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Crucifix

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

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(Low Latin crucifixum; from cruci, to a cross, and fixum, fastened), a representation of Christ on the cross, executed in wood, ivory, metal, or other hard material.

I. History of Crucifixes. Among the many symbols which the early Christians used to represent Christ as the central object of their faith, the lamb was among the most predominant. In the beginning of the 6th century the lamb bears a triumphal cross; then it is lying on an altar at the foot of a cross; then it appears with blood flowing from a wound in its side, as well as from its feet; and finally, by the end of this century, a lamb is painted in the center of the cross, where the body of Christ was later placed. On the celebrated "cross of the Vatican," on which this lamb thus appears, are two busts of the Savior: one above, holding a book in his left hand, and giving a benediction (q.v.) in the Latin manner with the right, while the one below holds a scroll in the right hand, and a little cross in the left. The sixth OEcumenical Council (A.D. 680) ordered that Christ should be represented with his proper human body rather than under the symbol of the paschal lamb, and in the following century crucifixes multiplied greatly throughout all Christendom. The way to this decision had evidently been prepared by several intermediate steps, by which the aversion and horror of the death by the cross, though abolished as a mode of execution by Constantine, were gradually overcome in the minds of the Christian world. Thus, on the viols of Monza, which Gregory the Creat gave to queen Theodelinda, there is a head of Christ in a nimbus containing a cross. A mosaic of St. Etienne, of about the same period, contains in addition one of the thieves on each side of the head of Christ, with a highly ornamented cross below and in the center of the vial, with an ornamented ediculum below, crowned by a cross, with an angel on one side, and the two women bringing spices to the tomb of Christ on the other side, indicating the resurrection of Christ. On another, Christ is represented with his arms extended like the praying persons of the Catacombs with the two thieves on crosses at his side, and the sun and moon, or other emblems, added to the representation. In the pictorial cross of Monza, said to be a present from Gregory the Great to the empress Theodelinda, and in others of the most ancient crucifixes, the figure of Christ was scratched in on the metal with some sharp-pointed instrument. Later, it was painted. It is in the 9th century that the figures first appeared in relief.

The first crucifix used in a church, of which we have any proof, is spoken of by Gregory of Tours as being in the church of Narbonne (A.D. 593). After the council of 692 the Greek Church used painted crucifixes freely. Pope John VII, a Greek by birth (elected A.D. 705), first used the crucifix in St. Peter's Church, Rome. A single crucifix is found in the Catacombs, and this is considered to date from the 8th century. The crucifix soon assumed the most prominent place in the Romish church edifice, being placed over the center of the high altar, overtowering the tapers, and being removed only at the elevation of the Host. This altar-crucifix is often made in the most costly and artistic way, being usually of gold or silver, and adorned with pearls or precious stones. Crucifixes are also placed at the doors of churches, in cloisters, in chapels by the roadside, and at every place where crosses (q.v.) are erected. They are constantly used by Roman Catholics, both ecclesiastics and laymen, and especially are kept in the bedchamber. The reason given for this abundant use of the crucifix is "to keep the sufferings and death of Christ, and the fact of atonement, ever before the minds of believers." Among the Protestant churches, the Lutheran has not rejected the use of the altar crucifixes, though Protestants generally consider the use of crucifixes to lead to a worship of the material of which they are made, and to a forgetting of the true spiritual meaning of the Savior's death; hence they reject them altogether, regarding them as only valuable, whether sculptured or painted, as marking a phase of the development of ritualistic worship, or as works of art.

II. Details. Until the 11th century Christ was represented as living, and usually with his head crowned with a nimbus or other symbol of his triumphal resurrection. His head was erect, his eyes open, indicating his divine nature, which is not subject to death; or, more probably, his triumph over his death. Though Christ was crucified, in accordance with the law, in an entirely naked condition, the earliest crucifixes represent him clothed with a colobium, a tunic without arms, and reaching to the feet. At the close of the 8th century, this was modified to a tunic bound around the waist and extending about to the knees; and by the close of the tenth century, the tunic was almost universally contracted to a simple band of cloth around the loins. This has been universally adopted by artists: till the present lime. The crucifix of the church St. Genes, at Narbonne, is the only example extant of this type being adopted before the 9th century. A manuscript in the Laurentian library at Florence, dating about the year 1060, contains the first example extant of Christ being represented as dead. All the crucifixes from that time represent the head as drooping, and life as just extinct. A stream of blood is sometimes reps resented flowing, from the wounds in the hands and the side, and falling upon the head of some of the characters represented, symbolizing thus the effects of the atonement. Nearly all of the great artists of the Middle Ages have painted the scene of the crucifixion, these being sometimes their master-pieces. Cimabue and Margaritone, in the 13th century, made the first representations extant of a crucifix with but three nails, the feet being crossed, in their paintings of the crucifixion in the church of St. Maria Novella in Florence. The Romish Church now usually prefers this type of the crucifix, though the former method, adopted by this church also till the 13th century, was without doubt the more in accordance with historical accuracy. The suppedaneum to support the feet is usually represented, though some later artists have placed a globe in place of this tablet or shelf. The support for the body has never been represented in art. The title of the cross was placed on a tablet which was attached to the head of the T cross. There are but one or two cases in which artists have given the full inscription in the three languages, and these are modern. Many crucifixes have no titles. In most it is indicated by a few meaningless marks. In the Greek Church the monogram of Christ, or I C . X C, or A, , is generally used.

III. Accessories. These are either such as pertain to the literal circumstances of the crucifixion, or are symbolical figures having reference to the Atonement. The Virgin Mary and St. John are often represented as standing one on each side of the cross, with the head bent forward and resting on the hand a posture of grief common in all antiquity. The names of the two are usually given either in Latin or Greek. The two soldiers are often given, one holding a lance, and the other the sponge filled with vinegar. The very earliest crucifixes have not these soldiers, but they became common after the 8th century. A single example exists of their drawing lots for the Savior's garments. The sun and the moon, the former with a face surrounded by a circle, and giving out rays, and the latter in the form of a crescent, are often given, being to the right and left of the head of the Savior. These are sometimes replaced by the human demi-figures, one with a royal diadem, and the other crowned with a crescent or holding a torch, while both have one hand supporting the head in an attitude of grief. Rays of light often stream, from both the sun and the moon, upon the figure of Christ. These heavenly bodies are consideredly many to represent the darkness which suddenly came over nature, concealing the sun and moon. But a better interpretation is that they represent the divine and human nature of Christ, as the same figures do on other monuments. The redemption of man from sin by the death of Christ is symbolized in some crucifixes by a naked man rising up from the ground below the cross, while a hand above him is reached out from a cloud. Another represents a man lying on the ground, while a woman, with one knee on the ground, is taking hold of the hand in the cloud. This is to indicate Adam and Eve. A crucifix in St. John Lateran, in Rome, has a gate (of paradise) on one side, while on the other is a tree (of good and evil). showing that man, lost by partaking of the forbidden fruit, is restored by the cross to the paradise from which he was driven out. The emblems of the four evangelists and angels in adoration are often placed near the upper part of the crucifix. The skull and cross-bones at the foot of the cross is altogether a modern addition. The crucifix of a diptych of Rambona contains a wolf under the cross nourishing Romulus and Remus, supposed to symbolize the subjection of the Roman empire and the world to the cross of Christ, or to the city of Rome as the seat of the Romish Church. Other symbols relating to the truths of Christianity, or to the traditions relating to this central event in the history of the world, occur in various crucifixes. Many other modifications exist of the presentation of the crucifixion, whether given in full relief, or high or low relief, or whether painted in miniature, in mosaic, on fresco, or on canvas.

Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Crucifix'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​c/crucifix.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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