Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 15 June |
Saint of the Day: St. Vitus and Companions
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

Franciscans made wooden models of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

Church of Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem

© The Trustees of the British Museum | CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Lucien de Guise - published on 05/12/21

Mother-of-pearl crosses adorn the models of the site of the Crucifixion.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been one of Jerusalem’s holiest places since Christ was executed and buried on its site. Aleteia recently published an update on research on the thousands of crosses carved on the walls inside the building.

It’s a feature that was replicated by Franciscan monks, who made astonishing wooden models of the church for pilgrims. The main difference is that they created the look of a multitude of crosses on the outside of their models. Using mother-of-pearl, they inlaid these shapes to create a sacred effect and enliven the look of the exterior. In reality the exterior of the church is plain stone. 

These expert woodworkers were consistent in their use of a quatrefoil shape rather than the medley of cross styles found inside. This 18th-century example caught the eye of the founder of the British Museum, Sir John Soane, who was an avid collector of almost everything. His house is a public museum that has been left exactly as it was in his lifetime. Being the most famous architect of his day, he no doubt liked the way that the roof of the model could be removed to inspect the interior. 

Soane seems not to have travelled any further east than Italy, so he would not have seen the other wares made in the Holy Land under Franciscan supervision. Needless to say, there were many other souvenirs available for pilgrims. This pectoral cross from the 19th century uses the same mother-of-pearl trefoil design as on the church model. It would have been much easier to carry, or wear, on the journey home. The wooden model in the British Museum is more than 16 inches wide and very heavy.

The virtual Museum of the Cross

This pectoral cross is from the collection of the Museum of the Cross, the first institution dedicated to the diversity of the most powerful and far-reaching symbol in history. After 10 years of preparation, the museum was almost ready to open; then came COVID-19. In the meantime, the virtual museum is starting an Instagram account to engage with Aleteia readers and the stories of their own crucifixes: @crossXmuseum

ArtHoly Land
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 every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, 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!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Philip Kosloski
Miracle prayer to the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Philip Kosloski
Padre Pio’s favorite prayer of petition
Magnús Sannleikur
5-year-old boy interrupts homily and asks for prayers for his int...
Lucandrea Massaro
This 3D “carbon copy” of Jesus was created using the ...
Eric Clapton, Luciano Pavarotti, East London Gospel Choir
J-P Mauro
Hear Clapton and Pavarotti sing a prayer to the “Holy Mothe...
Revista Misión
Interview: The husband of Chiara Corbella on his wife’s sac...
Philip Kosloski
5 Things to know about the Sacred Heart feast
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.