intersected by an X [chi] at the center." Along with the sign, he heard the words, In Hoc Vinces, "in this conquer." The origins of the word Labarum are unclear. A few authorities speculate that the word is Celtic or from Gaul, the source of most of his soldiers. The sign became the imperial standard and led to the cult of the cross.

Cotsonis, 8; Gregoire, 32; Hatt, 36; Metford, 156.
Italian passion cross with ladder and other instruments
Passion cross
Bronze, Italy
19th century
12 inches

The ladder is one of the instruments of passion. A ladder may be placed on crosses, usually along with other Arms of Christ, as with the penal cross, or may be separate and leaning against the cross, as in this example. Each of the Gospels report that Joseph of Arimethea removed the body of Christ from the cross. The assumption is that he used a ladder, as shown on the Descent from the Cross images. Following John 19:38-41, he is sometimes accompanied by Nicodemus, who is by legend a blacksmith and said to have removed the nails with pincers. Anne Derbes observes that the ladder appears in Western images of the passion in the 12th and 13th century as part of the Arma Christi (also the cross becomes taller). A Franciscan addition to passion imagery is the Ascent of the Cross. Early images show Christ reluctantly climbing the ladder. Later images show Christ climbing a ladder with no reluctance to place himself on the cross.

Derbes, 123, 147-149; Metford, 82, 182;
plain latin cross with flower at center
Latin cross
Ivory, US
20th century
2 inches

Latin cross, crux immissa
The most common variety of cross with the cross piece slightly above the center of the intersection, and somewhat in general shape like a man with arms open. Many early crosses have elaborate designs and flared arms. Teardrops and serifs were added to the end of the arms. Hardstones, pearls, and pendant crosses were dangled from the arms. A plain Latin cross is the most typical cross today in Protestant churches, where the glory of images does not need to represent the glory of the word.

Andorre stamp with Longinus on horse piercing side of 

Detail, medium loincloth
Silver, Crucifix
20th century
Christ ayez pitie de nous
(Christ have pity on us)
Loin Cloth
The two earliest Western crucifixion scenes (ivory box and Santa Sabina) show Christ wearing a simple loin cloth that only covers the private parts. The earliest Syriac image shows Christ wearing a long robe, a form that appears to have been generally followed through most of the first millenium. During the 9th century, there is a return to a loin cloth, this time a short wrap around cloth. Kathleen Corrigan explains the reappearance on the following inscription on this early icon: "Who would not be confounded, be in fear and tremble/ Seeing you, O Saviour, dead on the cross;/Who rent the garment of death/ And is covered with the robe of incorruption." She suspects that this refers to the baptismal practice in which the initiates remove their clothes and take on white linen (robe of incorruption); to the removal of the clothing that Adam and Eve were given to wear (Gen 3:21), reflecting his immortality; and since he is no longer wearing the colobium, a symbol of his mortality. The loin cloth (Italian, perizoma) becomes of varying lengths in both the Orthodox and Catholic tradition. In only very rare occasions is Christ shown completely naked on the cross. However, the Renassance does provide other evidence for the sexuality of Christ (see Steinberg for a discussion of Jesus’ penis and Trexler for male seduction). Anne Derbes writes that the loin cloth to the Franciscans is a reminder of Christ’s poverty, like their own, as with the translucent loin cloth in the Cimabue crucifix. Steinberg notes that the "enhanced loincloth" (the material billows out as if the wind is blowing) found in paintings beginning with Roger van der Weyden is based on an artistic convention, to break up the empty space, and as a signification of one born of the spirit (John 3:4-8). In the twentieth century, Jewish artists such as Marc Chagal have used a tallit, a prayer shawl, as a loin cloth as a reminder that Christ was a Jew.

Corrigan, 50-56; Derbes, 149-153; Steinberg, 1-465; Thoby, 95-230; Trexler, 107-119
Andorre stamp with Longinus on horse piercing side of Christ
Christ Mort
Longinus on horse
Andorre stamp,
20th century
The centurion Longinus is shown with the spear and Stephaton with the pole, sponge, and vinegar in crucifixion scenes. The name Longinus, from longke the Greek word for "lance," appears in a Syriac manuscript and is used in the crucifixion scene in the Rabulla gospel from the 6th century. Longinus is associated with three different acts. First, he is the soldier who pierces Christ’s side bringing forth blood and water (John 19:34-35). This is proof that Christ had died on the cross. Second, he is the centurion who recognizes Christ as the son of God in Matthew 27: 54 and as innocent in Luke 23:27. Like Dismas, he is viewed as a convert to Christ and later declared a saint. Third, an additional conflation, he is considered the leader of the soldiers sent to guard the sepulchre (Matthew 27: 65). There are several different stories that Longinus was either blind or had some disease of the eyes. In one legend, he is cured when he touches his eyes with blood that has run down the handle of the spear that pierced Christ’s side. In another that he became blind at the crucifixion and had his sight restored at the resurrection, and then became a Christian.

Metford, 162; Murray, 281-282.
metal Luther rose cross
Luther rose cross
Silver Quincentenary cross
Germany, 1983
4 inches
Luther rose
Luther rose
Detail, Quincentenary First Day Cover
US, 1983
Luther Rose
Martin Luther (1483-1546) writes, "The cross alone is our theology." He believed one knows God not through works but through suffering, the cross, and faith. In 1516, Luther changed his family coat of arms from a crossbow and two white roses to a form of a rose. Prince Johann Friedrich presented him with this rose in a golden seal ring. Quoting from the Quincentenary US stamp issue in 1983, Luther wrote:
The first thing expressed in my seal is a cross, black, within the heart, to put me in mind that faith in Christ crucifed saves us. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness." Now, although the cross is black, mortified, and intended to cause pain, yet it does not change the colour of the heart, does not destroy nature-i.e., does not kill, but keeps alive. "For the just shall live by faith."-by faith in the Saviour. But this heart is fixed upon the centre of a white rose, to show that faith causes joy, consoliation and peace. The rose is white, not red, because white is the ideal colour of all angels and blessed spirits. This rose, moreover, is fixed in a skycoloured ground, to denote that such joy of faith in the spirit is but an earnest and beginning of heavenly joy to come, as an anticipated and held by hope, though not yet revealed. And around this groundbase is a golden ring, to signify that such bliss in heaven is endless, and more precious than all the joys and treasures, since gold is the best and most precious metal. Christ, our dear Lord. He will give grace unto eternal life.
This became the seal for the Lutheran Church.

Bodensieck (vol. 1) 642, (vol. 2) 1542.
Maltese cross used by St. John Ambulance
Maltese cross on blanket
Commemorative stamp, UK
St. John Ambulance
20th century
Maltese cross
A form of Greek cross in which the arms are arrows meeting at a center. Each point on the cross stands for one of the beatitudes (MT 5:8). This cross came to be identified with Malta and the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem. The organization was founded in order to care for pilgrims in the Holy Land and then became one of the militant orders along with the Templars during the Crusades. According to Michael Foster, the maltese cross was assumed as their cross later during their stay in Malta. St. John Ambulance was established in 19th century Great Britain to care for the wounded in war. The organization considers itself an ancestor to the order founded in Jerusalem. A maltese cross is the form used for many medals and associations, including firemen, due to accounts that during the crusades the knights had to fight fires caused by the Saracens using naptha-based explosives.

Murray, 296-297.
Mandylion on Russian Enamel Cross
Detail, Russian Bronze Icon Cross
19th century
Mandylion, Sudarion (Sudarium, napkin or sweat cloth)
The Eastern version of the Holy Face is the Mandylion, the image created for King Abgar.The Mandylion is one of the images believed to represent the historical Jesus. The image of the Holy Face appears on icons and Russian bronze icon crosses, usually above the top of the cross. In the earliest version of the legend from Eusebius, Abgar, a king of Edessa in northern Syria, is seriously ill and requests the presence of Christ in order to be healed. Christ is unable to go and sends a disciple, Thaddeus, who cures Abgar. The next version has Hannan, a painter from Abgar’s court, taking the letter to Christ to request his help. While there, he paints Christ. Then in the Acts of Thaddeus (6th-7th century), the image is created not by human hands when Christ leaves an impression of his face on a cloth. The cloth heals Abgar. This image, the Mandylion, is sent to Constantinople in 944 and treated with reverence. After the sack in 1204 by the crusaders, it apparently disappears, although a number of copies survive. According to the Golden Legend from the 13th century, Abgar invites Christ to come to Edessa to avoid the persecution of the Jews. He insists on staying. The king sends a painter to create a portrait of Christ. The artist is overwhelmed by his radiance. Christ places the artist’s cloak on his face, leaving an imprint. Murray describes the image as similar to the Pantocrater images. The Veronica, is often almost identical to the Mandylion, as both claim to be a true likeness of Christ. Over time the image of Christ in the Veronica includes the crown of thorns and shows greater suffering, as part of the passion imagery.

Belting, 211; Freedburg, 207-209; Jobe, 13; Metford, 166,234; Murrary, 300-301.
Market cross, Carperby, Wensleydale, UK
Market cross
Carperby, Wensleydale, UK
Postcard, Early 20th century
Market Cross
Crosses were set up in market areas, usually run by the monasteries, who charged a fee. William Wood Seymour provides the following information about British market crosses. Markets were held on Sundays, a gathering day for both dealers and buyers. In the thirteenth century, the English Parliament prohibited holding markets in church yards, so they oten were moved to the center of town and crosses of varying degrees of complexity were erected. a few centuries later, holding markets on Sunday was prohibited. Along with providing a raised platform on which to speak and share proclamations, the cross also reminded the sellers to be honest. During plague times, the cross came to be used in different ways. One such incident took place in Winchester, where produce was left by the cross in the morning and they came back later to pick up the payment, so that they would not be exposed to the plague. These crosses were called "butter" crosses. In another story, vinegar was poured in a small depression by the cross so that the coins could be rinsed off, disinfected, and not spread the plague.

Seymour, 308-320.
Victoria cross medal
Victoria cross
Replica, UK
20th century
The custom of awarding medals, many in the shape of crosses, for courageous actions began in the 15th century. In the late 18th century, medals commemorating victorious engagements also became customary. In addition, medals were awarded to indicate admittance to an order. The medal here is the Victoria Cross, Britain’s most famous award for valor. Instituted in 1856 following the Crimean War, the cross is cast from bronze barrels of Russian cannons captured at Sebastopol (later believed to be of Chinese origin). A total of 1354 crosses have been awarded. Engraved for each recipient are the date in the center of the reverse of the cross and details of the recipient on the reverse of the suspender bar. The shape is a cross pattee or broadfoot cross.

Iota and Chi Staurogram
Left, Iota chi
Right, Staurogram with alpha and omega
20th century
Above is Chi Rho
Monograms of Christ
There are four monograms or ligatures (two or more letters combined as one) all Greek, found in early Christian use:

iota eta iota (Ι) and eta (Η), first two letters for Jesus (Ieus) iota chiiota (Ι) and chi (Χ), first two letters for Jesus Christ (Ieus Christos)
staurogramtau (Τ) and rho (Ρ), more a visual representation chi rho chi (Χ) and rho (Ρ), first two letters of Christ (XPIETOE)
The chi rho and the iota chi were usually placed within a victory wreath. The tau rho is named staurogram by scholar Eric Dinkler and appears in the century before Constantine.

Finegan, 352-355. Finney, 304.
hair cross
Hair Cross
Hair and Brass, US
19th century
1 inches
Certain crosses are associated with death and mourning of loved ones. There are crucifixes that are placed on caskets. There are black crosses specifically for mourning, such as the British ones made of jet, which were required by British court etiquette following the death of Queen Victoria’s husband. Another popular form of jewelry in the 19th century is jewelry that is either woven with the hair of the beloved or the hair is placed within an enclosure like a relic. Here is an example of a small hair cross that was given to Rev. Stiver by a neighbor in Wheeling, WV. Hair is made of hard keratan and is a surprisingly strong material, comparable in strength to copper, aluminium, and kevlar. It can last for centuries.

Coventry nail cross
Coventry Nail Cross
Bronze, United Kingdom
20th century
8 inches
Nails are instruments of the passion that have received considerable scholarly discussion. Nails are not mentioned in the crucifixon scenes in the Gospels. One possibly is that he was tied rather than nailed to the cross, the way the thieves are often depicted, or in the least, that his feet were never nailed. In John 20:25 (NEB), after the resurrection of Christ, Thomas requests proof:
Unless I see the mark of the nails on his hands, unless I put my finger into the place where the nails were, and my hand into his side, I will not believe.
There is a general inconsistency over whether there were three nails or four. Three nails would mean nails for the hands and one nail through both feet. The early crucifixion scenes show the nail holes but not the nails, usually with the feet hanging down. The nailing of two feet together appears as part of the development of the image of the suffering Christ. As Arms of Christ, three nails are generally used. This may be a reference to the Trinity. Helena is believed to have recovered three nails when she found the True Cross. Nails became part of the crown of the Iron Crown of Lombardy and a bit for Constantine’s horse. Hewitt notes that the best reasons for three nails are theological, possibly in connection with Psalms 22:16 (KJB), "They pierced my hands and my feet." Besides the debate over the feet, the placement of the nails to the hands varies from the palm, to the wrist, to between the bone in the arm. Actual images of the nail range from relatively tiny nails, to a large hollow nail appearing a bit like an oversized tack, to long iron Roman nails used for construction, similar to the ones shown here. This particular example represents a modern story. The Coventry Cathedral was bombed in 1940. One of the first members on the scene found that a few timbers had collapsed into the shape of a cross. He wrote, "Father Forgive" by the timbers. A priest shaped a cross from three nails, as represented here. The Cathedral developed a Ministry of Peace and Reconciliation to help resolve conflicts in the world. The three nail cross became the symbol of these efforts.

Hewitt, 29-45; Metford, 178; Murray, 343.
Nkangi kiditu
As Christianity was brought to new countries and cultures, Christian images were modified by local people. Nkangi kiditu, "attached Christ", is a cast bronze crucifix made in the Congo that appeared in the 17th century. Christ is shown as an African and still alive on the cross. Three figures with hands clasped in prayer are placed on either side of Christ and on top. A naked woman, assumed to be Mary, is placed at the bottom. Some speculations on the three figures are the Trinity, apostles, or mourners. The cross was used by tribal chiefs especially when settling judical disputes. Sometimes the figures on either side of the cross appear like twins, a common element in their folklore, who can work both good and evil. Soares writes that "the presence of figures that may be linked to pairs of twins becomes understandable on crucifixes which to the Bakongo, besides representing emblems of power, worked as amulets, carriers of good luck and tools for curing illnesses." While this type of crucifix was not brought to Brazil by African slaves from the Congo, images of St. Anthony and the cross were, and these images were further changed in form and meaning in Brazil.

O’Neil, 231; Souza, 17.
Madonna on cross
Mary in orans position
Byzantine relic crosses
Bronze, Balkins
9th-10th century
2 inches
A common figure found in early Christian settings is the orant, from the latin orans," one who prays." The figure is either one of prayer, the kind of gesture that would greet the light of the sun in the morning, or of blessing. The origin of the figure is as an intercessory image to assist the soul at death and was almost always feminine. This position, besides being one of the early postures of crucifixion for Christ (the door of St. Sabina), became one of the common postures of Mary, whose image as an orans was often placed on the reverse of Byzantine crosses. During and after the Byzantine iconoclastic period, the religious pictures on clothing disappears and are replaced by the image of the Virgin on crosses, which could be hidden from view. Two types of pectoral crosses from the 9th -12th century were the image of the Virgin in the center with saints on each arm on one side and on the other Christ crucified and crosses with narrative scenes, such as the Annunciation and the Nativity.

Finney, 831-832; Vassilaki, 285.
Cruciform ornaments
Cruciform ornaments
Tin, Mexico
20th Century
4 to 6 inches
Customs throughout the world have added to the use of the cross. Cruciform ornaments are created for Christmas trees or for other reasons, such as personal altars. These come in all forms and shapes including straw, a Devonshire style cross by Nan Rooksby Rohan of Berkley, CA; wax cross, stamped with a lily image from Sagrada Sacred Arts in Oakland, CA; and tin, as with these ornaments from Mexico.

Painted San Damiano cross
Replica, San Damiano cross
Painted wood, Italy
Original, 12th century
Painted crosses
Among the most beautiful large crosses are the painted crosses that emerged in Italy in the 12th century. The images combine Byzantine influence with Romanesque ideas. Franciscan theology and the focus on the humanity and suffering of Christ is applied to these crosses. The importance of the cross to St. Francis begins with San Damiano. In this chapel, while St. Francis was praying, he heard the crucifix tell him to build this church. This started him on the path that led to his ministry, founding his order, and his sainthood. The crucifix is a form of triumphant Christ. His eyes are open and the posture is in an orans position. Thomas Herbst finds the elements of humanity in the crucifix: compassion in the posture, his head is slightly tilted as if human, and the blood pours in a great outflowing into the panels. In the next phase, the painted crucifixes represented many of the Franciscan ideals of spirituality. The image of Christ becomes clearer. He is dead on the cross and has suffered. Anne Derbes describes some of the imagery as promoting St. Francis as an alternative Christ: the stripping of Christ and St. Francis stripping off his clothes for his father; the poverty of the order; and adding different scenes like the asscent of Christ and Chirst carrying the cross on the way to Golgotha, to the panels on the cross.

Derbes, 158, 172; Herbst,84-85.
penal cross
Replica, Penal cross
20th century
12 inches

Penal crosses
Penal crosses are a uniquely Irish cross, a response to the penal laws enacted by British Anglican rule from 1693 to 1829 that prohibited Catholics from worshipping. This included possession of a crucifix. This cross was made with short arms so it could be concealed within a shirt or coat sleeve. Most were carved wood. Symbols of the passion are always included. These generally were the title, hammer, dice, sun and moon, pincers, cords, ladder, lance, scourges, and the cock combined with a cooking pot. The cock is usually associated with Peter and his three denials but in this case the reference is to a story about Judas. Judas returns home to his wife, and asks her for a rope to hang himself. She asks why. He says that he unjustly delivered Jesus to Pilate and is afraid that Jesus will have revenge on him when he comes back from the dead. His wife tells him that Jesus will no more return from the dead than the cock will jump out of the pot. The cock rises out of the pot and crows three times. Judas leaves to hang himself. The cross is said to have crowed in Gaelic,"The Son of the Virgin is safe; God is safe." (from Bigger) A.T. Lucas associates this cross with pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Lough Derg, County Donegal. The pilgrimage persisted during these years even though the site was officialy closed.

Bigger, 5-6; Harbison, 75.
Prayer rope
Prayer rope
Convent, Kansas
20th century
8 inches
Prayer Rope, Komboskini (Greek), Chotkis (Russian)

Prayer ropes have been used in conjunction with the Jesus Prayer or Prayer of the Heart since at least the 6th century. The prayer is taken from Luke 18: 9-14 and is usually a version of the following: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." There are various numbers of knots, either 33, 50, or 100. The Orthodox practice is to have the body participate in prayer, involving signing, bowing, and prostration. Use of the Prayer rope is another way to combine physical action. Moving the fingers over the knots while reciting the prayer places one in a spriritual frame of mind, merging humility with a sense of quiet respect. Not all forms include a cross shape on the rope.

altar boy with processional cross
Processional cross
Postcard, San Gabriel Mission
Early 20th Century

Processional Cross
Crosses on a long staff were used to lead stational services and church and state processions, somewhat similar to a military standard. At the head of the procession, the man carrying a cross was called a staurophore. At the end of the fourth century, St. John Chrysostom organized marches with silver crosses with mounted candles to counter the singing of Arians, Christians who did not believe in the full divinity of Christ and that there was only one person in God, not three, as they marched at night (Ambrose wrote hymns instead). By the 9th century there developed two types of processional crosses: one used for any religious processions and one reserved for use by higher representatives of the church and state. The processional cross had a pointed end that could be fit into a pole and kept besides the altar. If the cross had the body of Christ on it, it was kept near the host as a reminder of the incarnation. Writing and images were often inscribed on crosses. Sometimes the name of the person who donated the cross accompanied an inscription to an angel or saint. This inscription, along with the addition of images and relics, increased the power of the cross.

Cotsonis, 14-15, 44; Mathews, 150-160; Pocknee, 71.
Ukrainian painted egg
Goose Egg, California
20th Century
Zoya Hatton, Smartville, CA

An egg is a symbol of the resurrection. The tradition of exchanging eggs on Easter may be a continuation of a pagan practice. However, eggs are also one of the foods that are not eaten during Lent. The general Orthodox practice is to exchange red eggs at Easter, but elaborate eggs like this one are created as special gifts. Ostrich eggs are sometimes placed on top of Coptic Churches as they are a symbol of the virgin birth of Christ based on Job 39:13-14

Metford, 90.

Besides the focus on suffering on the cross, the West has emphasized the "realistic" treatment of the crucifixion. In looking at some of the suffering and twisted crucifixons appearing after the 12th century, Merbeck observes that medieval artists did not have direct visual experience with the suffering on the cross but applied what they knew from the punishment of breaking with the wheel to their depictions. To a certain extent the search for realism follows the search for the historical Jesus over the past few centuries. Back in the thirties, a professor of classics, Joseph William Hewitt, observes "In no branch of religious art is this ecclesiastical purpose more dominant, and from the standpoint of historical accuracy, more unscrupulous than in its representations of the central act of the Christian drama, the crucifixion of our Lord." (See the following collection of links to paintings.) Various artists, however, have tried to be realistic. According to legend, Michelangelo had access to cadavers and nailed one to a cross to create a crucifix (the one at Casa Buonarroti). Jean Clair writes that three doctors in London in 1801 took the body of a man who had just died and a surgeon nailed him to a cross before it went into rigor mortis. A plaster cast was poured under the guidance of Thomas Banks. The Anatomical Crucifixion (James Leggo)is still on display at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. Thomas Eakins tied one of his students to a cross and used him as the model for his crucifixion . As one can see from the Eakins depiction, to keep alive one has to somehow push up to breath. However, the medical examiner Zugibe considers the stress and scourging of Christ as contributing factors to his death, which was viewed as quicker than expected. His opinion is that the death was "cardiac and respiratory arrest due to hypovolemic and traumatic shock due to crucifixion" rather than asphyxiation. In the 20th century, on another extreme, to capture the horror of the crucifixion, sometimes a kind of distorted expressionism is used, as with Francis Bacon’s studies for crucifixion paintings. Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ uses the visions of Anne Catherine Emmerich to add to the intensity of his depiction of the suffering of Christ.

Clair, 65; Hewitt, 99; Merbeck, 198; Zugibre, 117.
Padre Pio Relic cross
Relic cross
St. Padre Pio
Second class, cloth
20th Century
2 inches

Relic Crosses
Relics consist of parts of deceased martyrs or very holy persons, or items they wore or used. These are placed in an appropriate container. The practice of venerating the relics of saints is found in Old Testament and Greek traditions. In Christianity, relics are first reported with the remains of St. Polycarp in the second century. The early terms for these small amulets with relics was generally "phylactery" and after the 14th century, "reliquary." The practice of the veneration of images follows shortly after the veneration of relics. Parts of the True Cross were among the most significant relics placed in crosses and other containers. The classes of relics are: first class, body or part of body of a saint; second class, item or object used by a saint; third class, item that has touched the body of a saint; and some include a fourth class, object that has touched a second class relic. Sometimes the relic is identified by a small slip of paper, as with the earth inside this crucifix from the site of the 1981 visions by six children of Mary in Medjugorje, Croatia. The example shown here is a second class relic of Padre Pio, a piece of clothing that he wore shown behind a small window in the cross. He is a 20th century saint who experienced the stigmata.

Egan, 7; Metford, 211 ; Pelican (1974), 104.
Great Rood replica
Replica, Great Rood
Westminister Cathedral, UK
20th Century
8 inches

English term for wood, which came to mean the wood of the cross. Rood screens were used to separate the nave of the church from the chancel. Commonly, a crucifix and the figures of Mary and John the evangelist were placed on top of a wooden screen. Many of these were destroyed during Protestant times or replaced in order to provide closer access to the altar by the congregation. (See this collection of fairly recent rood screens in Suffolk.) The Great Rood in Westminster Cathedral is a modern adaptation. The rood is painted on canvas, 30 by 23 feet. One side shows a triumphant Christ. The other side shows Our Lady of Sorrows.

Lebrun, 73; Metford, 214; Murray, 453.
Rosary, wood beads
20th Century

The rosary is a form of devotion using beads ( bead is English for "prayer") to keep track of the prayers. Similar in practice to prayer ropes, the rosary is different in the focus on Mary and for having a multiple sequence of exercises. Associated with the Dominicans, legend has it that St. Dominic was given the rosary by Mary, and a large rosary is a prominent feature of Dominican habits. However, there has been some dispute over this origin, although nearly everyone would agree that St. Dominic promoted Marian devotion and forms that became attached to the rosary in later centuries. Traditionally, one begins with the cross and proceeds through the beads saying first the Apostle’s Creed, The Lord’s Prayer, "Hail Mary," then moving through the Three Mysteries of Mary (Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious). The cross is kissed in the beginning and the end. For more online historical information see this exhibit on prayer beads or the links at the rosaryworkshop site.

Metford, 204; Winston-Allen, 13-30
Sacred heart
Sacred Heart
Ceramic and wood, Peru
20th Century
1 inch

Sacred Heart
Devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus began in 17th century Paris when a nun, Margaret Mary Alacoque, had a vision of Christ. The vision urged her to dedicate herself to the heart of Christ, a symbol of his love for mankind. The sacred heart came to be placed on crosses, usually along with various instruments of passion. The image came to be associated with the Franco government in Spain, where the Loyalists destroyed the image due to its identification with the Nationlists. In France, the image was identified with the Thiers government and the suppresion of the Paris commune. At the centennial anniversary of the commune in 1971, Bowen reports that tomatoes and rocks were thrown at the Sacred Coeur Cathedral in memory of the suppresion. In the example here, a cross emerges from the flames of the heart, a metaphor for the passionate love of Christ. The green band is the crown of thorns. Separately, a similar devotion is to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, promoted by John Etudes around the same time as Alacoque, based on the seven sorrows of Mary, resulting in an image of seven swords and her heart or a heart pierced by a sword.

Bowen, 161; Murray, 226.
St. Andrew cross
St. Andrew badge
Brass, Scotland
20th Century
1 inch

St. Andrew cross, cross saltire, crux decussata
St. Andrew is beloved in many countries, especially Scotland, Greece, and Russia. According to legend, most of the apostles were also crucified, usually in a fashion different from Christ. A somewhat late version (14th century) has St. Andrew crucified on a cross like an X, in which he was able to address the crowds for several days before expiring. His following in Scotland is partly due to his relics being taken there. Another story goes back to a battle in 832 fought at Athelstaneford, in East Lothian. The Scots under King Angus faced a much larger force of Anglo-Saxons. Like Constantine, the king saw a vision in the sky, a cloud formation of a white saltire, prior to the battle. The Scots won the day, and the sign became the flag of Scotland, a white cross against a sky blue background. In Russia, Andrew is the patron saint. Legend has his visiting Kiev on one of his missionary journeys. The highest ranking order of Imperial Russia, the Order of St. Andrew, has a crucifix with St. Andrews on an X-shaped cross. Most of his bones were enshrined in Amalfi, Italy, where the legend is that a mysterious manna like oil is produced from his tomb. His head was retained in Patras, Greece, the site of his death.

Metford, 24-25; Murray, 17.
Bridget's cross
St. Brigid cross
Rushes, Ireland
20th century
8 inches

St. Brigid cross
Making a St. Brigid’s cross in Ireland is one of the rituals to celebrate the beginning of Spring, February 1, and is associated with fertility and the lactation of ewes. The cross is made of rushes that are pulled, woven left to right, and blessed with holy water. They are hung by the door and in the rafters to protect the house from fire and evil. While not recorded until the 17th century, the practices may have continued from pre-Christian times. St. Brigid and her cross are linked together by the story that she wove this form of cross at the death bed of either her father or a pagan lord, who upon hearing what the cross meant, asked to be baptized. Made with freshly pulled rushes, these crosses are initially green.

Bladey, 125; Mould, 48-52.
Bridget's cross
St. Thomas cross
Wood, Finland
20th century
12 inches

St. Thomas cross
One of the folk crosses carved in Finland is the St. Thomas cross, consisting of a filigree of shavings. St. Thomas Day is celebrated on the fourth day before Christmas. This cross is featured on one of the 1985 Christmas stamps from Finland. A holiday custom is to place this cross on a table with the Advent candles.

Solitary crucifix print with snake
Detail, Serpent at foot of cross
Solitary Crucifix
18th century mezoprint
8 x 6 inches

The serpent usually represents satan or sin. As with the symbolic use of most creatures, it is rarely completely good or evil. When represented on a tau cross, for instance, the snake represents Christ. At the bottom of a cross the presence of the serpent references the tempation at the Garden of Eden. Christ, as the second Adam, has defeated satan and saved man. On at least one holy card from the 17th century, a snake is shown eating its tail, a symbol of eternity. The usual placement of serpents and dragons are under the foot of the holy person, showing their defeat of evil. This is from Psalms 91:13 (NJB) " You will tread on lion and adder, trample on savage lions and dragons."

Metford, 86-87, 224; Murray, 485.
Signing of the cross
Christians as early as the second century signed an X on their foreheads as an individual act of devotion, to fortify themselves, or to ward off evil. This same sign on the forehead was used during the sacrament of baptism and in prayer. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d 107) is believed to have initiated this practice. Tertullian (160-225) writes, "At every forward step and movement, at every going in and out, when we put on our clothes and shoes, when we bathe, when we sit at table, when we light the lamps, on couch, on seat, in all the ordinary actions of life, we trace upon the forehead the sign of the cross." The fuller sign using the hand or a cross as a blessing came into use later, around the fifth century. As a a sign of commitment or obedience to Christ, the sign is forehead to breast, left shoulder to right for the western church; forehead to breast, right shoulder to left for the eastern church. Just signing the cross was considered more powerful than any amulet.

Budge, 352; Laliberte, 6.
Skull and bones on cross
Detail, Skull and crossbones
Altar Crucifix, Flemish
early 19th century
14 inches

Skull and crossbones
A skull and usually two bones crossed, as in this example, were placed on the foot of crosses or on the ground nearby in crucifixion scenes. The legend is that Golgotha, the place of the skull, is where the first man, Adam (Hebrew for "man") was buried. The blood of Christ, the second Adam, saved the first Adam as well as mankind. According to John Chrysostom, Homily on the Word Cemetary, "Mary took the place of Eve; the tree of the Cross took the place of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; the death of Jesus Christ took the place of that of Adam. Thus was the devil defeated by the very instruments of his victory." Besides the skull and crossbones, crucifixion scenes show the body of Adam (or his skeleton) underneath the cross. Schiller attributes the use of Adam to Romans 5:12-19 and to I Corinthians 15:22-23 (NJB), "Just as all men die in Adam, so will all men be brought to life in Christ."

Quenot, 170-71; Schiller, 130-133.
French holy 

Detail, Second Station
Easter Stamps, 1970
Artist: Juan de Aranoa

Stations of the Cross
The focus of the Western church on the the humanity, suffering, and crucifixion of Christ led to a formalized image and devotional sequence known as stations of the cross. In the fourth century, stational sevices were held in Jerusalem following the path of Christ’s passion. Small crosses were placed on the houses to mark the stations. During the twelth century the route was walked in reverse. The Franciscans, who were the guardians of the sites in Jerusalem, observed 7 stations during this time. As pilgrimage to the Holy Land became increasingly difficult, the stations were introduced to Europe as a way to simulate the experience. The number of stations varied according to devotional practices.
7 Stations (13th century)
  1. Christ bears the cross
  2. He falls for the first time
  3. He meets his mother
  4. He falls for the second time
  5. Veronica hands him her veil
  6. He falls for the third time
  7. He is buried
14 Stations (Today)
  1. Christ condemned by Pilate
  2. He is given the cross
  3. He falls for the first time
  4. He meets his mother
  5. Simon of Cyrene helps Christ
  6. Veronica hands him her veil
  7. He falls for second time
  8. He speaks to the women of Jerusalem
  9. He falls for the third time
  10. He is stripped of his garments
  11. He is nailed to the cross
  12. He dies
  13. His body is removed from the cross
  14. He is laid in the tomb
The 14 stations of the cross were formalized in the early 1700s by S. Leonardo of Porto Maurizio, a Franciscan, and accepted by the Catholic Church in 1731. Rather than ending with his burial, sometimes a 15th station is added for the Resurection. The 14 scenes are represented either as paintings, relief sculpture, or carvings placed along the walls or columns. In small churches or chapels, instead of images just the cross and number may be used. Click here for a slide show of all 14 stations, based on an Easter set of stamps from Burundi.

Metford, 232; Murray, 505-506; Schiller, 82.
St. Francis stigmata holy card
St. Francis receives the stigmata
Holy Card
Spanish, 19th century
3 x 2 inches

The ultimate identification with Christ and his passion is the stigmata. The experience is first reported with St. Francis, who received the stigmata on September 17, 1224, in a vision of a crucified Christ as a seraphim. Since then others have experienced the stigmata in various degrees. Catherine of Sienna and this century Padre Pio are among the most famous. More women than men have reported this and not all have been recognized as saints. The iconography usually shows a crucified figure and matching red lines to the hands, feet, and side indicating the stigmata.

Metford, 233; Murray, 507.
Following the pattern of paired figures, Stephaton is the companion to Longinus. Stephaton holds the sponge with vinegar to Christ’s lips, after which Christ gives up his spirit (John 19:29). He appears on Irish High Crosses, such as the High Cross of Muiredach and at Monasterboice.

Metford, 232; Murray, 507.
Detail, footrest on Russian icon cross
Detail, Footrest
Russian Icon Cross
Russia, 20th century
14 inches

The use of a foot rest or suppedaneum appears on images of the crucifixion beginning in the 6th century. While a great deal of variety was applied to the act of crucifixion, the use of a foot rest is most likely an artistic rather than realistic element. According to Hewitt, an attachment to the cross called an eculeus, which provided a kind of seat, is more likely. Charlesworth calls this supportive plank a sedecula. The initial images of Christ place the body practically floating beyond the cross. As greater realism took place, Christ appears nailed to the cross with his feet nailed to a foot rest. The foot rest changes from a small platform to a small wedge or no foot rest in the West. In the 12th century, a single nail is used through both feet into a foot rest, almost always right foot over left, but is not used consistently. The Russian Orthodox placed the footrest at an angle, as in this example, with both feet resting on the platform. Most likely the angle applies to a theological meaning in which the footrest is a scale pointing towards the good thief. Another common interpretation is that the angle of the foot rest references a St. Andrew cross. Less likely thoughts are that Christ was lame, one leg shorter than the other, or that the footrest was twisted during the agony on the cross. In the West, the foot rest allows the feet to be nailed either together or separately. With a single nail, the legs are generally moved up, creating a shape like a "S", instead of simply hanging with legs straight, although this is the case with the Red Crucifix in the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles.

Charlesworth, online; Hewitt, 31-32.
Swastika on Lucky Charms cigarette cards
Lucky Charms Series
Will’s Cigarettes
No. 24 of 50

Like the cross, the swastika is one of the earliest signs made by man. Once a benign sign generally meaning "it is well," the association of the swastika with Hitler means just the opposite, evil and death. The sign is still used in a positive way by Buddhists and Jains. Christianity also has used the swastika. It is found in the catacombs almost a thousand times according to Thomas Wilson. During the middle ages, the sign was considered the gammadion, a group of four Greek letter gamma (Γ) used to indicate the four evangelists with Christ in the middle. Nestorian crosses are found in northwest China, remnants of missionary activities around the 13th century, in which a swastika is at the center of a Greek cross.

Cooper, 166; Heller, 29-33; Miller, 160-161; Wilson, 950.
Coptic Tattoo
Coptic tattoo design
Print, Carswell (1958)

Decorating the body with tattoos originally had a tribal significance, an indication that one belongs to a specific group. Leviticus 19:28 prohibits tattooing, so there is no Jewish tradition. Tattoos have been used to mark a criminal with his crime. During pre-Constantine times, Christians who refused to sacrifice to Roman gods were not always sentenced to death. Some were sentenced to work in one of the silver, lead, or gold mines. In these cases, their sentence as Christians was tattooed to their face and after Constantine, became a mark of pride. Peter Brown relates a story from 591 of children having the sign of the cross tattooed on their foreheads as an apotropaic (ward off evil) device to spare them from a horrible plague. Steve Gilbert provides a basic summary of the history of Christian tattoos. One of the first reports is of St. Basil (329-380) condemning tattooing, apparently tattooing of the name of a lover on the hand. Later, the Council of Northumberland (787) distinguished between Christian and pagan tattoos, with Christian tattooing as being worthy of praise. In medieval times, crusaders not only took up the cross but were tattooed with a cross on their arms, partly to be sure they receive a Christian burial. However, the Catholic church has usually disapproved of tattooing, represented by the decree in 787 by Pope Hadrian I prohibiting the practice. However, pilgrims to the Holy Land from Egypt and Ethiopia almost always obtained tattoos as proof of the pilgrimage. A book by John Carswell, Coptic Tattoo Designs, reproduces nearly 200 designs on wood blocks, which were passed down from the 17th century. The blocks were used as templates in order to speed up the process of tattooing pilgrims to Jerusalem. While some are very involved, the most common tattoo was a small cross on the inside of the wrist. Medieval pilgrims also received tattoos upon visits to Santiago de Compostela and Loreto, Italy. London’s National Maritime Museum presented an exhibit, Skin Deep, in 2002 that reported the custom of British sailors to tattoo a crucifixion scene on their backs to reduce the severity of any flogging. Today, tattoos are increasingly common. According to Wikipedia, 1 of 7 people in North America have a tattoo.

Brown, 167; Carswell, 11-30; Gilbert, 150-151.
Tau medal
Tau medal
Brass and ribbon, Germany
20th century
Medal, 3 inches

Tau cross, crux taumata, crux commissa
The Tau (T) cross is the anticipatory cross, one of the signs from the Old Testament believed by the Early Church Fathers to prefigure Christ. These signs included a mark of the faithful (Ezekiel 9); a mark of protection and salvation (Exodus 12:21-23), representing the mark on the door during the Passover; and a sign of healing (Numbers 21:6-9), the serpent pole to heal the faithful. During the middle ages, the Tau cross became associated with healing and St. Anthony’s fire, and considered the most likely form of cross on which Christ was crucified. St. Francis used the tau as a signature, so it is often found on Franciscan logos.

Englebert, 12; Husband, 23; Laliberte, 29;
Trinity: Throne of Grace
Throne of Grace
Brass, Germany
20th century
4 inches

Throne of Grace
An image of the Trinity with God the Father seated on a throne holding a crucifix as the dove of the Holy Spirit descends. The image appears in France and Germany in the 12th century, where it combines a crucifix with the image of Christ in Glory (Majestas Domini), in which God the Father replaces Christ on the seat of mercy. Pearman notes that the image becomes more prevalent as one more image of the suffering of Christ, as a response to the plagues in the 14th century and prayers for intercession to the Trinity, as the Trinity mass is conducted, and as part of the trend towards greater personal devotion. Murray notes increased use after the Council of Trent. The term is a translation of the German word, Gnadenstuhl, coined by Martin Luther, to indicate mercy seat, and applied by German writer Franz Xavier Krause in the 19th century to indicate a representation of the Trinity.

Murray, 480; Pearman,1-3, 9-16, 91, 109-115.
trade cross
Replica, Trade cross
Nickle, Germany
20th century
3 inches

Trade crosses
Silver crosses were among the gifts given to Indian converts by missionaries during the European colonization of North America. These became popular as a non-religious form of adornment, with the smaller crosses worn as earrings and the larger ones worn on the breast. They became a trade item with the fur companies, until the Indians lost their idependence and were no longer in position to trade. In 1792, one could obtain 2 small crosses for a single medium sized beaver pelt. The forms were usually a Latin or double barred cross. The example here, a replica of one of the fancier designs, is from Germany. Crosses were just a part of the silver trade. Medals were struck by the colonists to secure friendship with the Indians. Silver gorgets (a form of ornamental armor in the shape of a large crescent) worn by French and British officers were provided as well to secure alliances. Silver was generally obtained from melting silver coins.

Frederickson, 60-61.
cross with tree of life
Tree of Life
Bronze, Germany
20th century
3 inches

Tree of life
In Christianity, the cross became the Tree of Life (arbor vitae), and the center of the world became Golgotha. According to the Legend of the Cross, a popular medieval legend associated with the discovery of the True Cross, the cross that Christ was crucified upon originated from seeds of the Tree of Life in the Garden of Eden. The three seeds (cypress, pine, and cedar) combined to form a magical and indestructible tree. In Mesopotamia, the sacred tree was considered the center of the world from which the waters of life flowed. Especially with Greek crosses, the arms are considered to represent the four rivers. Early and Orthodox crosses, use leaf, floral, and vine motifs to show the cross as a Tree of Life. As a symbol found in most cultures, there are many different variations and different types of trees, although the interpretation as the center of the world is common. The tree of death (arbor mortis) is the one upon which Judas hung himself.

Murray, 540-541; Seymour, 83-93; Wilson, 135-138.
Relic of True Cross
Relic, True Cross in nail
Mission San Jose
19th century
Plaque shows facsimile of title

True Cross
According to legend the actual cross that Christ was crucified upon was buried and later found by Helena Augustas, the mother of Constantine. The basic story first appears in writing by the end of the fourth century. Helena finds all three crosses. The True Cross of Christ either cures a sick person or restores a dead woman to life by its touch. Due to this discovery, along with her acts of charity, Helena became recognized as a saint and a model of a Christian woman ruler. Celebration of either the discovery of the True Cross or its veneration led to some of the most beautiful hymns and liturgy in the church. Portions of the relic were distributed for personal use, which helped spread the use of small personal crosses as objects of protection, signs of Christian belief, and devotion. Relic crosses with the True Cross also became part of the use of the cross by the armies of the East and the Crusaders. Relics of the passion, including a piece of the True Cross, were among the relics used in a procession in Paris in 1559 to save the life of King Henri II of an ultimately fatal injury from a tournament (he entered into medical history as he lived 9 days after a splinter from a lance pierced his helmet and then his brain while jousting). The emphasis on the power of relics were often debated within the Church. The True Cross and all relics were viewed with skepticism and disbelief by Protestants. One of the quotes by John Calvin in A Treatise on Relics is that "if we were to collect all these pieces of the true cross exhibited in various parts, they would form a whole ship’s cargo." Pelikan relates the saying that there are enough pieces of the True Cross to rebuild Jerusalem. A French architect, however, Rohault de Fleury, reports the information available in 1870, and came up with a total of 4 million cubic millimeters, less than the estimated size of the cross (in pine) of 178 million cubic millimeters.

Diefendorf, 28-29; Drijvers, 96-99; Fleury, 71, 163; Pelikan, 99; Tongeren, 119.
Mandylion on Russian Enamel Cross
Sixth station
Detail, Veronica apporaches Christ with her veil
Andorre Stamp, 20th century
16th Century Fresco
Veronica (Sudarium, napkin orsweat cloth)
A western version of the Holy Face is the Veronica, the impression left when Christ wiped his face on a cloth while on the way to Golgotha. The first record of this is from Eusebius, who reported that there was a Christian sculpture showing Christ healing the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:41- 48, Mark 5:24-34, and Matthew 9:20). In the Acts of Pilate she is identified as Bernice or Veronica. In the 7th century, the story adds that she desired a picture of Christ so that his picture could console her when he was not present. She meets Jesus and he creates an impression by pressing a cloth against his face. In the 12th century, this cloth is reported in St. Peter’s and this object is known as the Veronica, "true image." A further blending of stories occurs. On his way to Golgotha. Christ wipes his face with the veil or cloth handed to him by Veronica and leaves an impression. When Rome is sacked by the Germans in 1527, the cloth disappears. In the 15th century, pilgrimages to the Holy Land to walk the way of the cross (via crucis) became increasingly difficult. A devotional practice began in Europe to mark stations (meaning one would stand) of the key events on the way to Golgotha. One of the first programs was carved in Nuremberg around 1490 and included eight stations, known as the Seven Falls of Christ, and included Veronica and her veil. This evolved into the 14 Stations of the Cross, with the Veronica as the sixth station. Belting writes that the Veronica was first a relic cloth without an image and then became an image during the 13th century, after the Mandylion was taken from Constantinople to the West. Rome promoted the Veronica rather than the eastern image.

Belting (1990), 218-220; Freedburg, 207; Jobe, 13; Metford, 252-253; Murrary, 505.
Grape vine cross

Grape vine cross
Silver, US
20th century
2 inches
The grape vine represents the blood of Christ and wheat sheaves represent his body. The vine is also a metaphor for Christ and the church. In John 15:1-2 (NJB), Christ says,
I am the true vine,
and my Father is the vinedresser.
Every branch in me that bears no fruit
he cuts away,
and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes
to make it bear even more.
The vine scroll motif was as popular in the Roman empire as the image of a Good Shepherd. Early Christians used both in funeral imagery. The vine motif, often with fruit, birds, and animals within the scroll, added ornament and meaning to crosses. The example here is constructed to look like the body of Christ. Other images carry the idea further and show vines growing out of either the extremities or the sides of Christ, as with this Roumanian icon. Such images are sometimes viewed as the feminine side of Christ, as the mother goddess was viewed as the "goddess of the vines" by early Europeans.

Cirlot, 360; Murray, 560; Wilson, 135.
spanish majestic crucifix

Replica, Majestic Crucifix
Las Caldas de Montbuy, Barcelona.
Ceramic, 20th century
12 inches
Original from 12th Century
Volto Santo
The Volto Santo, Italian for holy face, is the name used to describe images of the face of Christ. Volto Santo is also the name of the famous carved crucifix in the Cathedral of St. Martin in Lucca, Italy. In this crucifix, Christ wears a long robe called a colobium instead of a loin cloth. His eyes are open. He appears alive and unmoved by suffering. This image of Christ Triumphant is based on the Syrian protoype found in the Rabulla Gospels (6th century) and on the fresco at the Church of Santa Maria Antiqua. As with similar crucifixes, Christ is richly dressed for feast days. The Volto Santo is believed to be a copy of an earlier crucifix that was carved by Nicodemus, who removed the body from the cross with Joseph of Arimathea. According to the legend, while carving the crucifix, Nicodemus fell asleep. When he awoke, he found that angels had completed the crucifix. This sculpture was hidden in a cave. A visiting bishop in the 8th century had a dream that revealed its location. Once found, the crucifix was miraculously transported on a ship manned by angels to Italy. After a torturous journey from Jerusalem, the ship landed in Tuscany. There, the people of Lucca and Luni argued over which village should house the crucifix. To resolve the location, the crucifix was placed on a cart tethered to two untamed bulls and allowed to wander. The cart stopped in Lucca. Hans Belting writes that the sculpture may be a copy of a similar image reported in Byzantium, in which Nicodemus painted the Berytus icon. In that story, the icon is left behind by a Christian and found by a Jew. Afraid that he will be accused of being a Christian, he pierces the icon with a lance. The icon bleeds where it is pierced. As a result, the community converts to Christianity. The Volto Santo crucifix at Lucca was one of the most significant pilgrimage sites in the middle ages. This type of crucifix spread throughout Europe and typically possessed healing properties. A number of majestic crucifixes from the 12th and 13th century are still found in Spain, such as the example here. Typically the crucifixes contains hidden compartments for relics, especially a host. These crucifixes are part of elaborate processions during Holy Week as well as other devotional practices. The backs of the Spanish majestic crucifixes usually have an image of the Agnus Dei or the symbols of the evangelists on the back.

Belting, 304; Murray, 563-564; O’Neil, 322-23.
Yellow cross
In the 13th century, a papal inquisition was conducted by the Dominican order against the Albigensian (Catharism) heresy in Lanquedoc, an area that was later annexed by France as a result of these activities. Like the crusades, soldiers were assured passage to heaven for their service against the Cathars. The heresy claimed a return to primitive Christianity, denied papal authority, and developed unique practices, such as a fast at one’s deathbed (endura). Followers accepted the Manicheaean principle of two oppositve forces of equal strength, good and evil. Some of the heretics were burned at the stake, a sentence that the civil authorities were required to make. Some were imprisoned (the beginning of incarceration for crimes) and their property confiscated. Others were sentenced to wear a large yellow cross, either a single or double cross, sewn to the back of their outer clothes. The custom may have been copied from Islamic practices to identify groups by the clothing that they wore. Records from the inquisition provide the best source for information on daily life at the time. Later, in certain urban European areas, Jews were required to wear a yellow star or circle on the front of their clothes and a large hat, and Muslims were required to wear a crescent. Lepers wore special markers as well, although in some cases they were required to use rattles to announce their presence instead.

Ladurie, 11, 302-303.
Model, Austrian Wayside crosscross
Model, Wayside cross
Wood, Austria
19th- 20th century
6 inches

Wayside Crosses
Wayside crosses are found throughout Europe. There are different forms for different reasons usualy made of the most readily available materials. Many are carved of stone, especialy in the British Isles. In areas where forests were plentiful, wood crosses were placed within a shrine or when set on a post, covered by a simple roof to better weather the elements. The example here is a model from Austria. Each country, really each district, developed its own designs. The metal solar crosses often set on top of wayside shrines in Lithuania show an endless variety. Wayside crosses marked old burial mounds, an event, a sacred place, or a direction. Sometimes they served as memorial crosses. They provided travelers and local people in the country with a reminder of their faith and a place to pray. Prior to Christianity, the Greeks and the Romans used statues of Hermes (from herma, "stone pile") or Mercury to mark a path and watch over travelers.

Seymour, 324-330.
Saint Librada
Santa Librata
Tin and paper
2001, California
4 inches

Wilgefortis, Librada, Liberata, Uncumber
The story of St. Wilgefortis first emerged in the 14th century in Flanders. A Portuguese king had arranged for his beautiful daughter to marry a Sicilian prince. While living in a pagan kingdom, she had become a Christian and had made a vow of chastity. Upon hearing her father’s request, she prayed that she would be freed from this destiny. The next morning she woke up with a beard. When the prince saw her, he decided not to proceed with marriage due to her ugliness. Her father became violently angry and had her crucified. She has different names by country. The name Wilgefortis (virgo fortis) means "steadfast virgin", and is from the 14th century Flemish virgin martyr story. The name Liberata, or "liberated" (Italian), refers to her appeal from the cross that those who prayed for her should have their troubles lifted. In English, the Uncumber refers to being freed or "unencombered" from a man. The saint has had periods of popularity, rivaling the Virgin Mary in parts of Europe. In Latin America, she still appears on retablos and ex votos. The example here lacks the beard, as is the case with most representations in Mexico, and has her tied instead of nailed. Along with her being a saint of headaches and women wishing to be free of burdensome men, she is one of the patron saints of Colombia. One view on the origin of the image is that this is a reinterpretation based on confusion over crucifixes that were similar to the Volto Santo, where Christ wears a long robe. Instead of Christ, the person was interpreted as a crucified woman with a beard. A more recent phenonema is placing the body of a woman instead of a man on the cross. These works include Almut Lutkenhaus-Lackey, The Crucified Woman (1976); James M. Murphy, Christine on the Cross (1984); and Edwina Sandys, Christa (1984). This touches on modern debates on the feminization of Christ and the role of gender and God.

Friesen, 1-20; Metford, 263-264; Murray, 568; Zarur, 230-231, 324-325.
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