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The Canterbury Cross

The Canterbury Cross Ring in Sterling Silver by County Argyle

Few symbols bridge the divide between the pagan and Anglican worlds quite like the historic Canterbury Cross. With an alisee pattee shape (echoing other Saxon crosses), this singular cruciform beautifully marries both Celtic and Byzantine influences. Behind its elegant design, however, lies an obscure history and deeper symbolism that still divide scholars today.

The History of the Cross

In 1867 diggers on an improved drainage system on St. Georges Street in Canterbury uncovered a minor treasure. The small, bronze cross brooch — dating back to the 9th century — became known as the Canterbury Cross. This original, now kept at the Beaney House of Art and Knowledge at Canterbury Cathedral, is a bronze and silver brooch inlaid with niello (an ornamental mixture of sulphur, copper, silver, and lead). A second, similar brooch surfaced under Eastbridge Hospital, a few hundred feet away. This suggested to researchers that the design was unique to Canterbury.

More than 150 years later, historians can’t agree on the exact origin or meaning of the Canterbury Cross. One popular theory suggests the style was worn by pilgrims to the Cathedral from the 1200s to 1400s. Local artists would have sold the cross as a form of talisman or souvenir. Others remain unconvinced.

The Symbolism of the Cross

The symbolism of the cross also inspires differing opinions. Stylistically, the delicate scroll work around the outside edges is a textbook example of Byzantine metalwork. In contrast, the triquetra patterns in the center of each arm reflect a Celtic knot design representing the Holy Trinity. Others insist that the overlapping cruciform, circle and square motifs symbolize the merging of the pagan and Anglican worlds, a common motif in early Christian art.

In modern times, the Cross stands for the symbolic the Anglican Communion. In 1932, a Canterbury Cross made up of stones from Canterbury Cathedral was sent to each of the Anglican diocesan cathedrals around the world as a visible symbol of the communion.

During our travels, we always have an eye out for historic Canterbury Crosses in fine silver. A few times each year we will uncover an antique souvenir brooch, a sterling pendant or a small wall medallion. They are always a customer favorite. If you are looking to secure one of your own, just let us know. You can also check out our very popular Canterbury Cross Ring in sterling silver. It’s one way to keep alive this historic tradition of communion and harmony.

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