By Madison Reed
A Crucifix is an important representation of Christ’s sacrifice for Catholics. The crucifix shown here is above an outdoor altar in St. Michael’s Cemetery in Brookside, Alabama. A former mining town northwest of Birmingham in Jefferson County, Brookside attracted many Eastern European immigrants in the early twentieth century and developed a strong Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christian communities. Many of these Catholics are buried in this hilltop cemetery. The crucifix sits high on the altar to show the higher significance of Christ because his death made it possible for humans to reach salvation.
Crucifixes place a strong emphasis on Jesus’ sacrifice and the fact it brings the ultimate redemption of mankind. In every Catholic church there will always be a symbol of the crucifix somewhere in the church. The crucifix symbolizes the physical burden of Christ taking on our sins. Many Protestants use an empty cross as a symbol of Christ’s death, but Catholics put Jesus’ body on the cross to remind them of the physical suffering and sacrifice of when he died.
In The Cross, History, Art, and Controversy, Robin Jensen, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame describes Emperor Constantine’s vision of the cross. In 313, Constantine was about to go into battle and the night before, he and his troops saw a cross light up in the night sky. It appeared with the words, “In this sign, you will conquer.” Jensen uses Constantine’s vision of the cross as an important revelation in the history of the cross.
When photographed in October 2009, the crucifix in the Brookside cemetery had purple flowers stuck into Jesus’ open right hand. Purple is the color of royalty in history, and the purple flowers might represent that Christ is supposed to be a king. In the Gospel according toJohn, chapters 18 and 19, Jesus is promised to be the king of the Jews which is one of the reasons he is crucified. Because he is a king, he is royalty and the purple flowers are supposed to show that to other people. The name plate at the top of the cross is also a reference to Christ as king. The reason that Jesus was crucified was because he claimed to be king, and when Pontius Pilate brought him before the crowd in Jerusalem, he asked, “Is this your king?” Although he claims that he is king, it is not fully true. The Catholics Jesus now reigns as king and will return in triumph as king, this is one reason why the include the inscription that John reports that Pilate had placed on the cross, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”
Howard, Thomas. “The Crucifix: Mystery and Symbol.” Adoremus, 1 May 2020, adoremus.org/2014/05/the-crucifix-mystery-and-symbol/.
Jensen, Robin Margaret. The Cross : History, Art, and Controversy. Harvard University Press, 2017.
Support, Greenway. Brookside, Alabama, 18 Aug. 2015, http://www.brooksidealabama.com.
“Brookside.” Encyclopedia of Alabama, 2018, encyclopediaofalabama.org/article/h-3466.
Madison Reed ‘24 was a student in the first-year seminar on Religious Images in Birmingham (UCCA 102) in Samford University Department of Biblical and Religious Studies in Fall 2020.
Published November 20, 2020.