Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Aleteia
Friday 22 January |
home iconSpirituality
line break icon

Why is there a skull beneath my crucifix?

Darren and Brad | CC

Evan Holguin - published on 04/14/17

An ancient tradition links Golgotha to the very beginnings of sin.

It is known by many names – Golgotha, Calvary, the Place of the Skull.

Regardless of what one calls it, the importance of the location of Christ’s Passion remains indescribable to His followers. To spend some time in prayer at the site where the cross of Christ was erected and our Savior expired is, for many pilgrims, a surreal and life-changing experience.

There is, however, an additional significance to the site of Christ’s Passion, alluded to in the name “the Place of the Skull.”

Down below the Rock of Calvary is hewn another chapel, this one dedicated not to Christ and His Passion, but to the first man, Adam. This “Chapel of Adam” is held by tradition to be the final earthly resting spot of our first father.

Thus, Golgotha is called the Place of the Skull not only for its bone-white hue, but also for its location as the reliquary for Adam himself. Tradition further elaborates that, at the time of Christ’s Passion, the blood from His wounds seeped down, covering the remains of Adam.

The symbolism of the joining of the remains of fallen man and the blood of the Savior is not difficult to see – it reminds us that it is through Christ’s blood that we are coated with new life. Furthermore, this tradition serves as a beautiful illustration of Christ as the new Adam. The covering of the skull, a bodily image of fallen man, with the sacrificial blood of the Lamb generates a new image, one which recalls St. Paul’s words: “Just as we have borne the image of the earthly one, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly one.” (1 Cor 15:49).

In other words, at the time of the Passion, Christ lends His Sacred Image to fallen man, cascading it over the faithful through His sacrificial blood.

It is because Golgotha is considered the burial place of the first man that depictions of the death of the Son of Man often include a skull at the foot of the cross.

This is the skull of Adam, and offers to those of us unable to make pilgrimage to the Holy Land some small share in the Chapel of Adam. In contemplating the significance of this icon, we remember the great loss brought about by Adam, and the greater victory brought by Christ at that Place of the Skull, the transforming of Adam’s weakness into the “happy fault.”

We make of our prayer and veneration a type of mental pilgrimage to the Chapel of Adam, not as it is known in reality, but as it is depicted at the foot of the Cross.

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read Aleteia.org every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in eight languages: English, French, Arabic, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Top 10
1
LUXOR FILM FESTIVAL
Zoe Romanowsky
20-year-old filmmaker wins award for powerful 1-minute film about...
2
DAD, HOW DO I?
Cerith Gardiner
Meet the dad who's teaching basic skills on YouTube for kids with...
3
MARTIN LUTHER KING
Jorge Graña
Did you know Martin Luther King appreciated the Rosary?
4
Philip Kosloski
What are the corporal works of mercy?
5
couple
Anna Gębalska-Berekets
Couple praises Padre Pio's recipe for a happy marriage
6
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
Reasons Catholics should read the Bible
7
EMOTIONAL
Bret Thoman, OFS
Need healing? An exorcist recommends this 12-word prayer
See More
Newsletter
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.