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Canterbury Cross

A humble little brooch, found in the street 140 years ago, is now seen all over the world.



Canterbury Cross

Canterbury Cross
Canterbury Cross

In 1867, a small brooch was excavated from beneath St. George's Street, a tiny road that extends from the High Street in the centre of Canterbury, England, where churches have stood since the 6th century. This brooch has a Saxon design, dates to circa 850 A.D. and was originally cast in bronze. It has a triangular panel of silver in each of the four arms and each panel is incised with a triquetra (three cornered knot) pattern symbolizing the Trinity. It is inlaid with niello (a black metallic alloy) and edged with a vine leaf pattern.

The design of the Canterbury Cross shows it to be an early Consecration Cross and similar to the Cuthbert Cross. This cruciform is also known as Becket's Cross, after Thomas Becket, one of the more famous archbishops of Canterbury.

Original Canterbury Cross
The original Canterbury Cross

In Canterbury Cathedral, a replica has been carved in stone and mounted on the wall at the west end of the south aisle. It can be seen just inside the southwest transept entrance of the Cathedral. Similar replicas have been mounted on pieces of stone from Canterbury Cathedral and sent around the world to twelve other Anglican Cathedrals, giving a visible reminder of the link with the 'Mother Church' in Canterbury.

The original Canterbury Cross (photo on the right) is on display at the Royal Museum in Canterbury, alongside exhibits such as Rupert Bear and Bagpuss.1

Invicta Cross

Another Canterbury museum exhibit is Stephenson's Invicta; the world's first paying passenger steam locomotive. 'Invicta' is Latin for 'undefeated' and is the name given to the cross often seen in the hand of Christ in artwork. The Invicta Cross or Cross of Victory can be seen in early passion scenes, where the image of Jesus is shown carrying a relatively small cross on his shoulder.

(See also Triumphant Cross and Anglican Use)

Trumpington Cross

Trumpington Cross
Photo © Cambridge Archaeological Unit

About 160 km to the north of Canterbury is the Cambridgeshire village of Trumpington, where, in the summer of 2011, a grave was excavated by the University of Cambridge Archaeological Unit. There lay the remains of a teenage girl, who probably died between 650 and 680 AD, and the style of grave suggests she was of Anglo-Saxon nobility.

She was buried with a small (3.5 cm) gold cross, decorated with garnets, which had been sewn to her burial gown. In addition, pagan items were found, including a knife, which adds to the knowledge of the transition to Christianity during this period. (See full story at www.cam.ac.uk/....)

The similarity between the Canterbury Cross and the Trumpington Cross is unmistakable.


1: D H of Suffolk, a former Canterbury resident, explains this arrangement is in honour of the famous Cantabrian, Mary Tourtel (1874–1948), the creator of the Rupert Bear in the 1920s.

It also honours the creators of Bagpuss: Peter Firmin, later awarded the Freedom of the City of Canterbury; and Oliver Postgate, awarded an honorary degree by University of Kent at Canterbury. And we should not overlook Bagpuss himself, who romped around for the filming in a barn at Peter Firmin's home in Blean near Canterbury.