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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Crucifix, a cross with the corpus (Body of Christ), is an ancient symbol used within the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, in contrast with some Protestant sects, which use only a simple cross.

A crucifix (from Latin cruci fixus meaning "(one) fixed to a cross") is a three-dimensional cross with a representation of Jesus' body, the "corpus". It is a principal symbol of the Christian religion, and one of the commonest forms of the Crucifixion in the arts. It is especially important in the Catholic Church, but is also used in Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches, and less often in other Protestant churches, and it emphasizes Jesus' sacrifice — his death by crucifixion, which Christians believe brought about the redemption of mankind. Large crucifixes high across the central axis of a church, by the late Middle Ages a near-universal feature of Western churches, but now very rare, are known by the Old English term rood. Modern Catholic churches mostly have a crucifix above the altar on the wall, as most do not have rood screens.


The Crucifix

Eastern Orthodox crucifix, from the Catholicon of Holy Trinity Monastery, Meteora, Greece. The figure is flat and painted, on a board extended beyond the cross beams for the purpose.

On some crucifixes a skull and crossbones are shown below the corpus, referring to Golgotha (Calvary), the site at which Jesus was crucified—"the place of the skull." It was probably called "Golgotha" because it was a burial-place, or possibly because of a legend that the place of Jesus' crucifixion was also the burial place of Adam. The standard, four-pointed Latin crucifix consists of an upright stand and a crosspiece to which the sufferer's arms were nailed. His right hand is often shown in the position of blessing.

The Eastern Christian crucifix usually includes two additional crossbars: the shorter nameplate, to which INRI (Greek: INBI) was affixed; and the longer stipes, to which the feet were nailed, which is angled upward toward penitent thief Saint Dismas (to the viewer's left) and downward toward impenitent thief Gestas (to the viewer's right). It is thus eight-pointed. The corpus (Greek: soma) of Eastern crucifixes are normally two-dimensional icons that show Jesus as already dead, his face peaceful and somber. Western crucifixes may show Christ dead or alive, the presence of the spear wound in his ribs traditionally indicating that he is dead. In either case his face very often shows his suffering. Also, Eastern crucifixes have Jesus' two feet nailed side by side, rather than crossed one above the other, as Western crucifixes have showed them for many centuries. The crown of thorns is also generally absent in Eastern crucifixes, since the emphasis is not on Christ's suffering, but on his triumph over sin and death. The "S"-shaped position of Jesus' body on the cross is a Byzantine innovation, often found in the West.

Another, symbolic, depiction shows the triumphant risen Christ (clothed in robes, rather than stripped as for His execution) with arms raised, appearing to rise up from the cross, sometimes accompanied by "rays of light", or an aureole of glory encircling His Body. He may be robed as a prophet, crowned as a king, and vested in a stole as Great High Priest.


An enshrined crucifix amidst the cornfields near Mureck in rural Styria, Austria.

Catholic (Eastern and Western Rite Catholics) Orthodox, Coptic, Anglican and Lutheran Christians generally use the crucifix in public religious services. They believe the crucifix is in keeping with Scripture, which states that “we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Cor 1:23).

Prayer in front of a crucifix is often part of devotion for Christians, especially those worshipping in a church, and private devotion in a chapel. The person may sit, stand, or kneel in front of the crucifix, sometimes looking at it in contemplation, or merely in front of it with head bowed or eyes closed. In the Anglican and Lutheran Holy Eucharist, and more formal Roman Catholic Masses, a procession begins the service in which a cross or crucifix is carried forward into the church followed by lector and servers, the priest, deacon, along with some of the other items used in the service such as the Gospels and the altar candles. Since the Counter-Reformation,[1] an altar cross in crucifix form has been compulsory in the Catholic Church, unless there is, for example, an altarpiece of the crucifixion.

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the crucifix is often placed above the iconostasis in the church. In the Russian Orthodox Church a large crucifix ("Golgotha") is placed behind the Holy Table (Altar). A large crucifix is taken in procession to the center of the temple (church) during the Matins of Good Friday, where it is venerated by the faithful. Sometimes the soma (corpus) is removable and will be taken down off the crucifix at Vespers that evening during the Gospel lesson describing the Descent from the Cross. The empty cross may then remain in the center of the church until the Paschal vigil (local practices vary). The blessing cross which the priest uses to bless the faithful at the dismissal will often have the crucifix on one side and an icon of the Resurrection of Jesus on the other, the side with the Resurrection being used on Sundays and during Paschaltide, and the crucifix on other days.

Eastern Christian liturgical processions also include a crucifix at the head of the procession.

During the Middle Ages small crucifixes, typically hung on a wall, became normal in the personal cells or living quarters first of monks, and then all clergy, followed by the bedrooms of the laity, spreading down from the top of society as these became cheap enough for the average person to afford. By the 19th century displaying a crucifix somewhere in the general reception areas of a house became typical of Catholic homes, and this remains largely the case.

The crucifix is also used as an holy amulet by Christians. It is considered by some to be one of the most effective means of averting or opposing demons, as stated by many exorcists, including the famous exorcist of the Vatican, Father Gabriele Amorth. In folkloric legends it is considered to ward off vampires, incubi, succubi, and other evils.

In terms of opposition, some have used an inverted (upside-down) crucifix when showing disdain for Jesus Christ or the Catholic Church which believes in His divinity. It is not uncommon for Satanists to use such symbolism in a form of protest.[2] According to Christian tradition, Saint Peter was martyred by being crucified upside-down. [3]


Hanging rood on Gotland in Sweden, where numbers of medieval roods survive in place.

Some Protestants disapprove of the use of the crucifix as opposed to the "empty" cross on general aniconic grounds, and because some they believe that the absence of Jesus Christ's body symbolizes the Resurrection. However, this view is held only by a small minority.[4] One notable proponent of this view is Christian tract artist Jack Chick. [5]

In 2005, a mother accused her daughter's school in Derby, England of discriminating against Christians after the teenager was suspended for refusing to take off a crucifix necklace.[6]

British Airways has faced legal action and calls for a boycott by Christians after it ruled an employee could not display a crucifix on her necklace (a rule it has now relaxed).[7] A British prison ordered a multi-faith chapel to remove all crucifixes, presumably to avoid offending Muslims.[8]

In Spain, a local judge ordered crucifixes removed from public schools to settle a decades-old dispute over whether crucifixes should be displayed in public buildings in a non-confessional state.[9] A 2008 Quebec government report recommended that the crucifix of the National Assembly be removed to achieve greater pluralism, but the local Liberal party refused.[10]

On behalf of the European Court of Human Rights, Lautsi v. Italy ruled that crucifixes in Italian classrooms are contrary to parents' right to educate their children in line with their convictions. Crucifixes remain common in most other Italian official buildings, including courts of law.



  1. ^ Roman Missal of 1570
  2. ^ Lucifer Rising: A Book of Sin, Devil Worship and Rock n' Roll (Nemesis, 1994)
  3. ^ Kramer, Heinrich and Sprenger, James (1486), Summers, Montague (translator - 1928), The Malleus Maleficarum
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^ The Telegraph
  7. ^ The Guardian
  8. ^ Prison chapel not to have a crucifix
  9. ^ Monster and Critics
  10. ^ [1]
  11. ^ In Petersfield,Hampshire

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