Crucifixes and Crosses
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Every Catholic home should have a Cruficix hanging over the bed in each bedroom, and, most importantly, at least one in a common area, such as the Dining Room, Living Room, or Family Room. In addition, generally speaking, Catholics should wear Crucifixes — not empty Crosses (aside from stylized ones of significance) — around their necks. Why Crucifixes instead of empty Crosses? Because, as did Paul, we preach Christ crucified, and know that we get to the Resurrection through the Cross, that we are called to pick up our own crosses and carry them, offering up our sufferings in imitation of Him.
Crucifixes may be gotten at any Catholic gift shop and are the perfect gift for a newlywed couple as one can’t have too many of them. You’ll find Crucifixes to be worn around the neck, some to be hung on walls, some on stands to be placed on tables, etc.
You will see on some Crucifixes a skull and crossbones at the foot of the Cross. Aside from symbolizing victory over death, this skull more specifically represents the skull of Adam, said in Jewish and Christian tradition to have been buried at Golgotha, where Jesus was crucified. The Blood of Christ, the New Adam, redeems man, as symbolized by the skull of the First Adam. I Corinthians 15:22, 45: “And as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all shall be made alive…The first man Adam was made into a living soul; the last Adam into a quickening spirit.”
You also might see a representation of the titulus crucis — the plaque marked with “I.N.R.I.” which stands for “Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudeorum,” the Latin initials for “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” This inscription was written in Latin, Hebrew, and Greek and placed at the top of Jesus’ Cross according to Matthew 27:37, Mark 15:26, Luke 23:38 and John 19:19.
Crucifixes should be blessed by a priest and treated with great veneration. Kissing a Crucifix is an indulgenced act.
There are a few Crucifixes and Crosses that stand out and should be mentioned individually. The first of these is the San Damiano Crucifix.
San Damiano Crucifix
The San Damiano Crucifix was written by an 11th or 12th c. Umbrian artist, and it came to adorn the chapel of San Damiano in Assisi, Italy. It was before this Crucifix that Saint Francis of Assisi was converted and received word from the Lord to repair His Church. The Poor Clares, an Order of nuns founded by Clare of Assisi, a good friend of St. Francis, took the Crucifix with them to San Giorgio in 1257, and it now resides at San Giorgio’s Chapel in the Basilica of St Clare of Assisi. Now, look at the Crucifix more closely:
This Crucifix is full of the Gospel events of His Passion. At the top, we see Our Lord ascending into Heaven, toward the hand of His Father.
The Blessed Virgin and John, who was appointed to be her caretaker, stand to Christ’s right (our left). To Christ’s left (our right) are the Magdalen, Mary Cleophas (mother of James), and the Centurion whose words we speak at Mass, “Dómine, non sum dignus, ut intres sub tectum meum: sed tantum dic verbo, et sanábitur ánima mea” (Lord, I am not worthy that Thou shouldst enter under my roof, but only say the word, and my soul shall be healed). The little boy behind the Centurion is the Centurion’s son whom Jesus healed.
Also present are two other Roman soldiers, Longinus, who pierced Jesus’ side with a lance, and Stephen, who gave Him vinegar to drink (some say this second figure is that of Pilate).
Beside His right leg is Adam, biting into the apple, and above Adam is the rooster as a symbol of Peter’s denial.
At the very bottom, under His feet, are 6 unkown Saints.
The transverse arm of the Cross is actually a tomb — the empty tomb — and at either end are Peter and John running toward it, being met by the two groups of two angels who let them know “He is not here.”
The Pardon Crucifix
I have to mention this Crucifix because it is so lovely and is relevant to one of my favorite Popes, Pope St. Pius X, who granted these indulgences (not in the new Enchiridion):
- Whoever carries on his person the Pardon Crucifix, may thereby gain an indulgence.
- For devoutly kissing the Crucifix, an indulgence is gained.
- Whoever says one of the following invocations before this crucifix may gain each time an indulgence: “Our Father who art in heaven, forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” “I beg the Blessed Virgin Mary to pray to the Lord our God for me.”
- Whoever, habitually devout to this Crucifix, will fulfill the necessary conditions of Confession and Holy Communion, may gain a Plenary Indulgence on the following feasts: On the feasts of the Five Wounds of our Lord, the Invention of the Holy Cross, the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, the Immaculate Conception, and the Seven Dolors of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
- Whoever at the moment of death, fortified with the Sacraments of the Church, or contrite of heart, in the supposition of being unable to receive them, will kiss this Crucifix and ask pardon of God for his sins, and pardon his neighbour, will gain a Plenary Indulgence.
On the back of the Crucifix, on the transverse arms, are the words, “Father, forgive them.” On the long part of the Cross are the words, “Behold this heart which has so loved men.” The Sacred Heart is shown where the two arms of the Cross meet.
Caravaca Cross or Crucifix
(a.k.a. “Cara Vaca” and “Cuernavaca”)
This Cross takes its name from Caravaca (now known as Caravaca de la Cruz), Spain, a town in the province of Murcia where, in A.D. 1231, a priest was imprisoned by the Moors. Out of curiosity, his captors’ King, Abu Zeid, asked him to say Mass, but as the priest began, he realized he didn’t have the necessary Crucifix. As his captors grew angry, the Patriarch of Jerusalem’s pectoral cross was transported to the priest through an open window, borne by two angels. Seeing this, King Abu Zeid converted to the true religion.
The “Caravaca Cross,” then, is the two-armed Lorraine Cross that is used by Archbishops and Patriarchs. Some representations are Crucifixes, such as the one above, and may show the angels that carried the Cross, one on each side. The words “Caravaca” may appear on the second arm of the Cross such that “Cara” is on one side, and “vaca” on the other. This is a very popular Crucifix in Spain and Mexico.
The name of this Cross, which is pronounced “dowmer,” is derived from the name of the Queen who wore it — Queen Dagmar of Denmark. She was born around A.D. 1189 in Bohemia, and became the wife of the Danish king, Valdemar II (“Valdemar the Victorious”), who reigned from A.D. 1202-1241.
When her grave was opened in 1690, this Cross was found around her neck. Though Dagmar was a 13th century personality, the Cross is believed to date to around A.D. 1000. At the center of the Cross is the figure of Christ, and the four arms depict, starting at the top and moving clockwise, St. John Chrysostom, St. John the Evangelist, St. Basil, and Our Lady. The backside of the Cross is a Crucifix.
It is especially prized by the Danish people (because of Dagmar’s birthplace, the Cross was adopted by Lutherans as a symbol, too, sadly. It is, though, in fact, a Catholic Cross originally, and now.).
Read also about the St. Benedict Medal for information on the Crucifixes with the St. Benedict Medal embedded — a most powerful sacramental. See, too, see the page on Christian Symbols for the shapes of other types of Crucifixes and Crosses.
1 Note on getting wearable Crucifixes: don’t waste your time getting pewter ones, even though they are so inexpensive. They bend, break, turn black, etc.; get silver, gold, wood, etc.
To clean a tarnished silver Crucifix, apply toothpaste to it and clean it away with a sponge. If it is badly tarnished, make a paste of baking soda and water and leave it on the Crucifix for a while. Then rub away with a wet sponge. Another method is as follows: Put a sheet of aluminum foil in the bottom of a pan and add 2-3 inches of extremely hot water, some baking soda, and some salt. Add Crucifix so it sits on the foil, and let it sit for a few minutes. Remove Crucifix, rinse, dry, and buff with a soft cloth. Don’t use this method with jeweled crucifixes.