The Main Processional Cross

Happy Easter! Every Easter season we love to feature the large brass processional cross that is carried by an acolyte leading the procession of clergy and choristers into the church before  worship services. Use of processional crosses dates from the sixth century. This main processional cross is shown in the photographs as it is normally seen and also as it appears on Easter Sunday adorned with Easter lilies to celebrate the Risen Christ.

Christians regard the cross as a representation of the  instrument of the crucifixion of Jesus, and it is the universally recognized symbol of Christianity. The form most commonly used is the Latin cross with unequal arms which is also the form used in a crucifix, a three dimensional representation of Jesus’ body on the cross frequently used in the Catholic Church.

 

In many Christian traditions including the Episcopal church,  a cross sits atop or hangs above the altar, a practice which  dates to the fifth century. At the intersection of the arms on this and many traditional Episcopalian crosses the Christogram IHS appears in a circle inside a square. The letters are the first three letters of Jesus’ name in the Greek alphabet which have been abbreviated since the third century and appeared for the first time on the coins of Justinian II between the 7th and 8th centuries.

 

The history of processional crosses began in 596 when Pope Gregory the Great sent a mission headed by Augustine of Canterbury to convert  Britain’s Anglo-Saxons to Catholicism. By the time last missionary died in 653 Christianity was established in Southern Britain. Saint Augustine’s mission carried a processional cross “like a standard” according to Bede and sources suggest that in time all churches were expected to have a processional cross. The crosses became detachable from their staffs so that the earliest altar crosses were processional crosses removed from the staff and placed on a stand following the procession. In large churches the preferred style was known as the “crux gemmata”, a richly jeweled cross in precious metal. Notable early examples include the Cross of Justin II, Cross of Lothair and Cross of Cong, all of which are preserved in museums.

 

The Christ Church processional cross was a gift:

                   To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of

                Helen Louise Lee by Mr. Lee

               April 24, 1856 – April 5, 1937