Do you know why we wear Byzantine crosses or how they became a symbol of Christianity? What is their origin? Find out in today’s Jewel School.
Byzantine Cross and Christianity
The cross is the most powerful and significant symbol of Christianity. Wearing the cross is a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us and shows others that we carry Christ within our heart. We, as Christians, wear crosses and pendants of faith as a representation of God’s presence in our lives. Where did this tradition originate? Let’s talk about the Byzantine cross and its history.
Medieval roots of the Byzantine cross
Did you know that the cross came first? In his article, ‘What is the Origin of the symbol of the Cross?”, John Ritenbaugh said that the cross was actually used for centuries before Christ. He also stated in Medieval art, the Greek goddess Artemis (Roman name Diana) was depicted with a cross over her head, Dionysos, Greek god of wine (Roman name Bacchus) was often shown wearing a headdress of crosses. History shows that Christians did not use the cross as a symbol until the time of Constantine, actually 3 centuries after Christ.
W. E. Vine, in his Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words article titled, ‘Cross’, he revealed that the use of the cross as a symbol came from the pagans. This is so similar to the use of the stefana wedding crowns used by the pagan culture and adopted later by Orthodox Christians.
Byzantine cross as an expression of faith
Somewhat obscured by mass production, the discerning eye still yearns for the power and beauty embodied in jewelry created uniquely for the purpose of reflecting our individual expression of faith. With a very hand-hewn appearance, the Byzantine cross is still very popular today (of which there are many variations). It’s influenced by the design characteristics of the Byzantine Era. One similarity of many of these ancient crosses, according to Wikipedia, is the “outward spread at the end of each arm”. The Byzantine-Greco/Roman era affected all areas of art and specifically that of iconography and jewelry.
Just looking at these objects, we see the rich jewel toned brilliant colors of reds, greens, and blues against gold. Fabrics, textures, and variations in metals are seen as well. These come from the artistic roots of Ancient Greek and Roman Classicism which were infused into the Orthodox Christian tradition.
Many crosses are equilateral in shape, which is specifically the Greek influence upon the Byzantine design. The shape itself imbues strength and timelessness. Some crosses of that time were made from bronze, copper, gold and silver. Some have bright primary colored gemstones like emerald, sapphire, and ruby — all used in one piece, reflecting the brilliance of God’s glory.
Of course, in the Orthodox faith, the cross is more than an adornment; it is the outward expression of an inward experience of faith; our protection, our shield from the evil one. We, as Orthodox, do not use the corpus of Christ on the cross as a testament to the fact that He is Risen!
Take it from me: tip for caring for your Byzantine cross
If you have been wearing your Byzantine cross for a long time, please take a close look at the bale (the connecting loop between the cross and the chain). Most often, this piece needs to be replaced several times in the lifetime of the cross. As the cross slides back and forth on its chain, grooves are worn on either side of the bale – this ‘loop’ that connects the cross to the chain is worn thin. This could result in the loss of your cross without the slightest warning. Have it checked at your nearest jeweler. The repair is far more reasonable than the heartache of losing this precious piece.
Byzantine cross as a reminder
Wearing the most recognized symbol of Christianity does not mean that we are sinless, it does; however, remind us of Christ and His personal sacrifice. This emblem, whether elaborate or plain, reminds us to treat others as He has treated us, selflessly and with love.
Looking for a Byzantine cross? Check out our Crosses Byzantine collection!
Paraskevi, also known as Vivian Paul Anton, is a 2nd generation jewelry designer, certified gemologist, and proprietor of Paul’s Jewelers in Milwaukee, WI. She trained at the Gemological Institute of America and at the Kulicke-Starke Academy of Arts. Early in her career, she interned with Ilias Lalaounis in Greece. Her pieces have been featured in major magazines and acquired by actors, athletes, and patrons all over the world.
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