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Field cross on the Hochtannbergpass

The crucifix (but the crucifix , from the Latin cruci fixusattached to the cross”) is the representation of Christ nailed to the cross in mostly plastic reproduction. The cross is a symbol for the sacrifice of Christ, which Christ made for the redemption of humanity according to Christian belief . A crucifix can have different dimensions: from the triumphal cross towering up to 17 m in the Lübeck Cathedral to small badges, pieces of jewelry, rosary pendants and pilgrims' symbols .


While the graphic, painted or in relief representations usually crucifixions are called, crucifix called the image of the Savior on the cross in the form of a single, objective, rather mobile object, that is usually a sculpture, or at most the painted on a cross-shaped table showing how it was common in Italy, whereas in Germany it only occurs as a single exception in Cistercian churches ( Loccum , Schulpforta ). The Latin word Crucifixus only refers to the body of the crucified one considered for itself ( corpus , corpus Christi ). Sometimes the cross itself has been lost and only the corpus has been preserved as a cross-shaped sculpture, or only a corpus Christi was created as a work of art from the outset. The various forms of non-figurative, symbolic crosses are dealt with in the article Cross (Christianity) .


In the Catholic Church and the Orthodox , Anglican and Lutheran churches , the crucifix is ​​used, among other things, as a lecture cross and altar cross in worship.

“The Jews demand signs, the Greeks look for wisdom. We, on the other hand, proclaim Christ as crucified: an outrageous scandal for Jews, folly for Gentiles , but for those called, Jews and Greeks, Christ, God's power and God's wisdom. ( 1 Cor 1.23  EU ) "

The prayer in front of a crucifix is ​​often part of a devotion or quiet contemplation of the believers. In holy mass and at solemn services such as the pontifical Vespers , the crucifix is ​​carried in front of the solemn entry and exit , followed by the procession as a symbol for the wandering people of God. Also processional and pilgrimage trains usually follow the processional cross . Pectoral crosses of bishops and abbots can be designed as a crucifix. A Versehgarnitur for the administration of the sacraments usually include a crucifix and a death cross , which is applied to the dying man's hand.

The solemn veneration of the cross is a central part of the Catholic Good Friday liturgy . On Good Friday and Holy Saturday , it is common in the Catholic Church to worship the crucifix by squatting instead of the holy of holies in the tabernacle .

In Catholic areas, crucifixes are used as floor crosses not only to linger but also to mark paths. Crucifixes are also often worn as jewelry, for example as pendants for necklaces.

In many places in Catholic families it is customary to place crucifixes in the rooms or in a prominent place in the apartment together with candles and other devotional objects (" Herrgottswinkel "). At Easter, the crosses are adorned with fresh branches that are blessed on Palm Sunday as a reference to the resurrection of Jesus .

In the Reformed Churches there are no crucifixes, crosses or images in the church. In many Protestant free churches (such as Pentecostal churches ), crucifixes are not attached. Members of the Gnostic Churches , Jehovah's Witnesses, and Christadelphians also disapprove of the use of crosses.

History of the crucifix in art

Originally, the veneration of the cross was opposed to two factors: the resurrection of Jesus Christ was viewed in late antiquity as the sole focus of the salvation event and the type of execution of the crucifixion of Christ was not considered to be particularly worthy of emphasis, since many hundreds of thousands were executed in this way, or as shameful.

The oldest monumental crucifix is ​​now the Enghausen Cross , made around 890. The Gero Cross , a century younger, shows an atypical but artistically extraordinary special shape with its characterization of the suffering, dying Christ. Until the Romanesque period, on the other hand, Christ was more often shown upright, only slightly moved and clad with a loincloth that fell to the knees, more as triumphant than as suffering over death. He often wore a royal crown and was nailed to the cross with four nails through his hands and feet (four-nail type). The artistically most outstanding crucifixes of the Middle Ages were often triumphal crosses , monumental sculptures hung in prominent positions in the choir arch . With the Gothic , the visualizations of the torments of the crucified and his death prevail. The stacked feet are now pierced by a nail (three-nail type, common since around 1260). The more inclined main often bears the crown of thorns and the emaciated body has clearly the stigmata on. These characteristics are further enhanced in the expressively designed forked crucifixes from the heyday of mysticism in the 14th century, which were used for the private devotion of the faithful. The art of the late Middle Ages emphasized the physiognomic expression of the torments and reinforced it through the dynamism of the wrinkling, fluttering loincloth and the painfully twisted posture.

The Renaissance, however, more clearly in Italy than in Germany, often showed Jesus in a relaxed posture and graceful movement. In the Baroque era , the suffering body takes on a pathetic expression. The materiality of skin and folds, movement and physicality are now the subject of more artistic than religious interest. During this time, the examples of small crucifixes intended for private devotions increased. With the decline of the church as the main bearer of art, from the 19th century onwards, there was an ever wider variety of design and the return and mixing of bygone eras of style.

By the 20th century at the latest, one can no longer speak of consistent models of the crucifixion sculptures. The personality, the perception of art as well as the religious and social attitude of the artists shape the respective form-finding.

Early and high medieval crucifixes
Gothic crucifixes
Modern crucifixes

Special forms

Iconographic special forms are the disc cross , the fork cross , the tree cross , the clothed Christ on the cross ( Volto Santo and Sankt Hulpe ), the Arma-Christi cross with the tools of the Passion or the five-wound cross with the wounds of Christ . Triumphal crosses are often accompanied by Mary (mother of Jesus) and John , late medieval crucifixion groups usually place the two thieves at the side of the crucifix . Crosses from which the figure of Christ could be removed are documented for the first time in Germany around 1340 in order to be able to place them as realistically as possible in a symbolic grave on Good Friday . These figures had swivel arms with wooden joints. This kind of movable Christ figures from around 1500 can still be seen today in the Schneidhainer Church of St. John the Baptist and in the Laurentius Church in Neckarweihingen .

Controversy over crucifixes in public places

Demonstration against the Karlsruhe crucifix judgment in 1995 in Munich

The question of whether crucifixes may be erected or attached in public institutions in a state is controversial. The question comes to a head with regard to locations that “opponents of the crucifix” or their children have to visit, such as courtrooms or rooms in kindergartens or schools that are not church facilities.

Proponents of the stance that crucifixes must be removed on request in such places argue with the principle of the separation of church and state and religious pluralism in society. Their right to “ negative religious freedom ” dictates that they or their children are not confronted against their will with symbols of a religion with which they do not want to have anything to do with. Accordingly, crucifixes would have to be removed from places where they are located.

The European Court of Human Rights ruled on March 18, 2011 in a ruling on the admissibility of crucifixes in classrooms:

"The decision to put crucifixes in classrooms [...] falls within the discretion of the state, especially since there is no consensus among the member states of the Council of Europe on the question of the presence of religious symbols in state schools."


The organs of the European states decide according to their national traditions whether to prescribe, allow or forbid crucifixes in classrooms. No appeal can be lodged against the judgment of the EGfM. It is binding on all 47 member states.


During the time of National Socialism there were violent protests in Germany against attempts by the Nazi regime to remove crosses and crucifixes from public institutions. In 1936 in particular in Oldenburger Münsterland , as a reaction to the previously issued crucifixion, the so-called Kreuzkampf took place , in the course of which the then Bishop of Münster , Clemens August von Galen , the believers in pastoral letters to oppose the removal of crosses and crucifixes by the representatives of the Gauleiter Carl Röver asked. Ultimately, the Christian symbols remained in public space. The fight of Bavarian Catholics in 1941 against an order by Gauleiter Adolf Wagner to remove crucifixes from Bavarian classrooms and replace them with "contemporary wall decorations" was similarly successful .

According to a decision of the Federal Constitutional Court of May 16, 1995 , the installation of a cross or crucifix in the classrooms of a state compulsory school that is not a denominational school exceeds “the limit of the school's religious and ideological orientation”. The proceedings concerned a Bavarian ordinance that required the installation of a crucifix in all state schools. According to the judgment, this symbolizes "the essential core of the Christian belief, which is by no means shared by all members of society, but rather rejected by many in the exercise of their basic right under Article 4 (1) of the Basic Law". Its affixing was "therefore incompatible with Article 4 (1) of the Basic Law." The decision has remained largely without practical consequences to this day.

In April 2018, the Bavarian Prime Minister Markus Söder ( CSU ) declared on the occasion of the installation of a cross in the foyer of the Munich State Chancellery that the cross was “not a symbol of religion”, but a “commitment to the identity and cultural imprint of Bavaria”. This was criticized and rejected by representatives of the churches as "appropriation of the cross" in the run-up to the Bavarian state election. The chairman of the German Bishops' Conference , Cardinal Reinhard Marx , declared that it was not up to the state to explain the meaning of the cross. The cross is a "sign of contradiction against violence, injustice, sin and death, but not a sign against other people". Marx described the social debate about the cross as important; one must include everyone: Christians, Muslims, Jews and those who do not believe in one God. The legal scholars Dieter Grimm and Horst Dreier considered the announced regulation to be unconstitutional.


In Austria , crosses must be placed in classrooms by law (Section 2b (1) Religious Education Act, Federal Law Gazette No. 190/1949 as well as numerous similar provisions at state level), provided that the majority of the students at the school in question belong to a Christian creed. The crosses or crucifixes placed in patient rooms in hospitals and sometimes also on public offices and banks are not subject to any statutory regulation. A crucifix and two burning candles are used in court when witnesses are sworn in (Section 4 of the Oath Act, StGBl. No. 47/1945 ).


According to the Federal Supreme Court, crucifixes in classrooms violate the duty of religious neutrality in public schools ( BGE 116 Ia 252 ff.). However, the majority of the Roman Catholic cantons hold on to the tradition. The Federal Supreme Court has not issued a general prohibition in this regard ; the fundamental right to freedom of conscience must be fought for by those affected in each specific individual case - possibly again in court. Only then do the courts apply the federal court's key decision for the case in question. At the time, the Federal Supreme Court did not speak directly on the question of whether this also applies to simple crosses without a body.


After the law separating church and state was introduced in France in 1905 , crucifixes and religious symbols were removed from public buildings such as schools and courts.


After months of legal controversy, the Italian Constitutional Court ruled that crucifixes were legitimate in Italy's classrooms. A judge previously ordered that the cross be removed from two classrooms in a school in the Abruzzo village of Ofena. In doing so, he complied with the request of a Muslim living in Italy who argued that the sight of the crucifixes could not be expected of his children. However, the judgment was later temporarily suspended after the Italian state appealed the judgment. Pope John Paul II and President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi also intervened in the dispute and emphasized the importance of the cross for Italy. In Italy, after the crucifix dispute, a majority of around 80 percent of citizens spoke out in favor of religious symbols in schools.

Regardless of this, a mother complained against Italian judgments that saw the crucifix as a "symbol of Italian history and culture and therefore of Italian identity". She demanded that her children, who attended a state school in Abano Terme , be taught in classrooms without religious symbols. After all Italian instances had dismissed her case, she appealed to the European Court of Human Rights . The first instance ruling found on November 3, 2009 that a Christian cross in the classroom of a state school violated the religious freedom of students. The symbol is not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights . In addition, the cross deprives parents of the freedom to raise their children according to their philosophical convictions. Italy has to pay the plaintiff € 5,000 in compensation.

The verdict caused widespread surprise and outrage in Italy. New crucifixes were placed in many public places as a sign of protest and local authorities made sure that existing crucifixes were not removed.

The Italian Government requested the Grand Chamber of the Tribunal to review the judgment ; this request was granted. On March 18, 2011, the Grand Chamber of the ECHR overturned the judgment of the first instance by fifteen to two votes and determined that the installation of the crucifix did not constitute a violation of the ECHR .

Web links

Commons : Crucifixes  - collection of images, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: crucifix  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Image: Triumphal cross in the monastery church Loccum, 13th century, revised in the 19th century.
  2. ^ Image: Triumphal cross in the Schulpforta monastery church, 13th century.
  3. ^ Rudolf Huber (Ed.): Church implements, crosses and reliquaries of the Christian churches. (=  Glossarium Artis. Volume 2). K. G. Saur Verlag, 3rd edition, Munich-London-New York-Paris 1991, ISBN 3-598-11079-0 , p. 154.
  4. A mocking cross from Roman times is proof of this.
  5. ^ Karl-August Wirth: Dreinagelkruzifixus . In: Reallexikon zur Deutschen Kunstgeschichte, Vol. 4, 1955, pp. 524–525. Also digital: three-nail crucifix
  6. ^ Texts accompanying the crucifix collection in the Museum Abtei Liesborn 2007
  7. Archived copy ( Memento of October 27, 2007 in the Internet Archive ) December 7, 2007
  8. "Romanesque" is the four-nail type, the folds correspond to the soft style around 1400, the muscular modeling is reminiscent of Renaissance sculptures.
  9. ^ Monumente Magazin für Denkmalkultur in Deutschland, Ed. Deutsche Stiftung Denkmalschutz, Edition 2/2017, pp. 32–33.
  10. European Court of Human Rights: Crucifixes in classrooms in state schools in Italy: Court of Justice finds no violation of the Convention (PDF file; 189 kB). Message from the Chancellor No. 234 March 18, 2011
  11. Oliver Trenkamp: The court allows crucifixes in schools again . Spiegel-Online, March 18, 2011, accessed July 7, 2017
  12. dialogverlag Presse- + Medienservice GmbH: Clemens August Graf von Galen: Pastoral letter on the "Oldenburger Kreuzkampf". November 27, 1936
  13. chroniknet: daily entries for April 23, 1941
  14. ^ Judgment of the Federal Constitutional Court on May 16, 1995
  15. ^ Not a sign of a religion , April 24, 2018.
  16. Ingo Brüggenjürgen: Amtsstubenkreuzer Söder , April 26, 2018.
  17. April 24, 2018: Cardinal Marx accuses Söder of split .
  18. May 16, 2018
  19. Before the Basic Law, all religions and world views are the same (interview)
  20. Ulrich Häfelin / Walter Haller , Swiss Federal State Law, 6th edition, Schulthess Zurich, 2005, p. 127 f., N 423
  21. Explanations of a discussion in Colon from October 2010 on Schweizer Radio DRS
  22. Crosses in classrooms violate religious freedom Zeit Online, November 3, 2009
  23. ^ Deutsche Welle
  24. [1] KNA -Meldung on .
  25. ^ Neue Zürcher Zeitung : Crucifixes in Italy's schools violate religious freedom from November 4, 2009.
  26. Does Neutrality Equal Secularism? The European Court of Human Rights Decides Lautsi v. Italy ( English ) Federalist Society for Law and Public Policy Studies. December 19, 2011. Retrieved September 25, 2013.