Pectoral Cross

Also called Bishop's Cross

The Pectoral Cross is a status symbol for a bishop or high ranking churchman. Why does a bishop need such a cross, or indeed any status symbol?

Pectoral Cross

Pectoral Cross
Pectoral Cross can be any style; usually elaborate

The Pectoral Cross quite possibly began as a reliquary worn by bishops, not as an insignia of special privilege, but as an object of devotion. 

From the 17th century, in addition to being a Christian symbol, the Pectoral Cross acquired an additional function as a status symbol. It continues to be worn almost exclusively by higher ranking clergy such as cardinals and bishops, at the centre of the chest (Latin pectoralis), and traditionally made from precious metals or gemstones (see also Diamond Cross). These days, the Pectoral Cross is seen only on ceremonial occasions. Being such a large cross, it looks ridiculous and too dramatic if worn with ordinary street clothes.

More commonly seen is a Clergy Cross, less ornate than a Pectoral Cross, typically made of steel with a pewter finish, sometimes coated in silver or gold, and sometimes made of wood. Clergy wear these on a 30-inch chain to decorate drab pulpit apparel, or simply as an alternative to any special clergy attire.

But back to the Pectoral Cross. Why does a bishop need this cross, or indeed any status symbol?

There is nothing mysterious about a group of religious people (Christians, for example) wishing to build a magnificent cathedral in which to worship God. The faithful have given money and property to the Church, and the Church has accumulated vast wealth. (In medieval England for example, it was not uncommon for wealthy landowners to bequeath part of their estate to a long-dead saint.) It has the authority and responsibility to be guardian of this wealth; a relic of Pagan times, when priests would be charged with looking after res sacræ. Because such property was considered sacred, it was no longer 'wealth' in the worldly sense.

It is generally accepted that the Church should not be dependent on the State and consequently sufficient funds are required for the Church to fulfill its duties. In today's more secular society, res sacræ makes the Church appear obscenely wealthy, mocking Christ's teaching that His servants should humbly sell their riches and give to the poor. Of course, substantial amounts of money do flow out from time to time; settling litigation or investment failures on the stock market, but generally, the Church's cup still runneth over. (See controversial Church wealth.)

The traditional holder of the purse strings at a diocesan level has been the bishop - a person with not only spiritual authority but also the role of managing director. It is not surprising that various trappings have evolved, including special vestments and other regalia. One of these status symbols is the Pectoral Cross. Compared to a modest Lapel Pin Cross, the Pectoral Cross is over-large. Just as a managing director's company car is two or three litres larger than his or her subordinates', the Pectoral Cross, whilst a beautiful religious symbol, is also a status symbol.

These days, cheaper crosses are available yet still have the desired 'glitter'. They are favoured (in Western churches at least) to the heavy solid gold crosses of the Middle Ages.

The real reason for any bishop or clergy to wear a cross around their neck, is not to flaunt wealth or power but to show that he or she has devoted their life to the service of the Jesus Christ. God does not judge us by our status symbols; He made us all equal.

res sacræ - sacred property and utensils consecrated to the gods

Custodians of sanctified things: - Num. 18:8-25, 1 Cor. 9:13

"Eye of the needle" - Matt. 19:21-24, 25:41-46, Mark 10:17-31, Luke 18, 1 John 3:17


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