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crucifixes QUESTION from Jacob R. Kojiro April 16, 2000 I am looking for the history of cru fixes. I am speaking of the objects that we wear around our necks and see at every church. Where did they come from and when is the first instance of a crucifix known. Thank You, and God bless you
Jacob Kojiro
ANSWER by Mrs. Suzanne Fortin, B.A. on May 1, 2000 Dear Jacob
I apologize for the delay in getting back to your question.
The wearing of the cross around one’s neck (without the crucified Jesus) has been practiced since at least the fourth century. I do not know when Catholics began wearing a crucifix proper around the neck. I do know however that by the end of the sixth century, there were encolpia with the images of Christ crucified on them. An encolpia is a cross that is worn around the neck and with a hollow case in the middle. Relics of the True Cross or the saints were placed inside. This practice was rare during the sixth century, but it progressively became more common.
Images of Christ on the cross were extremely rare before the 6th century in the Eastern Church, and were unknown before the 8th century. Before that time, it was rare for Christ to be depicted at all, let alone on the Cross. When artists wished to represent the Crucified Christ, he was symbolized by flowers, jewels, or by a lamb. And note that artists did not emphasize his sufferings, but rather the fact that he is the victor over death. Around this time, that is, the 6th century, Monophysitism, which emphasized the divinity of Christ to the exclusion of his humanity, was the heresy du jour. The champions of the orthodox faith began to represent Christ’s humanity in various forms of art. The Quinisext Council of Constantinople in 692 forbade the use of the lamb as a symbol and decreed that Christ was to be depicted in his human form. The council felt the necessity to make this decree because of the continued resistance of representing Christ as a man.
Before the 13th century, it was often the resurrected Christ that was depicted on the Cross. He wears a long robe and does not suffer. Around the 13th century, artists began to be more realistic about the Passion of Christ. They began creating the Passion scenes we’re all familiar with.
It was during the High Middle Ages that the Crucifix began to be used in a widespread fashion. Although crucifixes were placed on the altar in churches during this time, it was not obligatory for there to be one until the Roman Missal of Pius V in 1570. And even then, it did not have to rest on the altar; it could be suspended above.
If there are any readers who have more information on the origins of wearing the crucifix, they are encouraged to email the information to me along with the references.
Thanks for your question.
God Bless, Suzanne
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