‘A Symbol of Victory and Sign of Salvation’ Lecture Explores College’s Namesake

Inside the history, art and meanings behind the Holy Cross as part of the College's 175th anniversary celebrations
January 7th, 2019 by 

Robin Jensen speaks during a lecture on the meaning behind the imagery of the cross
Robin Jensen speaks during a lecture on the meaning behind the imagery of the cross. Photo by Hui Li

Today, images of the cross and crucifixion are synonymous with Christianity — but that has not always been the case.

“Art historians have been unable to identify an explicitly Christian crucifix prior to the fourth or even the fifth century, and then only a few rare examples before the sixth. Even a plain Christian cross symbol is virtually missing in Christian art much before the middle of the fourth century,” shared Robin Jensen, Patrick O’Brien Professor of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, at a lecture examining the history, art and meanings behind the College’s namesake a few days after the Feast of the Holy Cross.

Some scholars believe the lack of cross or crucifix imagery implies that Christians of the first three centuries were not as focused on the matter, purpose or meaning of Christ’s crucifixion, but rather on his message of love, justice and a promised paradise. Jensen disagrees.

“As a historian who works in both early Christian texts and material culture, I cannot avoid the evidence that ancient Christian writers in fact regarded the cross and Christ’s crucifixion as a core event in salvation history,” she explained. “We have extensive evidence that early Christians went about explaining, defending and even proclaiming the crucifixion.”

It wasn’t until the middle of the fourth century that an unambiguous Christian cross began to make a frequent appearance, alongside the Christogram, a symbol made up of the interlocked Greek letters chi and rho, the first two letters of Christ’s name.

Without question, the Christogram was initially associated with the Emperor Constantine, to whom the symbol appeared in a dream or waking vision just before a major military victory, Jensen shared. The use of the images spread under Constantine, who regarded the cross as his personal protective insignia. “Both the Christogram and the simple cross now start to appear in a variety of contexts that are clearly imperial and specifically military in character,” she said.

Within a few years, however, the cross and Christogram were included in scenes of the Passion story — still not showing Jesus’ crucifixion — as symbols of Christ’s victory over death, completely removed from any imperial context.

“If the cross hadn’t had the association with Constantine’s victory, it wouldn’t necessarily carry the meaning of victory,” she noted, pointing to this as a strong example of how images transform themselves.

Images of the crucifixion come into prominence after Constantine’s mother, Helena, identified the site of the crucifixion and relics of the true cross were discovered. The earliest depictions of Jesus on the cross were found within Constantine’s shrine of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, built on the site identified by his mother.

From then on, cross and crucifixion images became steady motifs within Christian visual culture. In the few centuries that followed, their presentation and associations continued to evolve. Some depictions linked Jesus’ cross to the Edenic tree of life, bringing the story of original sin full circle to salvation, while crucifixion depictions shifted from an emphasis on Christ’s victory over death to his participation in human suffering.

This changing, enriched visual repertoire, said Jensen, “expanded the possibilities and potentialities of the Holy Cross as a rich and incredibly complicated Christian symbol.”

The lecture was presented as part of the College’s ongoing celebration of its 175th anniversary and one of the Deitchman Family Lectures on Religion and Modernity, sponsored by the Rev. Michael C. McFarland, S.J. Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture.

 

Written by Evangelia Stefanakos ’14 for the Winter 2019 issue of Holy Cross Magazine.

About Holy Cross Magazine
Holy Cross Magazine (HCM) is the quarterly alumni publication of the College of the Holy Cross. The award-winning publication is mailed to alumni and friends of the College and includes intriguing profiles, make-you-think features, alumni news, exclusive photos and more. Visit magazine.holycross.edu/about to contact HCM, submit alumni class notes, milestones, or letters to the editor.

For more photos, history and events celebrating Holy Cross’ 175th anniversary, visit the anniversary website.

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Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/16/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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Organ concert - Benjamin Alard
3/17/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Benjamin Alard, OrganistChurch: Saint-Louis-en-Île,...
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Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/17/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/18/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
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EY On-Campus Interviews
3/18/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 404
Description:Visit Crusader Connections to view summer opportunities...
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EY On-Campus Interviews
3/18/2019
Center for Career Development
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 405
Description:Visit Crusader Connections to view summer opportunities...
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Reading by Emilie Pine
3/19/2019
English
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Lecture: Rev. Orobator, S.J., on Religion and Faith in Africa
3/19/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Drawing on his most recent book, “Religion and Faith...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/19/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Lecture: Irish Advocate for Sexual Abuse Victims Talks Therapy, Treatment and Prevention
3/20/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/20/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/21/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/22/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/23/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/24/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


MPE Meeting (Event canceled)
3/25/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/25/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/26/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/27/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Lecture: Peter Phan on Theology of the Church in the Age of Migration
3/28/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Peter Phan is the inaugural holder of the Ignacio Ellacuria Chair...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/28/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


175th Jesuits and Music Concert
3/29/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Many Holy Cross musical ensembles and performers will join...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
3/29/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/30/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
3/31/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Lecture: Cornell Historian Derek Chang on Asians in the Jim Crow South
4/1/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
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Conference on Liberal Arts Education
4/1/2019
Political Science
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
What is the role of Great Books in a liberal arts education? Are...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/1/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
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Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/1/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


53rd Annual Hanify-Howland Lecture
4/2/2019
Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture
Holy Cross Campus
The 53rd annual Hanify-Howland Memorial Lecture will be held April 2, 2019 in the...
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Conference: Readings from the Roots, on Bible Translation and Its Impact
4/2/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
This two-day conference highlights a new, historically-sensitive...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/2/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/2/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/3/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/3/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Conference: Readings from the Roots, on Bible Translation and Its Impact
4/3/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Readings from the Roots is a new, historically-sensitive translation...
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Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
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Ira Sukrungruang
4/4/2019
English
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Open to the Public
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/4/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/4/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/5/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 1
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Rodin:Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Collections
4/5/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/6/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/6/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


Rodin: Truth, Form, Life/Selections from the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Collections
4/7/2019
175th Anniversary
O'Kane Hall Cantor Art Gallery 2
The inaugural exhibition of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Art Gallery...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/8/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting (Event canceled)
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/8/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Suite B/C - 4th Fl
Open to the Public
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/8/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Hester/Craig Debate
4/9/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Kimball Hall Seelos Theater
Is theistic belief rational in a scientific age? Listen in on a conversation...
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COPE Well Week
4/9/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 402(03)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/9/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


COPE Well Week
4/10/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 401
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/10/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Lecture: Glenn Loury on the Ethics of Affirmative Action Policies in Higher Education
4/11/2019
McFarland Center for Religion
Carol and Park B. Smith Hall Rehm Lib
Glenn Loury, the Merton P. Stoltz Professor of the Social Sciences,...
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COPE Well Week
4/11/2019
Counseling Center
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 304(05)
Open to Campus Community Only
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/11/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/12/2019
Theatre
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center Lobby Table 2
LOBBY TABLE - Once in a LifetimeBy George S. Kaufman and...
See More >>


Once in a Lifetime
4/13/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Once in a Lifetime By George S. Kaufman and Moss HartApril 4-6 &...
See More >>


Holy Cross Jazz Ensemble Spring Concert
4/16/2019
Music
Brooks Music Center CONCERT HA
An evening of Big Band Jazz music that plays from the Classic to the...
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Holy Cross Orchestra Concert
4/24/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
The Holy Cross College Orchestra will perform Tchaikovsky’s...
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Haberlin Hall 219
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
O'Neil Hall 112
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 155
Open to the Public
See More >>


Academic Conference
4/24/2019
Office of the Vice President for Academic Affairs
Smith Laboratories 154
Open to the Public
See More >>


H-CLEF Concert
4/26/2019
Music
Brooks Music Center CONCERT HA
Join the Holy Cross Laptop Ensemble Federation for an evening of silent...
See More >>


Holy Cross College Choir Concert
4/27/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Giacomo Carissimi was the first great composer of oratorios,...
See More >>


Chapel Artist Series Organ Concert - Pavel Kohout
4/28/2019
Music
St Joseph Memorial Chapel St Joseph Chapel
Pavel Kohout, OrganistInternational Concert Organist, Prague,...
See More >>


MPE Meeting
4/29/2019
Office of Multicultural Education
Henry M. Hogan Campus Center 406(09)
Open to the Public
See More >>


Dance Concert
5/1/2019
Theatre
O'Kane Hall Fenwick Theatre
Dance ConcertMay 1 at 7:00 PM and 9:00 PMFenwick Theatre – 2nd...
See More >>


Romantic Exile and Transnational Celebrity
5/2/2019
English
Dinand Library Levis Browsing Room
Omar Miranda, assistant professor of English at the University of...
See More >>


175th Anniversary Scavenger Hunt
5/17/2019
Featured Employee
Outdoor starting at Hogan
This Scavenger Hunt is being put on by the Mission and Identity Subcommittee...
See More >>

See All