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Friday, June 10, 2011 Antique Crucifix...

“For Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:22-24, NAB)

Earlier today, as I curiously opened a box of stuff belonging to my late father, I discovered a very old, antique, blackened (due to ageing) crucifix, metal based, with good quality wooden façade, front and back, on which the three dimensional corpus of Jesus Christ was nailed.

I am not certain of the manufacture origin of the crucifix.  This antique crucifix would have accompanied my father on his journey for 73 years; which ended peacefully nearly 8 years ago.

At the top of the Crucifix was the usual scroll with the acronym letters “I.N.R.I” - the initials for the Latin phrase, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” - Iesus Nazarenus, Rex Iudaeorum

At first glance, it looks like any normal crucifix which I have seen in my lifetime, but on closer examination, I noticed that there is a skull and bones at the foot of the crucifix, just beneath pierced feet of Jesus.

I have never seen a crucifix like this one before, although this one belongs to my father.  And yes, there are still too many things which I do not know about him in his lifetime, but what I know is that he has given me, the gift of the Catholic sustain me on my journey.

Today, some have even termed such a crucifix as the “Adam’s Cross”.

The skulls and bones symbolizes Jesus Christ’s triumphant victory over death and sin.  There were some old Jewish and Christian legend that the skull of Adam (who brought sin and death into the world through his disobedience to God), was buried at Golgotha; the place where Jesus was brutally crucified.

“For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life…The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit. …  “Death is swallowed up in victory.  Where, O death is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?”” (1 Corinthians 15: 22, 45, 54, 55, NAB)

Similarly, on the back of this crucifix, exactly at the point of the intersection of the two cross beams, was a flaming heart shining with divine light, pierced by the lance-wound, surrounded by a crown of thorns.

The wounds and crown of thorns could denote the manner of Jesus' painful death, while the fire may symbolize the transformative power of His divine love.  Coincidently, the Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus would be celebrated on the Friday, 19 days after Pentecost Sunday; coming up, just around the corner.

Whatever it is, this treasured crucifix belonging to my late father also reminded me of the last four things, which must always be pondered by us as we continue our journey – death, judgment, heaven and hell – these are the ultimate truths of our existence.

“In whatever you do, remember your last days, and you will never sin.” (Sirach 7:36, NAB)

With this, I simply said a quiet prayer for the soul of my father and staring at the crucifix...I joined both my hands…and pondered in my heart...

Look down upon me, good and gentle Jesus, while before Thy face I humbly kneel, and with burning soul pray and beseech Thee to fix deep in my heart lively sentiments of faith, hope and charity, true contrition for my sins, and a firm purpose of amendment.

Meanwhile, I contemplate with great love and tender mercy Thy five most precious wounds, pondering over them within me, and calling to mind the words which David in prophecy made Thee say concerning Thyself, my Jesus: “They have pierced My hands and feet; they have numbered all My bones.”


  1. This is a beautiful antique crucifix, most likely from the late 1800s. It is brass with inlaid ebony- most likely- and you have described it exceptionally well. Although it is not seen much today, the majority of antique European crucifixes had skulls at the base of the cross. These were seen on rosaries, as pectoral crosses, hung over beds, put in coffins and given to families at the burial. They were also given by missionaries- you can see very similar ones in pictures of Native Americans in the 1880s. Although I have seen one made as recently as 1970, they are said to have stopped making them after WWII because they were very popular with the German army. Most of these style crucifixes were made in Germany, but there are also many from France and Spain with the skull and crossbones at the base of the cross. You can come visit at The Sacred Bead to see more examples of this style crucifix.

  2. Rebecca,

    Thank you so much for your comments which have been helpful. Wherever the origin, I guess that these symbols simply reminds us that Jesus Christ is the truly the same yesterday, today and forever!

    Faith in the Lord is truly a great heritage...and a most precious gift.

    God Bless!

  3. Yes, I forgot to mention some of the symbolism which again you understand without any explanation. Although there are some slightly different interpretations, all agree that it represent Christ's triumph over death. Some feel it also represents the skull of Adam.

  4. Rebecca,

    Correct. The skull of the first Adam, which in some Jewish and Christian tradition, is believed to have been buried at Golgotha, appropriately in Aramaic, translating to “the skull”. Jesus Christ, the new Adam, has redeemed mankind by virtue of his death on the Cross.

    God Bless!