Processional Cross by Unknown Spanish artist [Asturias]

Unknown Spanish artist [Asturias]

Processional Cross, c.1150–75, Silver, partially gilt on wood core, carved gems, jewels, 59.1 x 48.3 x 8.7 cm, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917, 17.190.1406, www.metmuseum.org

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Raised Up With Christ

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This twelfth-century cross was originally used to lead processions at the beginning and end of the Eucharist. Its glittering metalwork and embedded jewels convey the idea that death will be transformed into a more glorious life. It also demonstrates the wealth and power of the medieval kingdom of Asturias in northern Spain where it was made.

Its True Cross relic still remains, magnified and protected by a translucent slice of rock crystal positioned above Jesus’s head, operating both as halo and as transfigured crown of thorns. The three-dimensionality of the body of Jesus, the head and shoulders of which strain outwards, contrasts with the relatively flat relief of the figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St John the beloved disciple on the cross’s arms.

A Latin inscription on the reverse reads: ‘In honour of the Holy Saviour: Sanccia [Sancha] Guidisalvi had me made’. Medievalists have pointed out that the feminine ending of Sanccia indicates that either the donor or the goldsmith was a woman.

The design of the cross combines antique iconography with medieval Christian elements. The gems surrounding the image of the crucifixion include an intaglio from antiquity representing Victory. This Graeco-Roman goddess has been repurposed within the splendour of the cross. Now she helps to glorify the hope of resurrection that flows from the horror of crucifixion, bearing witness to it as the Roman centurion does when he utters ‘Truly this was the Son of God’ (Mattthew 27:54).

Ephesians 2 speaks of two inclusions achieved in the Body of Christ. Those who were once ‘dead through trespasses and sins’ (v.1)—and who lived in ‘the passions of the flesh’ (v.3)—are now saved ‘by the gift of God’ (v.8). And those who were ‘strangers’ to Israel’s ‘covenants of promise’ (v.12) are now ‘members of the household of God’ (v.19).

As ‘one new humanity’, Christ’s Body defines a sacred community which has no ‘outside’ and no outsiders. All are one in a new promise that does not deny or override diversity but incorporates it into a transformatively inclusive whole.


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