The history of cross necklaces used to display Christian devotion can be traced back at least to the 2nd century. Tertullian, a great Church Father, described the faithful Christian followers as cross devotees. And, it was noted that it was the center of the Christian’s life.
In the 3rd century St. Clement of Alexandria again describes the great devotion of Christians to the cross of Christ and defines it as the symbol of the Lord. St. Paulinus of Nola, at the end of the 4th century noted that it was recognized as both a sacred symbol of the passion of Christ and also a sign for protection and defense.
Archaeologists have found numerous items marked with a cross from many civilizations dating to the 5th and 6th centuries. These articles included: drawings and etchings on walls of burial chambers and catacombs in Rome, paintings in Egypt, coins, earthenware vessels, mosaics, devotional medals and saint medals, necklaces, rings, and liturgical vestments. They were even placed on documents from the 10th century believed to be used as signatures. They have been depicted on Christian Churches and monuments from the 4th century, and of course beautifully decorate our Catholic and Christian churches and Basilicas today.
Crosses were not only seen in artwork. As early as the 6th century beautiful necklaces were shown to be worn by Christians to demonstrate their devotion to Christ. Large pectoral crosses were worn by Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant clergy as a sign of reverence, devotion, and often to designate the level of the clergy in the church hierarchy. They were made of gold, silver, platinum, and often contained beautiful gemstones.
The use of a cross necklaces to display relics was identified as early as the 6th century. These reliquaries contained relics of the True Cross of Christ or relics of the saints. They were worn by clergy, royalty, and lay persons. One very interesting discovery demonstrates this use among Christians as a demonstration of their faith and devotion. St. Cuthbert was a monk and later a bishop of Lindisfurne, England. He was responsible for many miracles even prior to his death in 687. In 698 when they exhumed his body they found it uncorrupt. During the Danish invasion monks fled in fear of their safety and carried the body of the saint with them, wandering for years to Cumberland and other cities before it was finally taken to Durham, England. Another miracle occurred here. According to tradition it was believed that this miracle was St. Cuthbert indicating his desire to have his burial spot there. The incorrupt body of the saint has his final resting place in a cathedral in Durham. Interestingly, they also found in his tomb a very beautiful jeweled cross necklace.
Tombs of queens and kings were also discovered with fine religious jewelry of gold, silver, and gemstones. Another famous historical account identified both a reliquary and gemstone cross necklace in a tomb of a queen in the middle of the 6th century. Queen Theodelinda of Lombards received a very precious gift of a reliquary containing a relic of the True Cross of Christ from Pope St. Gregory the Great, an early Church Father and Doctor of the Church. Both of these wonderful expressions of Christian faith in jewelry are still preserved today in the treasury of Monza.
What a marvelous tradition we have as Christians in demonstrating our faith and devotion to Christ by proudly wearing cross necklaces whether it is a simple design of silver or gold or elaborate gemstone. We can follow in the footsteps of our early Christian brothers and sisters who were unafraid to display their Christianity daily by wearing this beautiful religious jewelry.