Archæology of the Cross and Crucifix
I. PRIMITIVE CRUCIFORM SIGNS
The sign of the cross, represented in its simplest form by a crossing of two
lines at right angles, greatly antedates, in both the East and the West, the
introduction of Christianity. It goes back to a very remote period of human
civilization. In fact, some have sought to attach to the widespread use of this
sign, a real ethnographic importance. It is true that in the sign of the cross
the decorative and geometrical concept, obtained by a juxtaposition of lines
pleasing to the sight, is remarkably prominent; nevertheless, the cross was
originally not a mere means or object of ornament, and from the earliest times
had certainly another - i.e. symbolico-religious - significance. The primitive
form of the cross seems to have been that of the so-called
gamma cross (crux
gammata), better known to Orientalists and students of prehistoric archæology by
its Sanskrit name, swastika.
At successive periods this was modified, becoming curved at the extremities,
or adding to them more complex lines or ornamental points, which latter also
meet at the central intersection. The swastika is a sacred sign in India, and is
very ancient and widespread throughout the East. It has a solemn meaning among
both Brahmins and Buddhists, though the elder Burnouf (
Le lotus de la bonne loi,
traduit du sanscrit, p. 625; Journ. Asiatic Soc. of Great Britain, VI, 454)
believes it more common among the latter than among the former. It seems to have
represented the apparatus used at one time by the fathers of the human race in
kindling fire; and for this reason it was the symbol of living flame, of sacred
fire, whose mother is Maia, the personification of productive power (Burnouf, La
science des religions). It is also, according to Milani, a symbol of the sun
(Bertrand, La religion des Gaulois, p. 159), and seems to denote its daily
rotation. Others have seen in it the mystic representation of lightning or of
the god of the tempest, and even the emblem of the Aryan pantheon and the
primitive Aryan civilization. Emile Burnouf (op. cit., p. 625), taking the
Sanskrit word literally, divided it into the particles su-asti-ka, equivalents
of the Greek eu-estike. In this way, especially through the adverbial particle,
it would mean
sign of benediction, or
of good omen (svasti), also
life. The particle ka seems to have been used in a causative sense (Burnouf,
Dictionnaire sanscrit-français, 1866). The swastika sign was very widespread
throughout the Orient, the seat of the oldest civilizations. The Buddhist
inscriptions carved in certain caves of Western India are usually preceded or
closed by this sacred sign (Thomas Edward,
The Indian Swastika, 1880; Philip
On the Meaning and Origin of the Fylfot and Swastika). The celebrated
excavations of Schliemann at Hissarlik on the site of ancient Troy brought to
light numerous examples of the swastika: on spindle-racks, on a cube, sometimes
attached to an animal, and even cut upon the womb of a female idol, a detail
also noticeable on a small statue of the goddess Athis. The swastika sign is
seen on Hittite monuments, e.g. on a cylinder (
The monuments of the Hittites
Transactions of the Soc. of Bibl. Archæology, VII, 2, p. 259. For its
presence on Galatian and Bithynian monuments, see Guillaume and Perrot,
Exploration archéologique de la Galatie et de la Bithynie, Atlas, Pl. IX). We
find it also on the coins of Lycia and of Gaza in Palestine. In the Island of
Cyprus it is found on earthenware vessels. It originally represents, as again at
Athens and Mycenæ, a flying bird. In Greece we have specimens of it on urns and
vases of Botia, on an Attic vase representing a Gorgon, on coins of Corinth
Mém. de l'acad. des inscr., XVI, pt. II, 302 sqq.;
assyrien, 377-380; Minervini in
Bull. arch. Napolit., Ser. 2, II, 178-179),
and in the treasury of Orchomenus. It seems to have been unknown in Assyria, in
Phnicia, and in Egypt. In the West it is most frequently found in Etruria. It
appears on a cinerary urn of Chiusi, and on the fibula found in the famous
Etruscan tomb at Cere (Grifi, Mon. di Cere, Pl. VI, no. 1). There are many such
emblems on the urns found at Capanna di Corneto, Bolsena, and Vetulonia; also in
a Samnite tomb at Capua, where it appears in the centre of the tunic of the
person there depicted (Minervini, Bull. arch. Napolit., ser. 2, Pl. II, 178-179).
This sign is also found in Pompeian mosaics, on Italo-Grecian vases, on coins of
Syracuse in Sicily (Raoul-Rochette,
Mém. de l'acad. des inscr. Pl. XVI, pt. II,
302 sqq.; Minervini,
Bull. arch. Nap., ser. 2, Pl. II, p. 178-179); finally
among the ancient Germans, on a rock-carving in Sweden, on a few Celtic stones
in Scotland, and on a Celtic stone discovered in the County of Norfolk, England,
and now in the British Museum. The swastika, appears in an epitaph on a pagan
tombstone of Tebessa in Roman Africa (Annuaire de la Société de Constantine,
1858-59, 205, 87), on a mosaic of the ignispicium (Ennio Quirino Visconti, Opere
varie, ed. Milan, I, 141, sqq.), and in a Greek votive inscription at Porto. In
the last monument the swastika is imperfect in form, and resembles a Phnician
letter. We shall explain below the value and symbolical meaning of this crux
gammata when found on Christian monuments. But the swastika is not the only sign
of this kind known to antiquity. Cruciform objects have been found in Assyria.
The statutes of Kings Asurnazirpal and Sansirauman, now in the British Museum,
have cruciform jewels about the neck (Layard, Monuments of Nineveh, II, pl. IV).
Cruciform earrings were found by Father Delattre in Punic tombs at Carthage.
Another symbol which has been connected with the cross is the ansated cross
(ankh or crux ansata) of the ancient Egyptians, wrongly called the
of the Nile. It often appears as a symbolic sign in the hands of the goddess
Sekhet. From the earliest times also it appears among the hieroglyphic signs
symbolic of life or of the living, and was transliterated into Greek as Anse
(Ansa). But the meaning of this sign is very obscure (Da Morgan, Recherches sur
les origines de l'Egypte, 1896-98); perhaps it was originally, like the swastika,
an astronomical sign. The ansated cross is found on many and various monuments
of Egypt (Prisse d'Avennes, L'art Egyptien, 404). In later times the Egyptian
Christians (Copts), attracted by its form, and perhaps by its symbolism, adopted
it as the emblem of the cross (Gayet,
Les monuments coptes du Musée de Boulaq
Mémoires de le mission française du Caire, VIII, fasc. III, 1889, p. 18, pl.
XXXI-XXXII and LXX-LXXI), (For further information regarding the resemblance
between the cross and the oldest symbolic signs see G. de Mortillet,
de la croix avant le christianisme, Paris, 1866; Letronne,
La croix ansée
Mémoires de l'académie des inscriptions, XVI, pt. II, 1846, p.
236-84; L. Müller,
Ueber Sterne, Kreuze und Kränze als religiöse Symbole der
alten Kulturvölker, Copenhagen, 1865; W. W. Blake,
The Cross, Ancient and
Modern New York, 1888; Ansault,
Mémoire sur le culte de la croix avant
Jésus-Christ, Paris, 1891.) We may add that some have claimed to find the cross
on Grecian monuments in the letter (chi), which, sometimes in conjunction with
(rho), represented on coins the initial letters of the Greek word chrysoun,
gold, or other words indicative of the value of the coin, or the name of the
History of Jewish Coinage, London, 1864, 83-87; Eckhel,
Doctrina nummorum, VIII, 89; F. X. Kraus,
Real-Encyklopädie der christlichen
Alterthümer, II, 224-225). We shall return, later on, to these letters.
In the bronze age we meet in different parts of Europe a more accurate representation of the cross, as conceived in Christian art, and in this shape it was soon widely diffused. This more precise characterization coincides with a corresponding general change in customs and beliefs. The cross is now met with, in various forms, on many objects: fibulas, cinctures, earthenware fragments, and on the bottom of drinking vessels. De Mortillet is of opinion that such use of the sign was not merely ornamental, but rather a symbol of consecration, especially in the case of objects pertaining to burial. In the proto-Etruscan cemetery of Golasecca every tomb has a vase with a cross engraved on it. True crosses of more or less artistic design have been found in Tiryns, at Mycenæ, in Crete, and on a fibula from Vulci. These pre-Christian figures of the cross have misled many writers to see in them types and symbols of the manner in which Jesus Christ was to expiate our sins. Such inferences are unwarranted, being contrary to the just rules of criticism and to the exact interpretation of ancient monuments.
II. THE CROSS AS AN INSTRUMENT OF PUNISHMENT IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
The crucifixion of living persons was not practised among the Hebrews;
capital punishment among them consisted in being stoned to death, e.g. the
protomartyr Stephen (Acts 7:57-58). But when Palestine became Roman territory
the cross was introduced as a form of punishment, more particularly for those
who could not prove their Roman citizenship; later on it was reserved for
thieves and malefactors (Josephus, Antiq., XX, vi, 2; Bell. Jud., II, xii, 6;
XIV, 9; V, xi, 1). Though not infrequent in the East, it was but rarely that the
Greeks made use of it. It is mentioned by Demosthenes (c. Mid.) and by Plato
(Rep., II, 5; also Gorgias). The stake and the gibbet were more common, the
criminal being suspended on them or bound to them, but not nailed. Certain
Greeks who had befriended the Carthaginians were crucified near Motya by order
of Dionysius of Syracuse (Diodor. Sic., XIV, 53). Both in Greece and in the East
the cross was a customary punishment of brigands (Hermann, Grundsätze und
Anwendung des Strafrechts, Göttingen, 1885, 83). It was at Rome, however, that
from early republican times the cross was most frequently used as an instrument
of punishment, and amid circumstances of great severity and even cruelty. It was
particularly the punishment for slaves found guilty of any serious crime. Hence
in two places (Pro Cluent., 66; I Philipp., ii), Cicero calls it simply
supplicium the punishment of slaves - more explicitly (In Verr., 66),
servitutis extremum summumque supplicium - the final and most terrible
punishment of slaves. Hüschke, however (Die Multa), does not admit that it was
originally a servile punishment. It was inflicted also, as Cicero tells us (XIII
Phil., xii; Verr., V, xxvii), on provincials convicted of brigandage. It is
certain, however, that it was absolutely forbidden to inflict this degrading and
infamous punishment on a Roman citizen (Cic., Verr. Act., I, 5; II, 3, 5; III, 2,
24, 26; IV, 10 sqq.; V, 28, 52, 61, 66); moreover, an illegal application of
this punishment would have constituted a violation of the leges sacratæ.
Concerning a slave, the master might act in one of two ways; he might condemn
the slave arbitrarily (Horace, Sat. iii; Juvenal, Sat. vi, 219), or he might
turn him over to the triumvir capitalis, a magistrate whose duty it was to look
after capital punishment.
The legal immunity of the Roman citizen was somewhat modified when the poorer
citizens (humiliores) were declared subject to the punishment of the cross
Sent., V, xxii, 1; Sueton.,
Galba, ix; Quintil., VIII, iv). The
punishment of the cross was regularly inflicted for such grave crimes as highway
robbery and piracy (Petron., lxxii; Flor., III, xix), for public accusation of
his master by a slave (delatio domini), or for a vow made against his masters
prosperity (de salute dominorum, see Capitolin., Pertinax, ix; Herodian, V, ii;
Sent., V, xxi, 4), for sedition and tumult (Paul., Fr. xxxviii; Digest.
De Pnis, XLVIII, 19, and
Sent., V, 221; Dion., V, 52; Josephus,
XIII, xxii, and
Bell. Jud., II, iii), for false witness, in which case the
guilty party was sometimes condemned to wild beasts (ad bestias, Paul.,
V, xxiii, 1), and on fugitive slaves, who who sometimes burned alive (Fr.
xxxviii, S. 1; Digest.
De Pnis, XLVIII, xix). According to Roman custom, the
penalty of crucifixion was always preceded by scourging (virgis cædere, Prud.,
Enchirid., xli, 1); after this preliminary punishment, the condemned person
had to carry the cross, or at least the transverse beam of it, to the place of
Tard. dei vind., ix,
Artemid., II, xli), exposed to the
jibes and insults of the people (Joseph.,
Antiq., XIX, iii; Plaut.,
1, 52; Dion., VII, 69). On arrival at the place of execution the cross was
uplifted (Cic., Verr., V, lxvi). Soon the sufferer, entirely naked, was bound to
it with cords (Plin.,
Hist. Nat., XXVIII, iv; Auson.,
Id., VI, 60; Lucan, VI,
543, 547), indicated in Latin by the expressions agere, dare, ferre, or tollere
in crucem. He was then, as Plautus tells us, fastened with four nails to the
wood of the cross (
Lact., IV, 13; Senec.,
Vita beat., 19; Tert.,
x; Justus Lipsius
De Cruce, II, vii; xli-ii). Finally, a placard called the
titulus bearing the name of the condemned man and his sentence, was placed at
the top of the cross (Euseb.,
Hist. Eccl, V, 1; Suet., Caligula, xxxviii and
Domit. x; Matthew 27:37; John 19:19). Slaves were crucified outside of Rome in
a place called Sessorium, beyond the Esquiline Gate; their execution was
entrusted to the carnifex servorum (Tacit.,
Ann., II, 32; XV, 60; XIV, 33;
Galba, ix; Plaut.,
Pseudol., 13, V, 98). Eventually this wretched
locality became a forest of crosses (Loiseleur, Des peines), while the bodies of
the victims were the pray of vultures and other rapacious birds (Horace,
V, 99, and the scholia of Crusius; Plin.,
Hist. Nat., XXXVI, cvii). It often
happened that the condemned man did not die of hunger or thirst, but lingered on
the cross for several days (Isid., V, 27; Senec., Epist. ci). To shorten his
punishment therefore, and lessen his terrible sufferings, his legs were were
sometimes broken (crurifragium, crura frangere; Cic., XIII Philipp., xii). This
custom, exceptional among the Romans, was common with the Jews. In this way it
was possible to take down the corpse on the very evening of the execution (Tert.,
Adv. Jud., x; Isid., V, xxvii; Lactant., IV, xvi). Among the Romans, on the
contrary, the corpse could not be taken down, unless such removal had been
specially authorized in the sentence of death. The corpse might also be buried
if the sentence permitted (Valer. Max., vi, 2; Senec.,
Controv., VIII, iv;
Tusc., I, 43; Catull., cvi, 1; Horace,
Epod., I, 16-48; Prudent.,
Peristephanon, I, 65; Petron., lxi sqq.).
The punishment of the cross remained in force throughout the Roman Empire
until the first half of the fourth century. In the early part of his reign
Constantine continued to inflict the penalty of the cross (affigere patibulo) on
slaves guilty of delatio domini, i.e. of denouncing their masters (Cod. Th. ad
leg. Jul. magist.). Later on he abolished this infamous punishment, in memory
and in honour of the Passion of Jesus Christ (Eus.,
Hist. Eccl., I, viii;
Schol. Juvenal., XIV, 78; Niceph., VII, 46; Cassiod.,
Hist. Trip., I, 9; Codex
Theod., IX, 5, 18). Thereafter, this punishment was very rarely inflicted (Eus.,
Hist. Eccl., IV, xxxv; Pacat.,
Paneg., xliv). Towards the fifth century the
furca, or gibbet, was substituted for the cross (Pio Franchi de' Cavalieri,
Della forca sostituita alla croce in
Nuovo bulletino di archeologia
cristiana, 1907, nos. 1-3, 63 sqq.).
The penalty of the cross goes back probably to the arbor infelix, or unhappy
tree, spoken of by Cicero (Pro, Rabir., iii sqq.) and by Livy, apropos of the
condemnation of Horatius after the murder of his sister. According to Hüschke
(Die Multa, 190) the magistrates known as duoviri perduellionis pronounced this
penalty (cf. Liv., I, 266), styled also infelix lignem (Senec., Ep. ci; Plin.,
XVI, xxvi; XXIV, ix; Macrob., II, xvi). This primitive form of crucifixion on
trees was long in use, as Justus Lipsius notes (
De cruce, I, ii, 5; Tert.,
Apol., VIII, xvi; and
Martyrol. Paphnut. 25 Sept.). Such a tree was known as
a cross (crux). On an ancient vase we see Prometheus bound to a beam which
serves the purpose of a cross. A somewhat different form is seen on an ancient
cist at Præneste (Palestrina), upon which Andromeda is represented nude, and
bound by the feet to an instrument of punishment like a military yoke - i.e. two
parallel, perpendicular stakes, surmounted by a transverse bar. Certain it is,
at any rate, that the cross originally consisted of a simple vertical pole,
sharpened at its upper end. Mæcenas (Seneca, Epist. xvii, 1, 10) calls it acuta
crux; it could also be called crux simplex. To this upright pole a transverse
bar was afterwards added to which the sufferer was fastened with nails or cords,
and thus remained until he died, whence the expression cruci figere or affigere
Ann., XV, xliv; Potron.,
Satyr., iii) The cross, especially in the
earlier times, was generally low. it was elevated only in exceptional cases,
particularly whom it was desired to make the punishment more exemplary or when
the crime was exceptionally serious. Suetonius (Galba, ix) tells us that Galba
did this in the case of a certain criminal for whom he caused to be made a very
high cross painted white -
multo præter cætteras altiorem et dealbatam statui
Lastly, we may note, in regard to the material form of the cross that
somewhat different ideas prevailed in Greece and Italy. The cross, mentioned
even in the Old Testament, is called in Hebrew, `êç, i.e.
wood, a word often
translated crux by St. Jerome (Genesis 40:19; Joshua 8:29; Esther 5:14; 8:7;
9:25). In Greek it is called , which Burnouf would derive from the Sanskrit
stâvora. The word was however frequently used in a broad sense. Speaking of
Promotheus nailad to Mount Caucasus, Lucian uses the substantive and the verbs
and, the latter being derived from which also signifies a cross. In the same way
the rock to which Andromeda was fastened is called crux, or cross. The Latin
word crux was applied to the simple pole, and indicated directly the nature and
purpose of this instrument, being derived from the verb crucio,
to torture (Isid., Or., V, xvii, 33; Forcellini, s. vv. Crucio, Crux). It is
also to be noted that the word furca must have been at least partially
equivalent to crux. In fact the identification of those two words is constant in
the legal diction of Justinian (Fr. xxviii, 15; Fr, xxxviii, S. 2; Digest.
pnis, xlviii, 19).
III. THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS CHRIST
Among the Romans the cross never had the symbolical meaning which it had in
the ancient Orient; they regarded solely as a material instrument of punishment.
There are in the Old Testament clear allusions to the Cross and Crucifixion of
Jesus Christ. Thus the Greek lefter (tau or thau) appears in Ezechiel (ix, 4),
according to St. Jerome and other Fathers, as a solemn symbol of the Cross of
Mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh. The only other
symbol of crucifixion indicated in the Old Testament is the brazen serpent in
the Book of Numbers (xxi, 8-9). Christ Himself thus interpreted the passage:
Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of man be lifted up
(John 3:14). The Psalmist predicts the piercing of the hands and the feet (Ps.
xxi. 17). This was a true prophecy, inasmuch as it could not be conceived from
any custom then existing; the practice of nailing the condemned to a T-shaped
cross being, as we have seen, at that time exclusively Western. The cross on
which Jesus Christ was nailed was of the kind known as immissa, which means that the vertical trunk extended a certain height above the transverse beam; it was thus higher than the crosses of the two thieves, his crime being judged a graver one, according to St. John Chrysostom (Homil. v, c. i., on I Corinth.). The earliest Christian Fathers who speak of the Cross describe it as thus constructed. We gather as much from St. Matthew (xxvii, 37), where he tells us that the titulus, or inscription containing the cause of His death, was placed ,
over, the head of Jesus Christ (cf. Luke 23:38; John 19:19). St. Irenæus (Adv. Haer., II, xxiv) says that the Cross had five extremities: two in its length, two in its breadth, and the fifth a projection (habitus) in the middle -
Fines et summitates habet quinque, duas in longitudine, duas in latitudine, unam in medio. St. Augustine agrees with him:
Erat latitudo in qua porrectæ sunt manus longitudo a terrâ surgens, in quâ erat corpus infixum; altitudo ab illo divexo ligno sursum quod imminet (Enarr. in Ps. ciii; Serm. i, 44) and in other passages quoted by Zöckler (Das Kreuz, 1875, pp. 430, 431).
Nonnus confirms the statement that Jesus Christ was crucified on a quadrilateral cross ( ). St. Irenæus, in the passage cited above says that the Cross had a fifth extremity, on which the Crucified One was seated. St. Justin calls it a horn, and compares it to the horn of a rhinoceros (Dialogus cum Tryphone, xci). Tertullian calls it sedilus excessus, a projecting seat, or shelf (Ad. Nat., I, xii). This little seat (equuleus) prevented the weight of the body from completely tearing the nail-pierced hands, and it helped to support the sufferer. It has never been indicated, however, in representations of the Crucifixion. On the Cross of Christ was placed the titulus, as to the wording of which the Four Evangelists do not agree. St. Matthew (xxvii, 37) gives,
This is Jesus the King of the Jews; St. Mark (xv, 26)
The King of the Jews; St. Luke (xxiii, 38),
This is the King of the Jews; St. John, an eyewitness (xix, 19),
Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. In representations of the Crucifixion there often appears beneath the feet a wooden support (, suppedaneum); that it ever existed is very doubtful. The first express mention of it occurs in Gregory of Tours (De Gloriâ Martyrum, vi). St. Cyprian, Theodoret, and Rufinus hint at it.
A microscopic examination of the fragments of the Cross scattered through the world in the form of relics reveals the fact that it was made from a pine-tree (Rohault de Fleury,
Mémoire sur les instruments de la Passion, Paris, 1870, 63). According to an ancient, but somewhat dubious, tradition the Cross of Jesus Christ measured in length very nearly 189 inches (4.80 metres), from 90½ to 102½ inches (2.30 to 2.60 metres). As noted by the Evangelists, two thieves were crucified, one on either side of Christ. Their crosses must have resembled the one on which He suffered; in Christian art and tradition they generally appear lower (St. John Chrysostom, Hom. i, xxvi, on I Cor.; on Rom., v, 5). A large portion of the cross of the good thief (traditionally known as Dismas) is preserved at Rome in the altar of the Chapel of the Relics at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme.
The historical narrative of the Passion and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, as found in the Four Gospels, agrees exactly with all we have set down above concerning this form of punishment. Jesus Christ was condemned for the crime of sedition and tumult, as were also some of the Apostles (Malalas,
Chronogr., X, p. 256). His Crucifixion was preceded by the Scourging.
He then bore His Cross to the place of punishment. Finally the legs of Jesus would have been broken, according to the custom of Palestine, in order to permit of burial that very evening, had not the soldiers, on approaching Him, seen that He was already dead (John 19:32, 33). Besides, in ancient Christian art and tradition, the Crucifixion of Christ appears as done with four nails, not with three, according to the usage of the more recent Christian art (see below).
IV. GRADUAL DEVELOPMENT OF THE CROSS IN CHRISTIAN ART
Since by His holy sacrificial death upon the Cross Christ sanctified this former instrument of shame and ignominy, it must have very soon become in the eyes of the faithful a sacred symbol of the Passion, consequently a sign of protection and defence (St. Paulinus of Nola,
Carm. in Natal. S. Felicis, XI, 612; Prudent.,
Adv. Symm., I, 486). It is not, therefore, altogether strange or inconceivable that, from the beginning of the new religion, the cross should have appeared in Christian homes as an object of religious veneration, although no such monument of the earliest Christian art has been preserved. Early in the third century Clement of Alexandria (
Strom., VI, in P. G., IX, 305) speaks of the Cross as tou Kyriakou semeiou typon, i.e. signum Christi,
the symbol of the Lord (St. Augustine, Tract. cxvii,
In Joan.; De Rossi,
Bull. d'arch. crist, 1863, 35, and
De titulis christianis Carthaginiensibus in Pitra,
Spicilegium Solesmense, IV, 503). The cross, therefore, appears at an early date as an element of the liturgical life of the faithful, and to such an extent that in the first half of the third century Tertullian could publicly designate the Christian body as
crucis religiosi, i.e. devotees of the Cross (Apol., c. xvi, P. G., I, 365-66). St. Gregory of Tours tells us (De Miraculis S. Martini, I, 80) that in his time Christians habitually had recourse to the sign of the cross. St. Augustine says that by the sign of the cross and the invocation of the Name of Jesus all things are sanctified and consecrated to God. In the earliest Christian life, as can be seen from the metaphorical language of the primitive faithful, the cross was the symbol of the principal Christian virtue, i.e. mortification or victory over the passions, and suffering for Christ's sake and in union with Him (Matthew 10:38; 16:24; Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23; 14:27; Galatians 2:19; 6:12, 14; 5:24). In the Epistles of St. Paul the cross is synonymous with the Passion of Christ (Ephesians 2:16; Hebrews 12:2) even with the Gospel, and with religion itself (1 Corinthians 1:18; Philippians 3:18). Very soon the sign of the cross was the sign of the Christian. It is, moreover, very probable that reference to this sign is made in the Apocalypse (vii, 2):
And I saw another angel ascending from the rising of the sun, having the sign of the living God.
It is from this original Christian worship of the cross that arose the custom of making on one's forehead the sign of the cross. Tertullian says:
Frontem crucis signaculo terimus (De Cor. mil. iii), i.e.
We Christians wear out our foreheads with the sign of the cross. The practice was so general about the year 200, according to the same writer, that the Christians of his time were wont to sign themselves with the cross before undertaking any action. He says that it is not commanded in Holy Scripture, but is a matter of Christian tradition, like certain other practices that are confirmed by long usage and the spirit of faith in which they are kept. A certain Scriptural authority for the sign of the cross has been sought by some in a few texts rather freely interpreted, especially in the above-mentioned words of Ezechiel (ix, 4),
Mark Thau upon the foreheads of the men that sigh, and mourn for all the abominations that are committed in the midst thereof, also in several expressions of the Apocalypse (vii, 3; ix, 4; xiv, 1). It would seem that in very early Christian times the sign of the cross was made with the thumb of the right hand (St. John Chrys., Hom. ad pop. Antioch. xi; St. Jerome, Ep. ad Eustochium; a practice still in use among the faithful during Mass, e.g. at the reading of the Gospel) and generally on the forehead; gradually, by reason of its symbolism, this sign was made on other parts of the body, with particularized intention (St. Ambrose, De Isaac et animâ, Migne, P. L., XIV, 501-34). Afterwards these different signs of the cross were united in one large sign such as we now make. In the Western Church the hand was carried from the left to the right shoulder; in the Eastern Church, on the contrary, it was brought from the right shoulder to the left, the sign being made with three fingers. This apparently slight difference was one of the (remote) causes of the fatal Eastern Schism.
It is probable, though we have no historical evidence for it, that the primitive Christians used the cross to distinguish one another from the pagans in ordinary social intercourse. The latter called the Christians
cross-worshippers, and ironically added,
id colunt quod merentur, i.e. they worship that which they deserve. The Christian apologists, such as Tertullian (Apol., xvi; Ad. Nationes, xii) and Minucius Felix (Octavius, lx, xii, xxviii), felicitously replied to the pagan taunt by showing that their persecutors themselves adored cruciform objects. Such observations throw light on a peculiar fact of primitive Christian life, i.e. the almost total absence from Christian monuments of the period of persecutions of the plain, unadorned cross (E. Reusens,
Eléments d'archéologie chrétienne 1st ed., 110). The truculent sarcasms of the heathens prevented the faithful from openly displaying this sign of salvation. When the early Christians did represent the sign of the cross on their monuments, nearly all sepulchral in character, they felt obliged to disguise it in some artistic and symbolical way. One of the oldest of the symbols of the cross is the anchor. Originally a symbol of hope in general, the anchor takes on in this way a much higher meaning: that of hope based on the Cross of Christ. The similarity of the anchor to the cross made the former an admirable Christian symbol. Another cruciform symbol of the early Christians, though not very common and of a somewhat later date, is the trident, some examples of which are seen on sepulchral slabs in the cemetery of Callistus. In one inscription from that cemetery the symbolism of the trident is even more subtle and evident, the instrument standing erect as the mainmast of a ship entering port, symbolical of the Christian soul saved by the Cross of Christ. We must note, too, the use of this peculiar symbol in the third century in the region of Tauric Chersonesus (the Crimea) on coins of Totorses, King of the Bosporus, dated 270, 296, and 303 (De Hochne,
Déscription du musée Kotschonbey, II, 348, 360, 416; Cavedoni,
Appendice alle ricerche critiche intorno alle med. Costantiniane, 18, 19 - an extract from the
Opuscoli litterari e religiosi di Modena in
Bull. arch. Napolit., ser. 2, anno VII, 32). We shall speak again of this sign apropos of the dolphin. On a picture in the Crypts of Lucina, artistically unique and very ancient, there seems to be an allusion to the Cross. Turned towards the altar are two doves gazing at a small tree. The scene appears to represent an image of souls loosed from the bonds of the body and saved by the power of the Cross (De Rossi, Roma Sotterranea Cristiana, I, PL. XII).
Before passing to the study of other, more or less disguised, forms of the cross, e.g. various monograms of the name of Christ, it may be well to say a word of various known forms of the cross on primitive monuments of Christian art, some of which we shall meet with in our early study of the said monograms. - The crux decussata or decussated cross, so called from its resemblance to the Roman decussis or symbol for the numeral 10, is in shape like the Greek letter chi; it is also known as St. Andrew's Cross, because that Apostle is said to have suffered martyrdom on such cross, his hands and feet bound to its four arms (Sandini, Hist. Apostol., 130). The crux commissa, or gallows-shaped cross, is, according to some, the one on which Jesus Christ died. In order to explain the traditional longitudinal extension of the Cross, which makes it resemble the crux immissa, it is asserted that this extension is only apparent, and is really only the titulus crucis, the inscription mentioned in the Gospels. This form of the cross (crux commissa) is probably represented by the Greek letter tau (), and is identical with the
sign mentioned in the text of Ezechiel (ix, 4) already quoted. Tertullian comments (Contra Marc., III, xxii) as follows on this text:
The Greek letter and our Latin letter T are the true form of the cross, which, according to the Prophet, will be imprinted on our foreheads in the true Jerusalem. Specimens of this veiled form of the cross are met with on the monuments of the Roman catacombs, a very fine one, e.g., in an epitaph of the third century found in the cemetery of St. Callistus, which reads IRE T NE (De Rossi,
Bulletino d'archeologia cristiana, 1863, 35). In the same cemetery a sarcophagus exhibits clearly the gallows-cross formed by the intersection of the letters T and V in the monogram of a proper name carved in the centre of the cartella, or label. This second letter (V) was also figurative of the cross, as is evident from the inscriptions scratched on rock-surfaces at Mount Sinai (Lenormant,
Sur l'origine chrétienne des inscriptions sinaïtiques, 26, 27; De Rossi, loc. cit.). A monogram of a proper name (perhaps Marturius), discovered by Armellini on the Via Latina, shows the crux commissa above the intersection of the letters. Other monograms show similar forms. (De Rossi,
Bulletino d'archeologia cristiana, 1867, page 13, fig. 10, and page 14). It had been attempted to establish a connection between this form and the crux ansata of the Egyptians, mentioned above; but we see no reason for this (cf. Letronne, Matériaux pour l'histoire du christianisme en Egypte, en Nubie, et en Abyssinie). It would seem that St. Anthony bore a cross in the form of tau on his cloak, and that it was Egyptian in origin. Such a cross is still used by the Antonine monks of Vienne in Dauphiny, and appear on their churches and on the monuments of art belonging to the order. St. Zeno of Verona, who in the second half of the fourth century was bishop of that city, relates that he caused a cross in form of a tau to be placed on the highest point of a basilica. There was also another motive for choosing the letter T as symbolical of the cross. As, in Greek, this letter stands for 300 that number in Apostolic times was taken as a symbol of the instrument of our salvation. The symbolism was carried farther, and the number 318 became a symbol of Christ and His Cross: the letter (iota) being equal to 10, and (eta) to 8 in Greek (Allard,
Le symbolisme chrétien d'après Prudence in
Revue de l'art chrétien, 1885; Hefele, Ed. Ep. St. Barnabæ, ix).
The cross most commonly referred to and most usually depicted on Christian monuments of all ages is that called the crux immissa, or crux capitata (i.e. the vertical trunk extending beyond the transverse beam). It was on a cross such as this that Christ actually died, and not, as some would maintain, on a crux commissa. And this opinion is largely supported by the testimony of the writers we have quoted. The crux immissa is that which is usually known as the Latin cross, in which the transverse beam is usually set two-thirds of the way up the vertical. The equilateral, or Greek cross, adopted by the East and by Russia, has the transverse set half-way up the vertical.
Both the Latin and Greek crosses play an important part in the architectural and decorative styles of church buildings during the fourth and subsequent centuries. The church of Santa Croce at Ravenna, is in the form of a Latin cross; and on the pillars of a church built by Bishop Paulinus at Tyre in the fourth century the cross is carved in the Latin way. The façade of the Catholicon at Athens shows a large Latin cross. And this style of cross was adopted by West and East until the schism occurred between the two churches. Indeed, at Constantinople the church of the Apostles, the first church of S. Sophia, consecrated by Constantine, those of the monastery of St. John at Studium, of St. Demetrius at Salonica, of St. Catherine on Mount Sinai, as well as many churches at Athens, are in the form of the Latin cross; and it appears in the decorations of capitals, balustrades, and mosaics. In the far-off lands of the Picts, the Bretons, and the Saxons, it was carved on stones and rocks, with elaborate and complex Runic decorations. And even in the Catholicon at Athens, crosses no less lavishly ornamented are to be found. In out-of-the-way places in Scotland, too, it has been discovered (cf. Dictionnaire de 1'Académie des Beaux-Arts, V, 38).
The Greek cross appears at intervals and rarely on monuments during the early Christian centuries. The Crypts of Lucina, in the Catacomb of St. Callistus, yield an inscription which had been placed on a double grave or sepulchre, with the names ROUPHINA: EIRENE. Beneath this is seen the equilateral cross - disguised image of the gibbet on which the Redeemer died (De Rossi, Rom. Scott.,I, p. 333, Pl. XVIII). It is to be found also painted into the mantle of Moses in a fresco from the Catacomb of St. Saturninus on the Via Salaria Nuova, (Perret, Cat. de Rome, III, Pl. VI). In later times it is to be seen in a mosaic of a church at Paris built in the days of King Childebert (Lenoir, Statistique monumentale de Paris) and carved on the pedestals of the columns in the basilica of Constantine in the Agro Verano; also on the roofs and pillars of churches, to denote their consecration. More often, as we might expect, we find it on the façades of the Byzantine basilicas and in their adornments, such as altars, iconastases, sacred curtains for the enclosure, thrones, ambones and sacerdotal vestments. When the Emperor Justinian erected the church of Santa Sophia at Constantinople, with the aid of the architects Artemius of Tralles, and Isidore of Miletus, a new architectural type was created which became the model for all churches subsequently built within the Byzantine Empire, and the Greek cross inscribed in a square thus became their typical ground-plan. Perhaps, too the church of the Twelve Apostles may have been built upon this plan, as a famous epigram of St. Gregory Nazianzen would seem to indicate. There are other forms of cross, such as the crux gammata, the crux florida, or flowering cross, the pectoral cross, and the patriarchal cross. But these are noteworthy rather for their various uses in art and liturgy than for any peculiarity of style.
The complete and characteristic form of Christ's monogram is obtained by the superposition of the two initial Greek letters, chi and rho, of the name CHRISTOS. This is inexactly called the Constantinian monogram, although it was in use before the days of Constantine. It gained this name, however, because in his day it came much into fashion, and derived a triumphal signification from the fact that the emperor placed it on his new standard, i.e. the Labarum (Marucchi,
Di una pregevole ed inedita inscrizione cristiana in
Studi in Italia, anno VI, II, 1883). Older, but less complete, forms of this are made up of the crux decussata accompanied by a defective letter T, differing only slightly from the letter I, or encircled by a crown. These forms, which were used principally in the third century present a striking resemblance to a cross, but all of them are manifest allusions or symbols.
Another symbol largely employed during the third and fourth centuries, the swastika already spoken of at some length, still more closely resembles the cross. On monuments dating within the Christian Era it is known as the crux gammata, because it is made by joining four gammas at their bases. Many fantastic significations have been attached to the use of this sign on Christian monuments, and some have even gone so far as to conclude from it that Christianity is nothing but a descendant of the ancient religions and myths of the people of India, Persia, and Asia generally; then these theorists go on to point out the close relationship that exists between Christianity, on the one hand, Buddhism and other Oriental religions, on the other. At the very least they insist upon seeing some relation between the symbolical concepts of the ancient religions and those of Christianity. Such was the opinion held by Emile Burnouf (cf. Revue des Deux Mondes, 15 August, 1868, p. 874). De Rossi ably refuted this opinion, and showed the real value of this symbol on Christian monuments (Bull. d' arch. crist., 1868, 88-91). It is fairly common on the Christian monuments of Rome, being found on some sepulchral inscriptions, besides occurring twice, painted, on the Good Shepherd's tunic in an arcosolium in the Catacomb of St. Generosa in the Via Portuensis, and again on the tunic of the fossor Diogenes (the original epitaph is no longer extant. In the catacomb of St. Domitilla in the Via Ardeatina. Outside of Rome it is less frequent. There is one example in an inscription found at Chiusi (see Cavedoni, Ragguaglio di due antichi cimiteri di Chiusi). A stone in the museum at Bergamo bears the monogram joined to the gamma cross, but it would seem to be of Roman origin. Another in the Mannheim Museum, with the name of a certain Hugdulfus, belongs to the fifth or sixth century. In a sarcophagus at Milan belonging to the fourth century it is repeated over and over again, but evidently as a mere ornamental motive (see Allegranza, Mon. di Milano, 74).
De Rossi (Rom. Sott. Crist., II, 318) made researches into the chronology of this symbol, and the examples of it to be found in the catacombs at Rome, and he observed that it was seldom or never used until it took the place of the anchor, i.e. about the first half of the third century, whence he inferred that, not being of ancient tradition, it came into fashion as the result of studied choice rather than as a primitive symbol linking the beginnings of Christianity with Asiatic traditions. Its genesis is reflex and studied, not primitive and spontaneous. It is well known how anxiously the early Christians sought out means whereby they could at once portray and conceal the Cross of Christ. That in this way they should have discovered and adopted the crux gammata, is easily intelligible, and it is explained not merely by what has already been said, but also by the similarity between the Greek character gamma () and the Phnician character tan. The latter has been famous since Apostolic times as a symbol of the Cross of Christ and of the Redemption (cf. Barnabæ Epist., ix, 9).
The so-called Constantinian monogram prevailed during the whole of the fourth century, assuming various forms, and combining with the apocalyptic letters Alpha and Omega, but ever approaching more and more closely to the form of the cross pure and simple. In the latter part of that century what is known as the
monogrammatic cross makes its appearance; it closely resembles the plain cross, and foreshadows its complete triumph in Christian art. The early years of the fifth century are of the highest importance in this development, because it was then that the undisguised cross first appears. As we have seen, such was the diffidence induced, and the habit of caution enforced, by three centuries of persecution, that the faithful had hesitated all that time to display the sign of Redemption openly and publicly. Constantine by the Edict of Milan had given definitive peace to the Church; yet, for another century the faithful did not judge it opportune to abandon the use of the Constantinian monogram in one or other of its many forms But the fifth century marks the period when Christian art broke away from old fears, and, secure in its triumph, displayed before the world, now become Christian also, the sign of its redemption. To bring about so profound a change in the artistic traditions of Christianity, besides the altered condition of the Church in the eyes of the Roman State, two facts of great importance played a part: the miraculous apparition of the Cross to Constantine and the finding of the Holy Wood.
Constantine having declared war on Maxentius had invaded Italy. During the campaign which ensued he is said to have seen in the heavens one day a luminous cross together with the words EN-TOUTOI-NIKA(In this conquer.) During the night that followed that day, he saw again, in sleep the same cross, and Christ, appearing with it, admonished him to place it on his standards. Thus the Labarum took its origin, and under this glorious banner Constantine overcame his adversary near the Milvian Bridge, on 28 October, 312 (see CONSTANTINE THE GREAT).
The second event was of even greater importance. In the year 326 the mother of Constantine, Helena, then about 80 years old, having journeyed to Jerusalem, undertook to rid the Holy Sepulchre of the mound of earth heaped upon and around it, and to destroy the pagan buildings that profaned its site, Some revelations which she had received gave her confidence that she would discover the Saviour's Tomb and His Cross. The work was carried on diligently, with the co-operation of St. Macarius, bishop of the city. The Jews had hidden the Cross in a ditch or well, and covered it over with stones, so that the faithful might not come and venerate it. Only a chosen few among the Jews knew the exact spot where it had been hidden, and one of them, named Judas, touched by Divine inspiration, pointed it out to the excavators, for which act he was highly praised by St. Helena. Judas afterwards became a Christian saint, and is honoured under the name of Cyriacus. During the excavation three crosses were found, but because the titulus was detached from the Cross of Christ, there was no means of identifying it. Following an inspiration from on high, Macarius caused the three crosses to be carried, one after the other, to the bedside of a worthy woman who was at the point of death. The touch of the other two was of no avail; but on touching that upon which Christ had died the woman got suddenly well again. From a letter of St. Paulinus to Severus inserted in the Breviary of Paris it would appear that St. Helena. herself had sought by means of a miracle to discover which was the True Cross and that she caused a man already dead and buried to be carried to the spot, whereupon, by contact with the third cross, he came to life. From yet another tradition, related by St.Ambrose, it would seem that the titulus, or inscription, had remained fastened to the Cross.
After the happy discovery, St. Helena and Constantine erected a magnificent basilica over the Holy Sepulchre, and that is the reason why the church bore the name of St. Constantinus. The precise spot of the finding was covered by the atrium of the basilica, and there the Cross was set up in an oratory, as appears in the restoration executed by de Vogüé. When this noble basilica had been destroyed by the infidels, Arculfus, in the seventh century, enumerated four buildings upon the Holy Places around Golgotha, and one of them was the
Church of the Invention or
of the Finding. This church was attributed by him and by topographers of later times to Constantine. The Frankish monks of Mount Olivet, writing to Leo III, style it St. Constantinus. Perhaps the oratory built by Constantine suffered less at the hands of the Persians than the other buildings, and so could still retain the name and style of Martyrium Constantinianum. (See De Rossi, Bull. d' arch. crist., 1865, 88.)
A portion of the True Cross remained at Jerusalem enclosed in a silver reliquary; the remainder, with the nails, must have been sent to Constantine, and it must have been this second portion that he caused to be enclosed in the statue of himself which was set on a porphyry column in the Forum at Constantinople; Socrates, the historian, relates that this statue was to make the city impregnable. One of the nails was fastened to the emperor's helmet, and one to his horse's bridle, bringing to pass, according to many of the Fathers, what had been written by Zacharias the Prophet:
In that day that which is upon the bridle of the horse shall be holy to the Lord (Zechariah 14:20). Another of the nails was used later in the Iron Crown of Lombardy preserved in the treasury of the cathedral of Monza. Eusebius in his Life of Constantine, describing the work of excavating and building on the site of the Holy Sepulchre, does not speak of the True Cross. In the story of a journey to Jerusalem made in 333 (Itinerarium Burdigalense) the various tombs and the basilica of Constantine are referred to, but no mention is made of the True Cross. The earliest reference to it is in the
Catecheses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem (P. G., XXXIII, 468, 686, 776) written in the year 348, or at least twenty years after the supposed discovery.
In this tradition of the
Invention, or discovery of the True Cross, not a word is said as to the smaller portions of it scattered up and down the world. The story, as it has reached us, has been admitted, since the beginning of the fifth century, by all ecclesiastical writers, with, however, many more or less important variations. By many critics the tradition of the finding of the Cross through the work of St. Helena. in the vicinity of Calvary has been held to be mere legend without any historical reality these critics relying chiefly upon the silence of Eusebius, who tells of all else that St. Helena did in Jerusalem, but says nothing about her finding the Cross. Still, however difficult it may be to explain this silence, it would be unsound to annihilate with a negative argument a universal tradition dating from the fifth century. The wonders related in the Syriac book
Doctrina. Addai (sixth century) and in the legend of the Jew Cyriacus, who is said to have been inspired to reveal to St. Helena, the place where the Cross was buried, are responsible at least in part for the common beliefs of the faithful on this matter. These beliefs are universally held to be apocryphal. (See Duchesne, Lib. Pont., I, p. cviii.) However that may be, the testimony of Cyril, Bishop of Jerusalem from 350 or 351, who was on the spot a very few years after the event took place, and was a contemporary of Eusebius of Cæsarea, is explicit and formal as to the finding of the Cross at Jerusalem during the reign of Constantine this testimony is contained in a letter to the Emperor Constantius (P. G. XXXIII, 52, 1167; and cf. 686, 687). It is true that the authenticity of this letter is questioned, but without solid grounds. St. Ambrose (De obit. Theod., 45-48 in P.L., XVI, 401) and Rufinus (Hist. eccl., I, viii in P. L., XXI, 476) bear witness to the fact of the finding. Silvia of Aquitaine (Peregrinatio ad loca sancta, ed. Gamurrini, Rome 1888. p. 76) assures us that in her time the feast of the Finding was commemorated on Calvary, that event having naturally become the occasion of a special feast under the name of
The Invention of the Holy Cross. The feast dates from very early times at Jerusalem, and it was gradually introduced into other Churches. Papebroch (Acta SS., 3 May) tells us that it did not become general until about the year 720. In the Latin Church it is kept on the 3rd of May; the Greek Church keeps it on the 14th of September the same day as the Exaltation, another feast of very remote origin, supposed to have been instituted at Jerusalem to commemorate the dedication of the basilica of the Holy Sepulchre (335) and thence introduced at Rome.
Constantine's vision of the Cross, and perhaps another apparition which took place in Jerusalem in 346, would seem to have been commemorated in this same feast. But its chief glory is its connection with the restoration of the True Cross to the Church of Jerusalem, after it had been carried away by the Persian king, Chosroes (Khusrau) II, the conqueror of Phocas, when he captured and sacked the Holy City. This Chosroes was afterwards vanquished by the Emperor Heraclius II and in 628 was assassinated by his own son Siroes (Shirva), who restored the Cross to Heraclius. It was then carried in triumph to Constantinople and thence, in the Spring of the year 629, to Jerusalem. Heraclius, who wished to carry the Holy Cross upon his own shoulders on this occasion, found it extremely heavy, but when, upon the advice of the Patriarch Zacharias, he laid aside his crown and imperial robe of state, the sacred burden became light, and he was able to carry it to the church. In the following year Heraclius was conquered by the Mahommedans, and in 647 Jerusalem was taken by them.
In reference to this feast the Paris Breviary associates with the memory of Heraclius that of St. Louis of France, who, on 14 September, 1241 barefoot and divested of his royal robes, carried the fragment of the Holy Cross sent to him by the Templars, who had received it as a pledge from Baldwin. This fragment escaped destruction during the Revolution and is still preserved at Paris. There, also, is preserved the incombustible cross left to the abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés by the Princess Anna Gonzaga, together with two portions of the Nails. Very soon after the discovery of the True Cross its wood was cut up into small relics and quickly scattered throughout the Christian World. We know this from the writings of St. Ambrose, of St. Paulinus of Nola, of Sulpicius Severus, of Rufinus, and, among the Greeks, of Socrates, Sozomen, and Theodoret (cf. Duchesne,
Lib, Pont., I, p. cvii; Marucchi
Basiliques de Rome, 1902, 348 sq.; Pennacchi,
De Inventâ Ierosolymis Constantino magno Imp. Cruce D. N. I. C., Rome, 1892; Baronius,
Annales Eccl,, ad an. 336, Lucca, 1739, IV, 178). Many portions of it are preserved in Santa Croce in Gerusalemme at Rome, and in Notre-Dame at Paris (cf. Rohault de Fleury,
Mémoire, 45-163; Gosselin, Notice historique sur la Sainte Couronne et les autres Instruments de la Passion de Note-Dame de Paris, Paris, 1828; Sauvage,
Documents sur les reliques de la, Vrai Croix, Rouen, 1893). St. Paulinus in one of his letters refers to the redintegration of the Cross, i.e. that it never grew smaller in size, no matter how many pieces were detached from it. And the same St. Paulinus received from Jerusalem a relic of the Cross enclosed in a golden tube, but so small that it was almost an atom,
in segmento pene atomo hastulæ brevis munimentum præsentis et pignus æternæ salutis (Epist. xxxi ad Severum).
The historical detail we have been considering sufficiently accounts for appearance of the cross on monuments dating from the end of the fourth century and the beginning of the fifth century, In an arcosolium in the Catacomb of St. Callistus a cross composed of flowers and foliage with two doves at its base is still partially disguised, but begins to be more easily recognizable (cf. De Rossi, Rom. Sott., III, Pl. XII). Especially in Africa, where Christianity had made more rapid progress, the cross began to appear openly during the course of the fourth century; The most ancient text we have relating to a carved cross dates from later than A.D. 362. The cross was used on the coinage of Christian princes and peoples with the superscription, Salus Mundi. The
adoration of the Cross, which up to this time had been restricted to private cult, now began to assume a public and solemn character. At the end of the fourth century Christian poets were already writing,
Flecte genu lignumque Crucis venerabile adora. The second Council of Nicæa, among other precepts that deal with images, lays down that the Cross should receive an adoration of honour,
honorariam adorationem. (See TRUE CROSS.) To the pagans who taunted them with being as much idolaters as they accused the pagans of being towards their gods, they replied that they took their stand on the nature of the cult they that it was not latria, but a relative worship, and the material symbol only served to raise their minds to the Divine Type, Jesus Christ Crucified (cf. Tert.,
Apol, xvi; Minucius Felix,
Octav., ix-xii). Wherefore St. Ambrose, speaking on the veneration of the Cross, thought it opportune to explain the idea:
Let us adore Christ, our King, who hung upon the wood, and not the wood (Regem Christum qui pependit in 1igno … non lignum. -
In obit. Theodosii, xlvi). The Western Church observes the solemn public veneration (called the
Adoration) on Good Friday. In the Gregorian Sacramentary we read:
Venit Pontifexet et adoratam deosculatur. In the Eastern Church the special veneration of the Cross is performed on the Third Sunday in Lent (Kyriake tes stauroproskyneseos
Sunday of the Cross-veneration) and during the week that follows it. The gradual spread of the devotion to the Cross incidentally occasioned abuses in the piety of the faithful. Indeed, we learn from the edicts of Valentinian and Theodosius that the cross was at times set up in very unseemly places. The evil-minded, the ignorant, and all those who practiced spells, charms, and other such superstitions perverted the widespread devotion to their own corrupt uses. To deceive the faithful and turn their piety into lucre, these people associated the sign of the cross with their superstitious and magical symbols, winning thereby the confidence and trust of their dupes. To all this corruption of the religious idea the teachers of the Church opposed themselves, exhorting the faithful to true piety and to beware of superstitious talismans (cf. St. John Chrysostom, Hom. vii in Epist. ad Coloss., vii, and elsewhere; De Rossi,
Bull. d'archeol. crist. 1869, 62-64).
The distribution of portions of the wood of the Cross led to the making of a remarkable number of
crosses from the fourth century onwards, many of which have come down to us. Known under the names of
encolpia and pectoral crosses they often served to enclose fragments of the True Cross; they were
merely crosses worn on the breast out of devotion -
To wear upon the breast a cross, hung from the neck,
with the Sacred Wood, or with relics of saints, which is what they call an encolpium (Anastasius
Bibliothecarius on Act. V of VIII Dec. Counc.). On the origin and use of pectoral crosses see Giovanni
Considerazioni sopra un encolpio eneo rinvenuto in Corfu (Trieste, 1854). St. John
Chrysostom, in his polemic against Jews and Gentiles, wherein he panegyrizes the triumph of the Cross,
testifies that whosoever, man or woman possessed a relic of it had it enclosed in gold and wore it around
the neck (St. John Chrysostom, ed. Montfaucon, I, 571). St. Macrina (d. 379) sister of St. Gregory Nazianzen,
wore an iron cross on her breast; we do not really know its shape; perhaps it was the monogrammatic one
taken by her brother from her dead body. Among the belongings of Maria, the daughter of Stilicho and wife
of Honorius, laid away together with her body in the Vatican basilica, and found there in 1544, there were
counted no fewer than ten small crosses in gold adorned with emeralds and gems, as may be seen in the
illustrations preserved by Lucio Fauno (Antich. Rom., V, x). In the Kircherian Museum there is a small
gold cross, hollowed for relics, and dating from the fifth century. It has a ring attached to it for
securing it around the neck, and it seems to have had grapevine ornamentation at the extremities. A
very beautiful cross, described by De Rossi and by him attributed to the sixth century, was found in a
tomb in the Agro Verano at Rome (Bull. d'arch. Crist., 1863, 33-38). The general characteristic of these
more ancient crosses is their simplicity and lack of inscription, in contrast to those of the Byzantine
era and times later than the sixth century. Among the most noteworthy is the staurotheca of St. Gregory
the Great (590-604), preserved at Monza, which is really a pectoral cross (cf. Bugatti,
Memorie di S.
Celso, 174 sq.; Borgia,
De Cruce Veliternâ, pp. cxxxiii sqq.). Scandella (op. cit.) points out
that St. Gregory is the first to mention the cruciform shape given to these golden reliquaries. But, as we
have seen, they date from much earlier times, as is proved by the one found in the Agro Verano, among others.
Some writers go too far in wishing to push their antiquity back to the beginning of the fourth century. They
base their opinion on documents in the acts of the martyrs under Diocletian. In those of the martyrdom of St.
Procopius we read that he caused a gold pectoral cross to be made, and that there appeared on it miraculously
in Hebrew letters the names Emmanuel, Michael, Gabriel. The Bollandists, however, reject these acts, which they
demonstrate to be of little authority (Acta SS., July, II, p. 554). In the history of St. Eustratius and other
martyrs of Lesser Armenia, it is related that a soldier named Orestes was recognized to be a Christian because,
during some military manuvres, a certain movement of his body displayed the fact that he wore a golden cross on
his breast (cf. Aringhi, Rom. Subt., II, 545); but even this history is far from being entirely accurate.
The recent opening of the famous treasury of the Sancta Sanctorum near the Lateran has restored to our
possession some objects of the highest value in connection with the wood of the Holy Cross, and bearing on
our knowledge of crosses containing particles of the Holy Wood, and of churches built in the fifth and sixth
centuries in its honour. Among the objects found in this treasury was a votive cross of about the fifth century,
inlaid with large gems, a cruciform wooden box with a sliding lid bearing the words (light, life), and lastly,
a gold cross ornamented with cloisonnés enamels. The first of these is most important because it belongs to
the same period (if not to an even earlier one) as the famous cross of Justin II, of the sixth century,
preserved in the treasury at St. Peter's, and which contains a relic of the True Cross set in jewels. It
was held, up to the present, to be the oldest cross extant in a precious metal (De Waal in
Quartalschrift, VII, 1893, 245 sq.; Molinier,
Hist. générale des arts; L'orfèvrerie religieuse et
civile, Paris, 1901, vol. IV, pt. I, p. 37). This cross, containing relics of the Holy Cross, was
discovered by Pope Sergius I (687-701) in the sacristy of St. Peter's basilica (cf. Duchesne, Lib. Pont.,
I, 347, s. v. Sergius) in a sealed silver case. It contained a jewelled cross enclosing a piece of the
True Cross, and dates, perhaps, from the fifth century.
Enamelled crosses of this nature, an inheritance of Byzantine art, do not date earlier than the sixth
century. The oldest example of this type we have is a fragment of the reliquary adorned with cloisonnés
enamels in which a fragment of the cross was carried to Poitiers between 565 and 575 (cf. Molinier, op.
cit.; Barbier de Montault,
Le trésor de la Sainte Croix de Poitiers, 1883). Of later date are the
Cross of Victory at Limburg near Aachen. Charlemagne's cross, and that of St. Stephen at Vienna. Besides
these we have in Italy the enamelled cross of Cosenza (eleventh century) the Gaeta cross, also in enamel,
crosses in the Christian section of the Vatican Museum, and the celebrated cross of Velletri (eighth or
tenth century) adorned with precious gems and enamel, and discussed by Cardinal Stefano Borgia in his work,
De Cruce Veliternâ.
The world-wide devotion to the Cross and its relics during the fifth and succeeding centuries was so great that even the iconoclast Emperors of the East in their suppression of the cult of images had to respect that of the Cross (cf. Banduri,
Numism. imp. II, p.702 sq.; Niceph.,
Hist. Eccl., XVIII, liv). This cult of the Cross called forth the building of many Churches and oratories wherein to treasure its precious relics. The church of S. Croce at Ravenna was built by Galla Placidia before the year 450
in honorem sanctæ crucis Domini, a quâ habet et nomen et formam (Muratori, Script. rer. ital., I, Pl. II, p.544a). Pope Symmachus (498-514; cf. Duchesne,
Lib. Pont., 261 s. v. Symmachus, no. 79) built an oratory of the Holy Cross behind the baptistery at St. Peter's, and placed in it a jewelled gold cross containing a relic of the True Cross. Pope Hilarius (461-468) did the like at the Lateran, building an oratory communicating with the baptistery, and placing in it a similar cross (Duchesne. op. cit., I, 242:
ubi lignum posuit dominicum, crucem auream cum gemmis quæ pens. lib. XX).
The unvarying characteristic style of cross in the fifth and sixth centuries is for the most part decked with flowers, palms, and foliage, sometimes sprouting from the root of the cross itself, or adorned with gems and precious stones. Sometimes on two small chains hanging from the arms of the cross one sees the apocalyptic letters Alpha, Omega, and over them were hung small lamps or candles. On the mosaics in the church of St. Felix at Nola, St. Paulinus caused to be written:
Cerne coronatam domini super atria Christi stare crucem (Ep, xxxii, 12, ad Sever.). A flowered and jewelled cross is that painted on the baptistery of the Catacomb of Ponzianus on the Via Portuensis (cf. Bottari, Rorn. Sott., P1. XLIV). The cross is also displayed on the mosaic in the baptistery built by Galla Placidia, in the church of San Vitale, and in Sant' Apollinare in Classe, at Ravenna, and over a ciborium from St. Sophia at Constantinople. In 1867, at Berezov Islands, on the River Sosswa, in Siberia, there was found a silver plate, or liturgical paten, of Syrian workmanship, which now belongs to Count Gregory Stroganov. In the centre of it is a cross standing on a terrestrial globe studded with stars; on either side stands an angel with a staff in his left hand, the right being raised in adoration; four rivers flow from its base and indicate that the scene is in Paradise. Some learned Russians attribute the plate to the ninth century, but De Rossi, more correctly, places it in the seventh century. In these same centuries the cross was of frequent use in liturgical rites and processions of great solemnity. It was carried in the churches where the stations were; the bearer of it was called draconarius, and the cross itself stationalis. These crosses were often very costly (cf. Bottari, Rom. Sott., Pl. XLIV), the most famous being the cross of Ravenna and that of Velletri.
The sign of the cross was made at liturgical functions over persons and things, sometimes with five fingers extended, to represent the Five Wounds of Christ sometimes with three, in sign of the Persons of the Trinity, and sometimes with only one, symbolical of the unity of God. For the blessing of the chalice and oblations Leo IV prescribed that two fingers be extended and thumb placed beneath them. This is the only true sign of the Trinitarian Cross. The pope warmly recommended his clergy to make this sign with care, else their blessing would be fruitless. The action was accompanied by the solemn formula,
In nomine Patris, etc. Another use of the cross was in the solemn dedication of churches (see ALPHABET; CONSECRATION). The bishop who performed the ceremony wrote the alphabet in Latin and Greek on the floor of the church along two straight lines crossing in the form of the Roman decussis. The letter X, which in the land-plottings of the Roman augurs represented, with its two component lines, the cardo maximus and the decumanus maximus, was the same decussis used by the Roman agrimensores, in their surveys of farms, to indicate boundaries. This sign was appropriate to Christ by its cruciform shape and by its identity in shape with the initial letter of His name, Christos, in Greek. For this reason it was one of the genuine forms of the signum Christi.
The use of the cross became so widespread in the fifth and following centuries that anything like a complete enumeration of the monuments on which it appears is well nigh impossible. Suffice it to say that there is hardly a remnant of antiquity dating from this century, whether lowly and mean or noble and grand, which does not bear the sign. In proof of this we shall give here a cursory enumeration. It is quite frequent on sepulchral monuments, on the imperial urns at Constantinople, on the plaster of the loculi (resting-places) in the catacombs, especially of Rome, in a painting in a Christian cemetery at Alexandria in Egypt, on a mosaic at Boville near Rome, on an inscription for a tomb made in the form of a cross and now in the museum at Marseilles, on the interior walls of sepulchral chambers, on the front of marble sarcophagi dating from the fifth century. In these last instances it is common to see the cross surmounted by the monogram and surrounded by a laurel wreath (e.g. the sarcophagi at Arles, and in the Lateran Museum). A very fine specimen was found recently in excavations in St. Domitilla's Catacomb on the Ostian Way; it is a symbolical picture of souls freed from the trammels of the body, and saved by means of the Cross, which has two doves on its arms, while armed guards are asleep at its base. Lastly, in England, crosses have been found on sepulchral monuments. So universal was its use by the faithful that they put it even on household utensils, on medals of devotion, on pottery lamps, spoons, cups, plates, glassware on clasps dating from Merovingian times, on inscriptions and votive offerings, on seals made in the form of a cross, on toys representing animals, on ivory combs, on the seals of wine-jars, on reliquary boxes, and even on water-pipes. In objects of liturgical use we meet it on Biblical codices, on vestments, pallia, on leaden thongs inscribed with exorcising formulæs and it was signed on the foreheads of catechumens and candidates for confirmation. The architectural details of churches and basilicas were ornamented with crosses; the façades, the marble slabs, the transoms, the pillars, the capitals, the keystones of arches, the altar-tables, the bishops' thrones, the diptychs, and the bells were also ornamented in the same way. In the artistic monuments the so-called cruciform nimbus around Our Saviour's head is well known. The cross appears over His head, and near that of the orante, as in the oil-stocks of Santo Menna. It is also to be met with on monuments of a symbolical nature: on the rocks whence flow the four celestial rivers the cross finds its place; on the vase and on the symbolical ship, on the head of the tempting serpent, and even on the lion in Daniel's den.
When Christianity had become the official religion of the empire, it was natural that the cross should be carved on public monuments. In fact it was from the first used to purify and sanctify monuments and temples originally pagan; it was prefixed to signatures and to inscriptions placed on public work; it was borne by consuls on their sceptres, the first to do so being Basil the Younger (A.D. 541 - cf. Gori, Thes. diptych., II, Pl. XX). It was cut in marble quarries and in brickyards, and on the gates of cities (cf. de Vogüé, Syrie Centrale; Architecture du VII siécle).
At Rome there is still to be seen on the Gate of St. Sebastian the figure of a Greek cross surrounded by a circle with the invocations: In and around Bologna it was usual to set the sign of salvation in the public streets. According to tradition, these crosses are very ancient, and four of them date from the time of St. Petronius. Some of them were restored in the ninth and tenth centuries (cf. Giovanni Gozzadini, Delle croci monumentali che erano nelle vie di Bologna nel secolo xiii).
The cross also played an important part in heraldry and diplomatic science. The former does not directly come within our scope; of the second we shall give the briefest outlines. Crosses are to be found on documents of early medieval times and, being placed at the head of a deed, were equivalent to an invocation of heaven, whether they were plain or ornamental. They were at times placed before signatures, and they have even been equilavalent to signatures in themselves. Indeed, from the tenth century we find, under contracts, roughly-made crosses that have all the appearance of being intended as signatures. Thus did Hugh Capet, Robert Capet, Henry I, and Philip I sign their official documents. This usage declined in the thirteenth century and appeared again in the fifteenth. In our own day the cross is reserved as the attestation-mark of illiterate people. A cross was characteristic of the signature of Apostolic notaries, but this was carefully designed, not rapidly written. In the early Middle Ages crosses were decorated with even greater magnifìcence. In the centre were to be seen medallions representing the Lamb of God, Christ, or the saints. Such is the case in the Velletri cross and that which Justin II gave to St. Peter's, mentioned above, and again in the silver cross of Agnello at Ravenna (cf. Ciampini, Vet. mon., II, Pl. XIV). All this kind of decoration displays the substitution of some more or less complete symbol for the figure of Christ on the cross, of which we are about to speak.
It may be well to give here a list of works bearing on the departments of the subject just treated, and containing illustrations which it has not been opportune to quote in the foregoing part of the article: STOCKBAUER, Kunstgeschichte desKreuzes (Schaffhause, 1870); GRIMOUARD DE SAINT-LAURENT, lconographie de la Croix et du Crucifix in Ann. archéol., XXVI, XXVII; MARTIGNY, Dictionnaire des antiquités chrétiennes, s. v. Crucifix; BAYET, Recherches pour savir à l'histoire de la peinture…en orient (Paris, 1879): MÜNZ, Les mosaïques chrétiennes de l'Italie (l'oratoire de Jeann VII) in Rev. archéol.,1877, II; LABARTE, Histoire des arts industriels, II; KRAUS, Real-Encyklopädie der christliche. Alterhümer (Freiburg, 1882).
LATER DEVELOPMENT OF THE CRUCIFIX
We have seen the progressive steps - artistic, symbolical, and allegorical - through which the representation of the Cross passed from the first centuries down to the Middle Ages and we have seen some of the reasons which prevented Christian art from making an earlier display of the figure of the cross. Now the cross, as it was seen during all this time was only a symbol of the Divine Victim and not a direct representation. We can thus more easily understand, then how much more circumspection was necessary in proceeding to a direct portrayal of the Lord's actual Crucifixion. Although in the fifth century the cross began to appear on public monuments, it was not for a century afterwards that the figure on the cross was shown; and not until the close of the fifth, or even the middle of the sixth century, did it appear without disguise. But from the sixth century onward we find many images - not allegorical, but historical and realistic of the crucified Saviour. To proceed in order, we will first examine the rare allusions, as it were, to the Crucifixion in Christian art down to the sixth century, and then look at the productions of that art in the later period.
Seeing that the cross was the symbol of an ignominious death, the repugnance of the early Christians to any representation of Christ's torments and ignominy is easily understood. On a few sarcophagi of the fifth century (e.g. one in the Lateran, no. 171) scenes from the Passion are shown, but so treated as to show none of the shame and horror attaching to that instrument of death which was, as St. Paul says,
to the Jews a scandal, and to the Gentiles foolishness. Yet, from the first ages Christians were loth to deprive themselves altogether of the image of their crucified Redeemer, though, for the reasons already stated and because of the
Discipline of the Secret (q. v.), they could not represent the scene openly. The Council of Elvira, c. 300, decreed that what was to be adored ought not to be used in mural decoration. Wherefore recourse was had to allegory and to veiled forms, as in the case of the cross itself, (Cf. Bréhier, Les origines du Crucifix dans l'art religieux, Paris, 1904.) One of the most ancient allegories of the Crucifixion is considered to be that of the lamb lying at the foot of the anchor - symbols respectively of the Cross and of Christ. A very ancient inscription in the Crypt of Lucina, in the Catacombs of St. Callistus, shows this picture, which is otherwise somewhat rare (cf. De Rossi, Rom. Sott. Christ., I, Pl. XX). The same symbol was still in use at the end of the fourth and beginning of the fifth century. In the description of the mosaics in the basilica of St. Felix at Nola, St. Paulinus shows us the same cross in connection with the mystical lamb, evidently an allusion to the Crucifixion, and he adds the well-known verse:
Sub cruce sanguineâ niveus stat Christus in agno.
We saw above that the trident was a veiled image of the cross. In the Catacomb of St. Callistus we have a more
complicated study; the mystical dolphin is twined around the trident - very expressive symbol of the Crucifixion. The
early Christians in their artistic labours did not disdain to draw upon the symbols and allegories of pagan mythology,
as long as these were not contrary to Christian faith and morals. In the Catacomb of St. Callistus a sarcophagus, dating
from the third century, was found, the front of which shows Ulysses tied to the mast while he listens to the song of the
Sirens; near him are his companions, who with ears filled with wax, cannot hear the alluring song. All this is symboliccal
of the Cross, and of the Crucified, who has closed against the seductions of evil the ears of the faithful during their
voyage over the treacherous sea of life in the ship which will bring them to the harbour of salvation. Such is the
interpretation given by St. Maximus of Turin in the homily read on Good Friday (S. Maximi opera, Rome, 1874, 151. Cf.
De Rossi, Rom. Sott., I, 344-345 Pl. XXX, 5). A very important monument belonging to the beginning of the third century
shows the Crucifixion openly. This would seem to contradict what we have said above, but it should be remembered that
this is the work of pagan, and not of Christian, hands (cf. De Rossi, Bull, d'arch, crist., 1863, 72, and 1867, 75), and
therefore it has no real value as a proof among purely Christian works. On a beam in the Pædagogioum on the Palatine there
was discovered a graffito on the plaster, showing a man with an ass's head, and clad in a perizoma (or short loin-cloth)
and fastened to a crux immissa (regular Latin cross). Near by there is another man in an attitude of prayer with the
legend Alexamenos sebetai theon, i.e.,
Alexamenos adores God. This graffito is now to be seen in the Kircherian
Museum in Rome, and is but an impious caricature in mockery of the Christian Alexamenos, drawn by one of his pagan
comrades of the Pædagogioum. (See the article entitled Ass.) In fact Tertullian tells us that in his day, i.e. precisely
at the time when this caricature was made, Christians were accused of adoring an ass's head,
Somniatis caput asininum
esse Deum nostrum (Apol., xvi; Ad Nat., I, ii). And Minucius Felix confirms this (Octav., ix). The Palatine graffito
is also important as showing that the Christians used the crucifix in their private devotions at least as early as the
third century. It would not have been possible for Alexamenos' companion to trace the graffito of a crucified person clad
in the perizoma (which was contrary to Roman usage) if he had not seen some such figure made use of by the Christians.
Professor Haupt sought to identify it as a caricature of a worshipper of the Egyptian god Seth, the Typho of the Greeks,
but his explanatian was refuted by Kraus. Recently, a similar opinion has been put forth by Wünsch, who takes his stand
on the letter Y which is placed near the crucified figure, and which has also been found on a tablet relating to the
worship of Seth; he therefore concludes that Alexamenos of the graffito belonged to the Sethian sect. (With reference
to the Alexamenos graffito, which certainly has a bearing on the crucifix and its use by the early Christians, see
Un crocifisso graffito da mano pagana nella casa dei Cesari sul Palatino, Rome, 1857; Ferdinand
Das Spott-Crucifix der römischen Kaiserpaläste, Breslau, 1866; Kraus,
Das Spott-Crucifix vom Palatin,
Freiburg im Breisgau, 1872; Visconti,
Di un nuovo graffito palatino relativo al cristiano Alessameno, Rome, 1870;
Visconti and Lanciani,
Guida del Palatino, 1873, p. 86; De Rossi,
Rom. Sott. Crist., 1877, pp. 353-354;
Setianische Verfluchungstafeln aus Rom, Leipzig, 1898, p. 110 sqq.; Vigouroux,
Les livres saints
et la critique rationaliste, I, 94-102.)
The crucifix and representations of the Crucifixion became general after the sixth century, on manuscripts, then on
private monuments, and finally even on public monuments. But its appearance on monuments up to about the eighth century
surely indicates such monuments to be works of private zeal and devotion, or, at least, not clearly and decidedly public.
As a matter of fact, it is noteworthy that, in the year 692, i.e. at the end of the seventh century the Quinisext Council
of Constantinople, called the Trullan, ordered the symbolical and allegorical treatment to be laid aside. The earliest MS.
bearing a representation of Christ crucified is in a miniature of a Syriac codex of the Gospels dating from A.D. 586
(Codex Syriacus, 56), written by the scribe Rabula, and which is in the Laurentian Library at Florence. Therein the figure
of Christ is robed (Assemani, Biblioth. Laurent. Medic. catalog., Pl. XXIII, p. 194). Other images of the crucifix belong
to the sixth century. Gregory of Tours, in his work
De Gloriâ Martyrum, I, xxv, speaks of a crucifix robed in a
colobium, or tunic, which in his day was publicly venerated at Narbonne in the church of St. Genesius, and which he
considered a profanation - so far was the public cult of the crucifix from having become general up to that time. A
cross belonging to the sixth century is to be found in the treasury at Monza, on which the image of the Saviour is wrought
in enamel (cf. Mozzoni,
Tavole cronologiche-critiche della stor. eccl: secolo VII, 79), and which seems to be
identical with that given by St. Gregory the Great to Theodolinda, Queen of the Lombards. We know also that he gave a
cross to Recared, King of the Visigoths, and to others (cf. S. Gregorii Lib. III, Epist. xxxii; Lib. IX, Epist. cxxii;
Lib. XIII, Epist. xlii; Lib. XIV, Epist. xii).
It is certain, then, that the custom of displaying the Redeemer on the Cross began with the close of the sixth century,
especially on encolpia, yet such examples of the crucifix are rare. As an example, we have a Byzantine encolpion, with
a Greek inscription, which was erroneously thought to have been discovered in the Roman Catacombs in 1662, and about
which the renowned Leo Allatius has written learnedly (cf.
Codice Chigiano, VI; Fea,
Miscellanea filol. critica
282). The little metal vases at Monza, in which was carried to Queen Theodolinda the oil from the Holy Places, show clearly
how the repugnance to effigies of Christ lasted well into the sixth century. In the scene of the Crucifixion thereon
depicted, the two thieves alone are seen with arms extended, in the attitude of crucifixion, but without a cross, while
Christ appears as an orante, with a nimbus, ascending among the clouds, and in all the majesty of glory, above a cross
under a decoration of flowers. (Cf. Mozzoni, op. cit., 77, 84.) In the same manner, on another monument, we see the cross
between two archangels while the bust of Christ is shown above. Another very important monument of this century, and
perhaps dating even from the preceding one, is the Crucifixion carved on the wooden doors at S. Sabina on the Aventine
Hill, at Rome. The Crucified Christ, stripped of His garments, and on a, cross, but not nailed to the cross, and between
two thieves, is shown as an orante, and the scene of the Crucifixion is, to a, certain extent, artistically veiled. The
carving is roughly done, but the work has become of great importance, owing to recent studies thereon, wherefore we shall
briefly indicate the various writings dealing with it: Grisar,
Analecta Romana, 427 sqq.; Berthier,
de Sainte-Sabine à Rome; Etude archéologique (Fribourg, Switzerland, 1892); Pératé,
Bibliothèque de l'ensiegnement des beaux arts (Paris, 1892, pp. 330-36); Bertram,
Die Thüren von Sta.
Sabina in Rom: das Vorbild der Bernwards Thüren am Dom zu Hildesheim (Fribourg, Switzerland, 1892); Ehrhard,
altchristliche Prachtthüre der Basilika Sta. Sabina in Rom in
Der Katholik, LXXIX (1892), 444 sqq., 538 sqq.;
Civiltà Cattolica, IV (1892), 68-89;
Römische Quartalschrift, VII (1893), 102;
XIII (1894), 53; Forret and Müller,
Kreuz und Kreuzigung Christi in ihrer Kunstentwicklung (Strasburg, 1894),
15, Pl. II and Pl, III; Strzygowski,
Das Berliner Moses-Relief und die Thüren von Sta. Sabina in Rom in
der königl. preussischen Kunstsammlungen, XVI (1893), 65-81; Ehrhard,
Prachtthüre von S. Sabina in Rom und die
Domthüre von Spalato in
Ephemeris Spalatensis (1894), 9 sqq.; Grisar,
Kreuz und Kreuzigung auf der
altchristl. Thüre von S. Sabina in Rom (Rome, 1894); Dobbert,
Zur Entstehungsgeschichte des Crucifixes in
Jahrb. der preuss. Kunstsammlungen, I (1880), 41-50.
To this same period belongs a crucifix at Mount Athos (see Smith's
Dictionary of Christian Antiquities,
London, 1875, I, 514), as well as an ivory in the British Museum. Christ is shown wearing only a loin-cloth:
He appears as if alive; and not suffering physical pain. To the left, Judas is seen hanged; and below is the
purse of money. In the following century the Crucifixion is still sometimes represented with the restrictions
we have noticed, for instance, in the mosaic made in 642 by Pope Theodore in S. Stefano Rotondo, Rome. There,
between Sts. Primas and Felician, the cross is to be seen, with the bust of the Saviour just above it. In the
same seventh century, also, the scene of the Crucifixion is shown in all its historic reality in the crypt
of St. Valentine's Catacomb on the Via Flaminia (cf. Marucchi, La cripta sepolcrale di S. Valentino, Rome,
1878). Bosio saw it in the sixteenth century, and it was then in a better state of preservation than it is
today (Bosio, Roma Sott., III, lxv). Christ crucified appears between Our Lady and St. John and is clad in a
long, flowing tunic (colobium), and fastened by four nails, as was the ancient tradition, and as Gregory of
Clavorum ergo dominicorum gratiâ quod quatuor fuerint hæc est ratio: duo sunt affixi in
palmis, et duo in plantis (
De Gloriâ Martyrum, I, vi, in P.L., XXI, 710).
The last objections and obstacles to the realistic reproduction of the Crucifixion disappeared in the beginning of the eighth century. In the oratory built by Pope John VII in the Vatican, A.D. 705, the crucifix was represented realistically in mosaic. But the figure was robed, as we may learn from the drawings made by Grimaldi in the time of Paul V, when the oratory was pulled down to make room for the modern façade. Part of such a mosaic still exists in the grottoes at the Vatican similar in treatment to that of John VII. Belonging to the same century, though dating a little later, is the image of the Crucified discovered a few years ago in the apse of the old church of S. Maria Antiqua in the Roman Forum. This remarkable picture, now happily recovered, was visible for a little while in the month of May, 1702, and is mentioned in the diary of Valesio. It dates from the time of Pope St. Paul I (757-768), and stands in a niche above the altar. The figure is draped in a long tunic of a greyish-blue colour, is very lifelike, and has wide-open eyes. The soldier Longinus is in the act of wounding the side of Christ with the lance. On either hand are Mary and John; between them and the Cross stands a soldier with a sponge and a vessel filled with vinegar; above the Cross the sun and moon dim their rays.
Another interesting picture is that in the crypt of SS. Giovanni e Paolo at Rome, in their dwellinghouse
on the Celian Hill. It is Byzantine in style and shows the crucifix. In the ninth century the crucifix of Leo
IV is of importance (840-847). It is a stripped figure with a perizoma and four nails are used. A similar figure
is in the paintings of S. Stefano alla Cappella. To the same century belongs a diptych from the monastery of
Rambona of about the year 898, and now in the Vatican Library (Buonarroti,
Osservazioni sopra alcune
frammenti di vetro, Florence, 1716, 257-283, and P. Germano da s. Stanislao,
La casa celimontana, dei
SS. Giovanni e Paolo, Rome, 1895). To bring this list to a close we may mention an eleventh-century diptych
in the cathedral of Tournai, a twelfth-century Roman cross preserved at the Porte de Halle, at Brussels, and
an enameled crucifix in the Spitzer collection.
Here we bring our researches to an end, the field of Christian archæology not extending further. In the artistic treatment of the crucifix there are two periods: the first, which dates from the sixth to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries; and the second, dating from that time to our own day. We shall here treat only of the former, touching lightly on the latter. In the first period the Crucified is shown adhering to the cross, not hanging forward from it; He is alive and shows no sign of physical suffering; He is clad in a long, flowing, sleaveless tunic (colobium), which reaches the knees. The head is erect, and surrounded by a nimbus, and bears a royal crown. The figure is fastened to the wood with four nails (cf. Garrucci,
Storia dell' arte crist., III, fig. 139 and p. 61; Marucchi, op. cit., and
Il cimitero e la basilica di S. Valentino, Rome, 1890; Forrer and Müller, op. cit., 20, Pl, III, fig. 6). In a word, it is not Christ suffering, but Christ triumphing and glorious on the Cross. Moreover, Christian art for a long time objected to stripping Christ of his garments, and the traditional colobium, or tunic, remained until the ninth century. In the East the robed Christ was preserved to a much later date. Again in miniatures from the ninth century the figure is robed, and stands erect on the cross and on the suppedaneum.
The scene of the Crucifixion, especially after the eighth century, includes
the presence of the two thieves, the centurion who pierced Christ's side, the
soldier with the sponge, the Blessed Virgin and St. John. Mary is never shown
weeping and afflicted, as became the custom in later ages, but standing erect
near the cross, as St. Ambrose says, in his funeral oration on Valentinian:
read of her standing; I do not read of her weeping. Moreover, on either side of
the Cross the sun and the moon, often with human faces, veil their brightness,
being placed there to typify the two natures of Christ, the sun, the Divine, and
the moon, the human (cf. St. Gregory the Great, Homily ii in Evang.). At the
foot of the Cross the female figures are symbolical of the Church and the
Synagogue, the one receiving the Saviouir's blood in a cup, the other veiled and
discrowned, holding in her hand a torn banner. With the tenth century realism
began to play a part in Christian art, and the colobium becomes a shorter
garment, reaching from the waist to the knees (perizoma). In the
deliciarum in the
album belonging to the Abbess Herrada of Landsberg in the
twelfth the colobium is short, and approaches the form of the perizoma. From the
eleventh century in the East, and from the Gothic period in the West, the head
droops onto the breast (cf. Borgia, De Cruce Veliternâ, 191), the crown of
thorns is introduced, the arms are bent back, the body is twisted, the face is
wrung with agony, and blood flows from the wounds. In the thirteenth century
complete realism is reached by the substitution of one nail in the feet, instead
of two, as in the old tradition, and the resulting crossing of the legs. All
this was done from artistic motives, to bring about a more moving and devotional
pose. The living and triumphant Christ gives place to a Christ dead, in all the
humiliation of His Passion, the agony of His death being even accentuated. This
manner of treatment was afterwards generalized by the schools of Cimabue and
Giotto. In conclusion it may be noted that the custom of placing the crucifix
over the altar does not date from earlier than the eleventh century. (See CROSS
AND CRUCIFIX IN LITURGY.)
On the crux gammata (swastika) on Christian monuments and its relation to similar signs on pre-Christian monuments in the East: MÜNTER. Sinnbilder der alten Christen, 73-85; LETRONNE. Annali dell' Istit. di Corr. Arch. (1843). 122; ROCHETTE, Mém. del' académie des inscriptions, pl. II, 302 sq.; MINERVINI, Bull. Arch. Nap., Ser. 2, II, 178, 179; CAVEDONI, Ragguaglio di due antichi cimiteri di Chiusi, 70; GARRUCCI, Vetri (2d ed.). 242, 243; MÜNZ, Archäologische Bemerkungen über das Kreuz, 25. 26.
Works of reference on the crucifix and its various forms in general: JUSTUS LIPSIUS, De Cruce libri tres (Antwerp, 1595); GRETSER, De Cruce Christi rebusque ad eam pertinentibus (Ingoldstadt, 1595-1605); BOSIUS, Cruz triumphans et gloriosa (Antwerp. 1617. folio); BARTHOLINUS, De Cruce Christi hypomnemata (Copenhagen, 1651): ALGER. History of the Cross (Boston, 1858); MÜNZ. Archäologische Bemerkungen über das Kreuz Christi (Frankfort, 1867); STOCKBAUER, Kunstgeschichte des Kreuzes (Schaffhausen, 1870); ZÖCKLER, Das Kreuz Christi (Gütersloh, 1875).
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