Christ on the Cross

ca. 1050

Oakwood (?), sculpted in the round,
remnants of original polychromy, retouched Height 104 × 146.8 cm



Crucifixes—depictions of Christ nailed to the cross—are the central pictorial theme in the Christian religion: as enduring reminders of the sacrifice of his death. They number among the most important mobile items of decoration in Medieval churches. This sculpture of Christ Crucified is one of the few surviving examples from the Salian era (1024–1125). We do not know thesite for which it was intended, but it was probably carved in Cologne. That is suggested by stylistic and motivic parallels to other Christ figures, such as the form of the loincloth and the facial type. In contrast to most crucifixes, which are substantially larger than life-size, the length of the figure of Christ—just over a hundred centimetres—places it among the smaller formats. And whereas the former are so-called triumphal crucifixes which hang from the arch between the nave and the choir—that is, at the boundary between the area for the congregation and that reserved for the clergy—the function of the Frankfurt crucifix s unknown.

The cross and the plaque with the inscription are original. The inscription itself, however, dates from a later period. Instead of the usual INRI (Iesus Nazarenus Rex Iudæorum = Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews), there are six lines of text, of which the final words »WILGEFORTIS OdER KOMMERNUS« are still quite legible. They indicate that, possibly a few hundred years after its execution, the crucifix was rededicated as the image of a female saint who had been worshipped popularly since the fourteenth century: Kümmernis or Wilgefortis, who, like Christ, was depicted as bearded and crucified. According to legend, her father, a pagan king, forced her to marry. When she asked the Virgin for assistance, she grew a beard, whereupon her enraged father nailed her to a cross.