From Wood Crucifix to Silver: How the Crucifix Gained Popularity as a Catholic Symbol

Do you have a crucifix at home? If you do, you are part of a centuries-old worship tradition that pays honor to Christ‘s death on the cross in the ultimate sacrifice.

The crucifix is a symbol that unites those in the Church in a compelling way. As Catholic speaker and writer Marcel Lejeune explains in his recent post, “There are many benefits to having visual signs of our faith. We are able to focus better in prayer when we have the visual representations of what Christ did for us”

Crucifixes have not always been a typical element of a Catholic home. In fact, from wood to silver and symbolic to realistic, the crucifix has undergone a long journey of transition as the symbol of Christ‘s Passion for the Church.

In the years after Christ‘s death, Church members avoided any representation of a cross or Christ‘s death. However by the fifth century, images of the crucified Christ began appearing as wood carvings. These early crucifixes showed Christ represented in the form of a lamb - pointing to his divinity rather than his physical attributes.

The first crucifixes were treasured by monks who would hang them in their living quarters. Later on, clergy displayed them as a visible reminder of Christ‘s suffering in order to help focus personal contemplation on his death and resurrection. The corpus was typically covered in a colobium (cloth) and the arms stretched out rather than bent with the weight of the body.

Crucifixes became quite popular during the Middle Ages. In Italy during the Romanesque period (1000 - 1200 A.D.) crucifixes depicted Christ‘s suffering more realistically as in this Passion Crucifix. Also during this time, the colobium was replaced by a loincloth.

Moving into the days of the Renaissance, artists altered the image of Jesus, displaying Him in a more sophisticated style. They also removed his expressions of pain and agony, replacing them with those of peace and tranquility. For example, in this Veronese Crucifix by Renaissance painter Paolo Veronese, no blood or wounds are displayed.

By the 1800s, the symbol‘s popularity increased as most Catholic homes began to display crucifixes.

The variety of styles continues to this day making this one of the most popular Catholic gifts. Western crucifixes such as this Cherry Wood Crucifix have typically shown Jesus‘s feet nailed crossed over each other, while eastern crucifixes show them nailed side by side.

Today crucifixes are made of many different materials and are integrated more actively into Catholic life than ever before. The symbol which began as a simple wood crucifix that hung on walls in places of worship can now be found in stunning sterling silver, like this Saint Benedict Crucifix which can be put on a key-chain or necklace.

No matter what type of crucifix, the portrayal of Christ‘s Passion is one that reminds Catholics of the unique elements in a Catholic Mass, with the emphasis on the Eucharist as a constant reminder of the importance of the Cross.

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