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 Christianhomes 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 (Stromata VI) speaks of the Cross as tou Kyriakou semeiou typon, i.e.signum Christi, “the symbol of the Lord” (St. Augustine, Tractate 117 on the Gospel of John; 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 Jesusall 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 theApocalypse (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 inHoly Scripture, but is a matter of Christian tradition, like certain other practices that are confirmed by long usage and thespirit 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 crosswas 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 theEastern 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 primitiveChristian life, i.e. the almost total absence from Christian monuments of the period of persecutions of the plain, unadornedcross (E. Reusens, “Eléments d’archéologie chrétienne” 1st ed., 110). The truculent sarcasms of the heathens prevented thefaithful 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 thedolphin. 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 ofChrist, 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, theinscription 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 (ContraMarc., 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 thecross 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 thecross, 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 similarforms. (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 inform of a tau to be placed on the highest point of a basilica. There was also another motive for choosing the letter T assymbolical 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 HisCross: 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 thatChrist 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 Eastand 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 schismoccurred 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. Catherineon 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 stonesand 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 namesROUPHINA: 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 theCatacomb of St. Saturninus on the Via Salaria Nuova, (Perret, Cat. de Rome, III, Pl. VI). In later times it is to be seen in amosaic 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 Nazianzenwould seem to indicate. There are other forms of cross, such as the crux gammata, the crux florida, or flowering cross, thepectoral 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 triumphalsignification 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 thecrux decussata accompanied by a defective letter T, differing only slightly from the letter I, or encircled by a crown. Theseforms, 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 onChristian 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 Rossiably 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 ViaPortuensis, 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 (seeCavedoni, 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 andadopted 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 sinceApostolic 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 thecross 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 ofpersecution, that the faithful had hesitated all that time to display the sign of Redemption openly and publicly. Constantineby 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 Christianalso, 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 miraculousapparition 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 theMilvian 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 thefaithful 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 theBreviary 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 thirdcross, 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 ofLombardy 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 toJerusalem 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 inJerusalem, 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 toreveal to St. Helena, the place where the Cross was buried, are responsible at least in part for the common beliefs of thefaithful 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 atJerusalem 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 feastunder 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 theChurch 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 toConstantinople 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 theTemplars, 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, andTheodoret (cf. Duchesne, “Lib, Pont.”, I, p. cvii; Marucchi “Basiliquesde 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).
- 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 crosscomposed 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 thepagans 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 theidea: “Let us adore Christ, our King, who hung upon the wood, and not the wood” (Regem Christum qui pependit in ligno . . . 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 theEastern 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 thedevotion to the Cross incidentally occasioned abuses in the piety of the faithful. Indeed, we learn from the edicts ofValentinian 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 theirsuperstitious and magical symbols, winning thereby the confidence and trust of their dupes. To all this corruption of thereligious idea the teachers of the Church opposed themselves, exhorting the faithful to true piety and to beware ofsuperstitious 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 anencolpium” (Anastasius Bibliothecarius on Act. V of VIII Dec. Counc.). On the origin and use of pectoral crosses see GiovanniScandella, “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 womanpossessed 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 AgroVerano, 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 Hebrewletters 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 manœuvres, 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 crossescontaining 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 asliding 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 “Römische 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.
- 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 thecross 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. Stephenat 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 theiconoclast 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 manyChurches 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 theHoly 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 paintedon 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 anangel 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 greatsolemnity. It was carried in the churches where the stations were; the bearer of it was called draconarius, and the crossitself stationalis. These crosses were often very costly (cf. Bottari, Rom. Sott., Pl. XLIV), the most famous being the cross ofRavenna and that of Velletri.
- 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 (seeALPHABET; 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 antiquitydating 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 atAlexandria 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 inSt. Domitilla’s Catacomb on the Ostian Way; it is a symbolical picture of souls freed from the trammels of the body, andsaved by means of the Cross, which has two doves on its arms, while armed guards are asleep at its base. Lastly, inEngland, 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.
The 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 theinvocations: 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 equivalent 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.