|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). (ORAZIO MARUCCHI)
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. (ORAZIO MARUCCHI)
Another symbol which has been connected with the cross is the ansated cross (crux ansata) of the ancient Egyptians, wrongly called the "ansated key 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) 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 coiner (Madden, "History of Jewish Coinage", London, 1864, 83-87; Eckhel, "Doctrina nummorum", VIII, 89; F. X. Kraus, "Real-Encyklopädie der christlichen Alterthümer", II, 224-225).
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. Some are of the 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. (ORAZIO MARUCCHI)
The Processional Cross
When Bede tells us that St. Augustine of England and his companions came before Ethelbert "carrying a silver cross for a standard" (veniebant crucem pro vexillo ferentes argenteam) while they said the litanies, he probably touched upon the fundamental idea of the processional cross. Its use seems to have been general in early times and it is so mentioned in the Roman "Ordines" as to suggest that one belonged to each church. An interesting specimen of the twelfth century still survives in the Cross of Cong, preserved in the museum of the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin. This is made of oak covered with copper plates, but much decoration is added in the form of gold filigreework. It lacks most of the shaft, but is two feet six inches high, and one foot six inches across the arms. In the centre is a boss of rock crystal, which formerly enshrined a relic of the True Cross, and an inscription tells us that it was made for Turloch O'Conor, King of Ireland (1123). It seems never to have had any figure of Christ, but other processional crosses of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries are for the most part true crucifixes. In a great number of cases the shaft was removable, and the upper portion could be set in a stand to be used as an altar-cross. Indeed it seems not impossible that this was the actual origin of the altar-cross employed during Mass (Rohault de Fleury, La Meese, V, 123-140). Just as the seven candlesticks carried before the pope in Rome were deposited before or behind the altar, and probably developed into the six altar-candlesticks (seven, it will be remembered, when a bishop celebrates) with which we are now familiar, so the processional cross seems also to have first been left in a stand near the altar and ultimately to have taken its place upon the altar itself. To this day the ritual books of the Church seem to assume that the handle of the processional cross is detachable, for in the funeral of infants it is laid down that the cross is to be carried without its handle. All Christians are supposed to be the followers of Christ, hence in procession the crucifix is carried first, with the figure turned in the direction in which the procession is moving. (HERBERT THURSTON)
In the Russian Church the conventional form in which the cross is usually shown is in fact a three-barred cross, of which the upper bar represents the title of the cross, the second the arms, and the lowest, which is always inclined at an angle, the suppedaneum or foot-rest. In England it may be said that in the early years of Elizabeth's reign a clean sweep was made of the crosses so long venerated by the people. All the roods were ordered to be pulled down, and the crosses were removed from the altars, or rather the communion-tables which replaced the altars. The only check in this movement was the fact that the queen herself, for some rather obscure reason, insisted at first on retaining the crucifix in her own private chapel. The presence of a crucifix or even a plain cross upon the altar was long held to be illegal in virtue of the "Ornaments Rubrics". In recent years, however, there has been a notable reaction, and crosses, or even crucifixes, are quite commonly seen upon the altar of Anglican churches. Again, in the reredos recently erected in St. Paul's Cathedral in London a large crucifix, with the figures of St. Mary and St. John, forms the most conspicuous feature. In Lutheran churches there has always been much tolerance for the crucifix either upon or behind the altar. (HERBERT THURSTON)