The Imperial Cross was created during the reign of Emperor Conrad
II (1024–1039) and is a masterpiece of the medieval goldsmith’s
art. Its front side is set with precious stones and pearls, while the back
has a drawing in niello technique of the Twelve Apostles, the lamb
of the apocalypse and the symbols of the four Evangelists. Like the Imperial Crown, the Imperial Cross has deep symbolic meaning. First, it is a symbol of Christian triumph, since Christ overcame the Crucifixion through his Resurrection. Because Emperor Constantine had been victorious at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge (in 312 AD) under the protection of the cross, it was also regarded as an emblem of the Roman Empire, a concept that was consciously continued by Charlemagne and also adopted by Ottonian and early Salian emperor. Thus the Imperial Cross is interpreted as a symbol of Christian triumph, victory and imperial power. It is one in a series of famous imperial endowments, starting with a triumphal cross (crux gemmata) set with precious stones, which Theodosius II had erected at Calvary before
450 AD. However, the present Imperial Cross is not only a triumphant crux
gemmata but also a reliquary. Parts of the front consist of removable
plates, which open to recesses on the inside that once held imperial relics:
the Holy Lance in the cross-beam and the Particle of the Cross
in the shaft. These precious relics of the Passion were regarded
as tokens of sacred kingship and the ruler’s victorious powers. The
importance of the relics is perfectly reflected in the form of their
protective cover, whose symbolic force exceeds any secular sign of power. © Masterpieces of the Secular Treasury, Edited by Wilfried Seipel, Vienna 2008


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