Unless you’ve been living in a cave lately, it’s impossible to miss the popularity of the cross necklace in modern-day society.
From stars such as Kim Kardashian and Madonna rocking a cross necklace on the streets of Hollywood to social media starlets showing off their crosses as part of their “outfit of the day” posts, this stylish yet simple fashion statement is the latest and greatest accessory to be seen with!
Yet, for many wearers, the cross necklace is more than simply a way to show off their flair for fashion. Instead, it’s a way to show their faith and their dedication to the Lord, all while looking elegant and chic.
When did people start wearing religious jewelry?
Well, religious jewelry was worn a long time before the advent of Christianity. In fact, the earliest evidence of jewelry being used to show religious devotion reaches all the way back to Ancient Egypt!
In those days, people wore jewelry to show their devotion to the many gods they worshipped. The symbols they adorned themselves with usually depicted the falcon, the lotus, the serpent, or the beetle, though they also wore the Ankh, an early form of cross necklace that symbolized both their existence on earth and in the afterlife.
Unlike the jewelry favored today, Egyptians preferred their jewelry to be ornate and heavy (thankfully not a trend that stuck around!) and it was only available to royalty and the richest members of society.
How about Christians? When did they start wearing cross necklaces?
Before the birth of Christ, just like the Egyptians, the Romans worshipped many deities, though all this changed after Jesus was born.
Therefore, it’s not surprising that the cross necklace dates back thousands of years to around 2 A.D when St. Constantine Christianized the Roman Empire.
In the two centuries before then, following the crucifixion of Christ, the cross was not considered suitable for use as jewelry as the pain associated with this unusually cruel and painful form of execution was still raw, but 2 A.D. saw some Christians embrace the cross necklace (and, less commonly, the fish necklace) to not only represent their dedication to Christ but also to show gratitude for His sacrifice for all mankind.
These early Christians also saw the cross as a symbol of the intense love that God had His people, a love that meant He was willing to sacrifice his only son for them.
How did the cross necklace build in popularity?
It helped that in the 3rd Century A.D. St. Clement of Alexandria officially announced that the cross was the symbol of the Lord, which only made the cross necklace even more popular as a way of showing the wearer’s faith.
It was even further popularized in the 4th Century A.D when St. Paulinus described the cross as both a sign of protection from evil and a sacred symbol of the passion of Christ.
It wasn’t long before Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant clergy started to wear crosses to show their devotion to their God, but also to show their position in the church.
These were not the delicate crosses we wear today; they were large and often contained decadent gemstones, and were generally made of gold, silver, or platinum. On the other end of the scale, common folk wore plain, simple cross necklaces to display their faith.
By the 6th Century, A.D. and continuing through the Middle Ages, people (usually clergy and royalty) started to wear crucifixes, ones that displayed either relics of saints or a depiction of Christ being crucified on the cross (something which is not as common these days, where a simple cross is favored.)
These crucifixes were seen as reliquaries that held what believers considered was a relic of the true crucifix, and as well as being worn on the body as jewelry, they were often placed on altars and used during prayer.
The crucifixes, many of which were adorned with elaborate gemstones, have been discovered by archeologists in the tombs of kings and queens from around 6 A.D., so it seems that whether you were common folk or a member of royalty or nobility, a cross necklace was all the rage as a way to demonstrate your faith!
And how about now? What does the cross necklace mean to Christians?
Nowadays, many Christians still see the cross as a reminder of God’s love; after all, He sacrificed His only son for the sake of humanity, and wearing a necklace bearing a cross is an easy and elegant way to signify your dedication to the Lord.
In fact, cross necklaces are still commonly given as gifts, especially to children when they get christened or to celebrate their first communions.
In some societies, such as in the south of Italy, crosses made with beads of coral are still used to worn to ward off evil spirits and bad luck in general. It’s also believed it can protect the wearer from disease.
However, the cross necklace is not only used as a symbol of faith and/or a sign used for protection. These days, some people simply wear their cross as a style statement, and, as mentioned earlier, it is becoming more and more trendy to so.
Many, though, find that wearing a cross can do double duty-it works to show their dedication to Christ while looking trendy and fashion forward at the same time!
The Christian fish worn in the past is still sometimes found as jewelry, but it’s not common these days. They certainly aren’t nearly as popular as the cross, which is still beloved to this day for its simplicity, elegance, and its intense symbolism.