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Bible Encyclopedias

Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature


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In its simplest form, consisting of two pieces of wood, one standing erect, the other crossing it at right angles, the cross was known at an early age in the history of the world. Its use as an instrument of punishment was probably suggested by the shape so often taken by branches of trees, which seem to have been the first crosses that were employed. Trees are known to have been used as crosses, and to every kind of hanging which bore a resemblance to crucifixion, such as that of Prometheus, Andromeda, etc. the name was commonly applied. Among the Scythians Persians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, and the ancient Germans, traces are found of the cross as an instrument of punishment. The sign of the cross is found as a holy symbol among several ancient nations. Among the Indians and Egyptians the cross often appears in their ceremonies, sometimes in the shape of the letter T, at others in this shape [image]. At Susa, Ker Porter saw a stone cut with hieroglyphics and cuneiform inscriptions, on which in one corner was a figure of a cross, thus [image]. The cross, he says, is generally understood to be symbolical of the divinity or eternal life; and certainly a cross was to be seen in the temple of Serapis as the Egyptian emblem of the future life. Porter also states that the Egyptian priests urged its being found on the walls of their temple of Serapis, as an argument with the victorious army of Theodosius to save it from destruction.

According to Lipsius, there were in general two kinds of crosses;—1, the simple cross; 2, the compound cross. The first consisted of a stake on which the criminal was fastened or by which he was impaled. For the first kind of punishment a tree or a specially prepared stake was used, on which the criminal was bound, and either left to perish, or immediately put to death. For impaling a long and sharpened piece of wood (pale) was employed, on which the criminal was put as on a spit. This cruel mode of execution was formerly very customary in Russia, China, Turkey, and other countries, and is not yet universally abolished by law.

Of the compound cross there were three sorts: 1, one shaped like the letter X, also called Andrew's cross, because tradition reports that on a cross of this kind the Apostle Andrew suffered death. 2. Another sort was formed by putting a cross piece of wood on a perpendicular one, so that no part of the latter may stand above the former. This form is found in the figure [image]. 3. The third sort is described as 'a cross in which the longer piece of wood or pale stands above the shorter piece which runs across it near the top.' It is distinguished from the preceding by the part of the longer beam which is above the shorter or transverse, thus [image]. This form is found in paintings more frequently than any other, and on a cross of this kind our Savior is believed to have suffered death.

According to the statement of certain ecclesiastical historians, the cross on which our Lord was crucified was found in the year 326 by the Empress Helena, mother of Constantine the Great. Having built a church over the sacred spot where it was discovered, Helena deposited within it the chief part of the real cross. The remainder she conveyed to Constantinople, a part of which Constantine inserted in the head of a statue of himself, and the other part was sent to Rome, and placed in the church of Sta. Croce in Gerusalemme, which was built expressly to receive the precious relic. When subsequently a festival to commemorate the discovery had been established, the Bishop of Jerusalem, on Easter Sunday, exhibited to the grateful eyes of eager pilgrims the object to see which they had traveled so far and endured so much. Those who were persons of substance were further gratified by obtaining, at their full price, small pieces of the cross set in gold and gems; and that wonder might not pass into incredulity, the proper authorities gave the world an assurance that the holy wood possessed the power of self-multiplication, and, notwithstanding the innumerable pieces which had been taken from it for the pleasure and service of the faithful, remained intact and entire as at the first.

The capture of Jerusalem by the Persians, A.D. 614, placed the remains of the cross in the hands of Chosroes II, who mockingly conveyed them to his capital. Fourteen years afterwards, Heraclius recovered them, and had them carried first to Constantinople, and then to Jerusalem, in such pomp, that on his arrival before the latter city, he found the gate barred and entrance forbidden. Instructed as to the cause of this hindrance, the Emperor laid aside the trappings of his greatness, and, barefooted, bore on his own shoulders the sacred relic up to the gate, which then opened of itself, and allowed him to enter, and thus place his charge beneath the dome of the sepulcher.

From this time no more is heard of the true cross, which may have been destroyed by the Saracens on their conquest of Jerusalem, A.D. 637.





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Bibliography Information
Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Cross'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblial Literature".

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Thursday, November 26th, 2020
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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