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The Cherished Significance Of My Wall Crosses

Thursday 02 August 2018 at 1:18 pm.

This article by Ray Spitzenberger first appeared in IMAGES for July 26, 2018, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas.

            When I began my twenty-eight years of service at St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, my office consisted of an old desk and chair in the corner of the Sacristy. Soon after that, the Elders and the Trustees created a small, cozy office for me out of a third of a Sunday School classroom. There was a picture of Martin Luther on the front wall, and I moved the wall crucifix from the Sacristy into my “new” office. With my framed degrees and certifications on the back wall, a door on one side wall, and a window on the other, all of the wall space was used up.

            Twelve years later, we built a new Fellowship Hall and Sunday School wing to the church, freeing up space in the old building. As a consequence, the Elders and the Trustees removed the back wall of my office and tripled its size. Even as a college teacher, I had never had such a large office! Only problem was, there was lots and lots of empty wall space, and my meager wall hangings made the room look bare. Unintentionally, I began a trend by bringing my favorite wall cross from home and hanging it next to the crucifix.

            In the years that followed, parishioners, as well as family members, gave me crosses for my birthday, Christmas, etc., and I mounted each cross on the wall. Twenty-eight years later, that long wall was completely covered with wall crosses, each one different.

            Even though I retired from the pastoral ministry a year ago, it was only last week that my wife and the church secretary took down the crosses and brought them home to me. As I unpacked them, not knowing what to do with dozens and dozens of these wonderfully significant Christian symbols, I noticed how they ran the gamut of cruciform symbolism.

            Many of the crosses were “Latin” or “Roman” crosses, also called “crux ordinaria.” These are the shape of the cross we usually think Jesus was crucified on, and its emptiness suggests the Resurrection. Some were wood, some ceramic, some pewter, some glass.

            Quite a few were “Celtic” or “Irish” or “Wheel” crosses, also known as the “High Cross.” Such crosses are often seen in churches and graveyards, especially in Scotland, Ireland, and Wales. The circle or wheel in the center of the cross is a symbol of eternity, and in many cases, it is designed as a crown of thorns (which, of course, adds additional significance). In my collection, these were wood, ceramics or metal.

            A few were “Bottony” or “Budded” crosses, also known as “Bottonnee.” The three rounded end caps on each cross look somewhat like a budded flower, and they symbolize the Holy Trinity, -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In the old days, this was the cross embossed on Lutheran Bibles. It looks a little similar to the Fleur-de-Lis cross (also in my collection).

            At least one of my crosses was a “Greek” cross, also known as the “crux immissa quadrata.” Unlike the Roman cross, all arms of this cross are the same length. It is highly unlikely that Jesus’ actual cross was shaped like this, but it is one of the most ancient of the crosses. It’s not as popular as the Roman cross, but its symbolism is the same.

            Also given to me were two standing crosses made of glass (which I displayed on the console in my office). One of these was a “Calvary” cross, which is essentially a Roman cross with three steps leading up to it, the steps representing the Hill of Calvary and symbolizing faith hope and love (“love” being the top step because it is the greatest of these). 

            In addition to the one from the Sacristy, there were three or four more wall crucifixes in my office, my favorite one being rather rustic and made in Mexico. The “Crucifix,” of course, is a Roman cross with the body of Christ hanging from it. Although most Protestant churches don’t display crucifixes, Lutheran and Episcopalians often do. Martin Luther thought it was a good reminder of the enormous suffering Jesus underwent for our salvation, a fact we should never forget but often do.

            While I cherish each of the crosses from my church office, both because of what they symbolize and because of who gave it to me, we don’t have enough wall space in our home and in my studio to mount all of them. We’re putting up as many as we can, and the rest I am giving to special people in my life, because I don’t want to box them up and store them in the attic where they’ll never be seen. As St. Paul said in Galatians 6:14, “May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

 -0-

Ray Spitzenberger is a retired college speech and English teacher and a retired Lutheran pastor.

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