Young Lady Playing Guitar, 19th century, Attributed to Julie Volpelière, Public domain, Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
Now a ubiquitous symbol of faith and devotion, the cross (two simple, intersecting lines of sometimes varying lengths) has been used by cultures both modern and ancient for many reasons. Crosses were used by pagan religions long before Christianity, and the ancient Egyptians used their own version of a cross, the ankh, as their representation of eternal life. The story of the crucifixion and its importance to Christianity led to the symbol being adopted as an easy way to mark ones’ Christian faith.
It is hard to know when exactly crosses became widely worn as pendants, however there are examples from the second century AD. Jewelry design was still in its relative infancy, so these early designs were more simplistic and nowhere near as ornate as crosses would eventually become. As trade increased and the world became more connected, gold and precious stones were worked into crosses, particularly for the very wealthy. By the Renaissance, crosses were extravagant statement pieces. They can be seen in paintings of the important people of the day, a handy visual shortcut for viewers of the work to know that the sitter has a strong faith.
Queen Mary I, unknown artist, National Portrait Gallery, Public domain, Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
The cross in this painting is an important symbol for Queen Mary I, also known as “Bloody Mary,” who reinstituted Roman Catholicism as the religion of England during her rule. Her father, King Henry VIII, was infamous in his establishment of the Church of England and Protestantism as the religion of the land. After the death of her younger brother Edward VI, Mary, a staunch Catholic, refused to give up her faith and began a persecution of Protestants (leading to her unflattering nickname chosen by her Protestant opponents). After her death, her younger sister Elizabeth took the throne and switched England back to Protestantism.
Theresa Meiring, Toledo, Ohio [approximately 1890], Toledo-Lucas County Public Library, Public domain, Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
This young American girl wears a humble cross on a necklace over her lacy white gown. Perhaps she had just been Confirmed. For many every-day Americans, crosses were a simple jewelry item and not as ornate as what was worn in the past.
Crosses were not just for the very wealthy - many normal people wore their own versions, albeit much simpler. For some, the cross is a powerful piece that will not only show a dedication to faith, but also ward off evil. As centuries passed and religion and jewelry morphed, the cross became less of a symbol of a religion than a fashion statement. By the late 20th century, pop stars like Madonna were wearing them as an accent to her wardrobe, often in a cheeky or ironic way.
Whatever the reason for wearing one, cross jewelry is a beautiful example of the power of jewelry and design! I have been so lucky to have some incredible crosses in my shop!
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Below are some images of gorgeous crosses:
Above is a beautiful antique 14k yellow gold and natural split pearl cross! The pie-crust/collette settings around the pearls dates this to the Georgian era, and its ornate detail makes it look almost Iberian. Either way, it is a fantastic example of how detailed crosses became!
An assortment of vintage cross pendants in gold. Two are studded with diamonds and one also includes beautiful blue sapphires!