‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ — Jesus
The cross. A fashion icon? A symbol? A symbol of what?
A somewhat bizarre act, we kneel and pray before the tortured and bloody body of a Martyr on the cross. We drink of His blood, partake of His body.
Metaphorically we are sharing and acknowledging the pain, becoming as one with the Martyr.
We see the cross as a symbol of Christianity, but it was not always so.
For the first couple of hundred years or so after the death of Jesus, the cross was seen for what it was. An instrument of torture and execution. Rome did not use it for its citizens apart from traitors. Its use was eventually banned as deemed too barbaric.
The revered leader of a small Jewish sect was executed on the cross. His immediate followers suffered similar fates.
The events and dates we celebrate would not have been recognized by these early Christians, a rag-tag motley crew of men and women who followed a Jewish Magi. These events and dates we celebrate were earlier Pagan festivities, adopted to suit Rome. It is easier to give a new name to existing festivities, than to invent new ones. The roots have been forgotten, the festivities taken at face value.
Take for example Christmas. 25 December? No one knows when Jesus was born. The only guide we have is from The Gospel of Luke that shepherds were out with their flocks in the fields, which indicates spring. The early Christians were not too fussed, indeed Origen warns against even celebrating ones own birthday as it was a Pagan custom. 25 December was the birthday of Mithras and of Apollo. Brumalia, the feast of Bacchus, was also on this day. If people were going to celebrate on that day, then make the most of it. Rome first celebrated Christmas Day around 336AD, Constantinople 379AD, Egypt 435AD. The churches in Palestine held out until the 6th century. The Armenian Church kept to 6 January. The Greek Orthodox Church and Russian Orthodox Church still celebrate Christmas Day on 6 January.
The cross, like much of the Judea-Christian religion, has its roots in Ancient Egypt. The two arms of the cross represented life on earth and the ascent to Heaven or the celestial realm. The Egyptian cross, as opposed to the crucifix, represents the intersection of two dimensions. It is a visual representation where Man and God are as one.
Open up and fold out the sides of a cube. We have a cross, a representation in two dimensions with a series of adjoining squares of a cube that exists in three dimensions. We can do similar with a hypercube, opening it out to be represented by adjacent and adjoining cubes in three dimensions.
Salvador Dali represents this ascent into another dimension in two of his paintings. In Christ of Saint John of the Cross, we have the cross hovering in space. With Crucifixion or Corpus Hypercubus Dali takes this a stage further. Jesus is nailed with cubes to a hypercube cross.
In the Gospel of Thomas, the most mystical of the gospels, we learn that he who understands will become immortal, ie as God. That seek and ye shall find, that the Kingdom of Heaven is not up there or down there, it is within us and all around us.
Sages and mystics and prophets and saints have no difficult in crossing the transition zone. Us mere mortals have greater difficulty.
But as Santiago learnt in The Alchemist by Brazilian writer Paulo Coelho and he himself learnt on the pilgrimage he undertook along El Camino de Santiago, the medieval route of St James, it is possible to learn how to read the signs and communicate with the Soul of the World.
Paulo Coelho discusses the historical cross in The Zahir, Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code and The Lost Symbol. Philip Yancey discusses the execution of Jesus on the cross in The Jesus I Never Knew, and Stephen Cottrel devotes all of ‘I Thirst’ to the last moments on the cross.
Crux Gemmata: A jeweled cross. Usually 13 jewels representing Jesus and his 12 Disciples.
Holding Cross: A carved wooden cross, usually from seasoned olive wood from the Holy Land, that easily fits into the palm of the hand. Used in the same way as Prayer Beads.
For my lovely friend Sian.