I mentioned crosses covered with precious metals and gems or crux gemmata before when writing about the Cross in Dream of the Rood. (Jesse Tree Wood: Trunk, Vine, Leaves, Flowers, and Fruit-Part 6).
It appears that when the depiction of the Cross of Crucifixion became an object for public display, there were two themes. The first was the preciousness of the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins. Though the wood of the cross was coarse, crude and rough, stained with blood, the sacrifice of God’s Son was so matchless and priceless that only the most costly and beautiful materials were worthy to hold pieces of the sacred wood. The other was the desire to publicly display and celebrate what once was a mean method of inflicting torture and death. Thus, the crux gemmata not only used precious gems but also colored glass to make the displayed cross more impressive from a distance.
Though the impulse to lavish such costly materials on an object of torture, terror and death, is the antithesis of the depiction of a wooden cross, these crux gemmata are visually stunning. I can well imagine the awe that pilgrims coming to Constantinople, Rome and Ravenna must have experienced when seeing them. Especially for the new Christians of the north, the cross must have been especially arresting since crucifixion was not a form of punishment used by them, though they would have known about hanging and gallows.
The mosaic crux gemmata were made well into the 13th century. I have chosen the oldest crosses made before 1100, moving generally from south and east to west and north. As, I have commented previously, the survival of these objects is dependent on so many events in history, such as the periods of iconoclasm in the Byzantine empire, 726-787 and 814-842, sack of Rome by Alaric I in 410, Vandals, Ostrogoths, and all the other wars in Europe. The sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade in 1204 brought many relics back to Europe including many purported fragments of the True Cross. I am going to exclude the reliquaries made for these objects from this note.
Apse mosaic with crux gemmata made about 415 but extensively restored.The Basilica of Santa Pudenziana. Note the the mosaic dates to after the sack of Rome in 410. http://www.stpudenziana.org/images/mosaico3.jpg
Crux gemmata in the apse of the chapel of chapel of Saints Primus and Felicianus in the Church of Santo Stefano Rotondo, Rome. Made about 470. https://i1.wp.com/corvinus.nl/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Santo-Stefano3.jpg?w=1024
Crux gemmata. The top picture is the cross above the 6th century lunette mosaic of the sacrifices of Abel and Melchizedek. Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy.https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3935/15610829652_ab6603dbc1_b.jpg
The bottom picture is the crux gemmata above the 6th century lunette of the hospitality of Abraham (and Sarah) to the three angels at the Oaks of Mamre and the Sacrifice of Isaac. Basilica of San Vitale, Ravenna.
Crux gemmata in the apse mosaic of the Basilica of Sant'Apollinare in Classe. In the center of the cross is the face of Jesus and above the cross is the hand of God. In addition to the starry sky that surrounds the cross, there is an alpha and omega. First half of 6th century.
Detail of a mosaic crux gemmata decorating an arch in the Hagia Sophia. Date uncertain.
Crux Vaticana, also called the Cross of Justin II. In the Treasury of St. Peter's. It was given to the Pope, probably Pope John III, about 568, by Emperor Justin II and his wife Sophia of Constantinople. [This is about the same time as the fragment of the True Cross was given to Radegund and the Abbey of the Holy Cross.] The Latin inscription on the cross reads Ligno quo Christus humanum subdidit hostem dat Romae Iustinus opem et socia decorem or "With the wood with which Christ conquered man's enemy, Justin gives his help to Rome and his wife offers the ornamentation." Restored 2009. The center cross contains a relic of the True Cross. The front of the cross is gold set with jewels and includes pendilia of gems instead of an alpha and omega. The back of the cross in repouseé silver gilt with a medallion of the Lamb of God.
A fragment from Codex Usserianus Primus, a Old Latin (not Vulgate) gospel book. This framed and decorated cross that looks alot like a crux gemmata with alpha and omega pendilia. This decoration occurs at the end of Mark and before Luke. Dated to between 400 and 600, it may have been made in Ireland or Bobbio (Italy) or continental Europe. For an interesting review and link to the digital version, see the Trinity College Dublin website on the Codex Usserianus Primus.
Visigothic gold cross set with precious and semi-precious stone and pendilia. 7th century.Treasure of Torredonjimeno, Museo Arquelógico, Barcelona. Inv. nr 390.
Ardennes Cross. Wood cross covered with gold, semi-precious stones and colored glass. Made in northern France about 825-850. This was a processional cross. Germanisches Nationalmuseum in Nuremberg, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/5/5c/Ardennenkreuz_%28croce_processionale%29%2C_francia_del_nord_o_germania_occ.le%2C_825-850_ca_01.JPG/220px-Ardennenkreuz_%28croce_processionale%29%2C_francia_del_nord_o_germania_occ.le%2C_825-850_ca_01.JPG
Crux gemmata called the Cross of Otto-Mathilde or Otto-Mathilden-Kreuz. Made between 973 and 982 or a bit later. Made in Essen or Cologne or Trier. Parts may have been made in more than workshop and then assembled at another. The core of the processional cross is oak covered in sheet of gold. Set with pearls and precious stones and enamel plaques. The one at the bottom is Mathilde, Abbess, and her brother Otto, Duke. The back is copper gilt and engraved with the Four Evangelists.
Jeweled crosses seem not to be depicted in illuminated manuscripts, though the illumination of King Cnut and his Queen Aelfgifu (or Emma) giving a large gold cross seems to be the exception. The page appears in the Liber Vitae of Newminster and Hyde. The manuscript was made in south-west England, probably at Winchester by the scribe Aelfsige about 1031.
King Cnut and Queen Aelfgifu (also called Emma) before a large gold cross on an altar. Above them, angels hold a veil over Aelfgifu, a crown over Cnut, and gesture upwards toward an image of Christ in Majesty in a mandorla holding an open book, flanked by Mary and Peter. Below the feet of the king and queen are monks looking upward within arches.
British Library Stowe 944 f.6
These last three crosses are not strictly speaking crux gemmata, though the cross that is now in the Victoria & Albert Museum collection appears to be jeweled at first glance. The cross has a Mediterranean cedar wood core covered with gold and enamels. One can speculate that since the wood was not native to Great Britain, that it might have been considered to be the wood of the True Cross. The wood cross is Ottonian. The four round enamels depict the symbols for the four Evangelists. There is a cavity beneath the walrus ivory corpus that holds a female finger bone, The inscription at the top of the cross is Jesus of Nazareth in Latin. Inscriptions along the edge of the cross are now unreadable. Though the cross was assembled at Winchester between 900-1000, the enamels might have been brought from continental Europe as was the wood. The walrus ivory corpus is Anglo-Saxon made in the Winchester style.
Reliquary cross, Victoria and Albert Museum. 7943-1862.
The second reliquary cross brings me back to green crosses. This reliquary cross was made in the Meuse River valley (referred to as Mosan) about 1150-1175. It is copper gilt and covered with champlevé and cloissané enamels. Jesus is shown crucified on a green cross against a starry blue sky. The hand of God is depicted at the top of the green cross. At the base of the cross is a chalice for collecting the precious blood and water. The sun and moon are also represented. Instead of the four Evangelists at the ends of the arms of the cross, there are four virtues. Clockwise from the top are Hope, Faith, Obedience and Innocence. Hope holds a chalice and communion wafer and is identified with SP-ES. Faith [FID-ES] touches a baptismal font. Obedience [OBEDI-ENTIA] has a cross on her chest. Innocence [I-NOCENTIA] holds a white lamb for Christ as the lamb of God. The back of the reliquary cross is now missing.
Reliquary Cross, Mosan, made about 1150-1175. Walters Art Museum, Baltimore.
The last reliquary cross I plan to mention is the Brussels Cross or Drahmel Cross made in the early 11th century in England, perhaps Winchester. The front of the Brussels Cross has been lost, probably melted down for its precious metal and stripped of its gems during the French Revolutionary Wars about 1793. Even though, the crux gemmata side of the cross is lost, its link to Anglo-Saxon England is evident in its inscription.
Rod is min nama. Geo ic ricne cyning
bær byfigynde, blode bestemed.
þas rode het æþlmær wyrican and Aðelwold hys beroþor
Criste to lofe for ælfrices saule hyra beroþor.
I must depend on others for the translation: Rood is my name; Trembling once, I bore a powerful king, made wet (bedewed) with blood. Æthlmær and Athelwold, his brother, ordered this rood made for the love of Christ, for the soul of Ælfric, their brother.
The lines of the inscription recall lines 44 and 48 of Dream of the Rood.
Rod wæs ic aræred; ahof ic ricne cyning...
As a rood was I reared. I lifted the mighty King...
Bysmeredon hie unc butu ætgædere; eall ic wæs mid blode bestemed...
They mocked us, both together. I was entirely bedewed with blood...
[Please see Clerk of Oxford, Wuldres treow. http://aclerkofoxford.blogspot.com/2012/04/wuldres-treow.html.]
The back of the Brussels Cross is silver over wood and is inscribed with Drahmel me worhte, Drahmel made me. The wood of the cross was thought to be the largest piece of the True Cross remaining. The ends of the cross have the symbols for the four Evangelists and in the center, there is a Lamb of God.
Brussels or Drahmel Cross. The Treasure of the Cathedral in the Chapel of the Blessed Sacrament. Cathedral of St. Michael and St. Gudula, Brussels, Belgium.
Now that I have found my path back to Anglo-Saxon England, green crosses and Dream of the Rood, I will pick up with the Ruthwell Cross and its link to vegetation.