A cross on which there is an image of Christ Crucified. Although the custom of portraying the Redeemer on the cross reaches as far back as the 6th century, it was not until the 13th century that complete realism characterized sculpture accentuating Christ's Passion. Before this time the representation of the living, triumphant Christ appeared on the cross, thus stressing the theological significance of Good Friday as essentially a paschal event: through His sufferings Christ conquered sin and death. This was often brought out by the adornment with jewels instead of the image of the Crucified. In the 20th century there has been a return to this theological emphasis in the crucifix in that the image of the Crucified appears vested in royal and priestly garments.
The cross first appeared on the altar table during the 13th century; soon after it was replaced by a crucifix. Only with the Roman Missal of Pius V in 1570 is there any mention of an obligation to have a crucifix on the altar. This did not mean that the crucifix must actually rest on the altar. It may be suspended above it, or placed near it in the form of a processional cross.
Bibliography: g. rimington, "The Cross and the Crucifixion in Christian Art," Areopagus 4:4 (1991) 41–46. e. duffy, "Devotion to the crucifix and related images in England on the eve of the Reformation," in Bilder und Bildersturm im Spätmittelalter und in der frühen Neuzeit, ed. r.w. scribner (Wiesbaden 1990) 21–36.
[j. h. miller/eds.]
cru·ci·fix / ˈkroōsəˌfiks/ • n. a representation of a cross with a figure of Jesus Christ on it.