Tuesday, April 13, 2021

The Red Cross as a Symbol of the Resurrection

As we move into the second week of Easter, here is a symbolic image of the Resurrection, embroidered onto a chalice pall which was recently commissioned by a priest.

As the patron wrote to the artist when he commissioned the pall:
It depicts the Blood the Lamb, but not into a chalice — which I think would be good for a pall. No reason to have an image of a chalice atop a chalice - that’s the sort of “multiplication of images” that detracts from the Sacred Liturgy. I like this image of the Lamb, the Blood, but no chalice.

The image of the shell and the water (of Baptism) at the top is very meaningful. “From the Savior’s side flowed blood and water, the fountain of the sacramental life of the Church.” We often forget the saving waters. And both wine and water are poured into the chalice. Good imagery for a pall.

The lamb is the sacrificial victim, “standing as if slain”, from chapter 5 of the Apocalypse, and the Resurrection is symbolized by the banner with a red cross on a white background. I am not clear as to precisely how the red cross became the symbol of the Resurrection. From what I can gather, the symbol of the cross in various colors became popular in northern Italian cities from about 1000AD, and people from that area would carry these banners with them on the crusades to the Holy Land that took place in the following centuries. It also became associated in the late middle ages with St George as he became a patron of the crusader knights. It was linked particularly with the Resurrection in the West around this time too.

Since the time of Constantine, who ordered an image of the Christian cross to be put on the Roman standard as he went into battle and was victorious, the Holy Cross has been a symbol of both spiritual and temporal battles against those who wish to destroy the Church in both East and West. An ancient hymn sung to commemorate the Holy Cross in the Eastern churches runs as follows:

Oh Lord, save Your people and bless Your inheritance, grant victory to our country over its enemies and preserve your community by the power of your Cross. 

When I was looking for other images of this symbol, I remembered that Fra Angelico used it in his portrayal of the Resurrection:

I was reminded in looking at both of these images that the halo of Christ contains a red cross too. There is no consistently used color for the cross of the halo in Christian symbolism. However, red is frequently used by Fra Angelico, so I am guessing that in each case, the artist deliberately placed these two symbolic representations close to each other so that we would see the connection. Here is Fra Angelico’s Transfiguration.

The artist who created the pall, incidentally is Kathryn Laffrey, kl-artstudio.com, who is based in Michigan and is currently a student on the Master of Sacred Arts program at Pontifex University.

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