Pope Francis gifts relics from the True Cross to King Charles III

19 April 2023 • Persistent link: iarccum.org/?p=4427

The Cross of Wales, a new processional cross presented by King Charles III as a centenary gift to the Church in Wales, will lead the Coronation procession at Westminster Abbey on 6 May.

In a significant ecumenical gesture, the Cross of Wales will incorporate a relic of the True Cross, the personal gift of Pope Francis to the King to mark the Coronation. The relics, set into the silver cross, are two small wooden splinters from the cross on which Christ was crucified.

Words from the last sermon of St David are chased on the back of the Cross in Welsh: “Byddwch lawen. Cadwch y ffydd. Gwnewch y Pethau Bychain”, which translates as: “Be joyful. Keep the faith. Do the little things.” The Cross was blessed by the Archbishop of Wales, Andrew John, at Holy Trinity Church, Llandudno, on April 19. It will be officially received by the Church in Wales at a service to follow the Coronation and its use going forward will be shared between the Anglican and Catholic Churches in Wales.

Welcoming the gift on behalf of the Church in Wales, Archbishop Andrew said, “We are honoured that His Majesty has chosen to mark our centenary with a cross that is both beautiful and symbolic. Its design speaks to our Christian faith, our heritage, our resources and our commitment to sustainability. We are delighted too that its first use will be to guide Their Majesties into Westminster Abbey at the Coronation Service.”

Speaking on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church in Wales, the Archbishop of Cardiff and Bishop of Menevia, Mark O’Toole, said, “With a sense of deep joy we embrace this Cross, kindly given by King Charles, and containing a relic of the True Cross, generously gifted by the Holy See. It is not only a sign of the deep Christian roots of our nation but will, I am sure, encourage us all to model our lives on the love given by our Saviour, Jesus Christ. We look forward to honouring it, not only in the various celebrations that are planned but also in the dignified setting in which it will find a permanent home.”

Additionally, Archbishop John told The Times, “It’s hugely significant. It’s a remarkable thing that the King has been able to find favour with the Vatican and as a result of that very good relationship, Pope Francis has agreed to gift these small fragments of the holy cross.”

The coronation service

“The coronation will be an Anglican service, but the prominent inclusion of a gift from the head of the Roman Catholic Church reflects how other denominations and faiths will be represented,” reported the BBC.

The service on May 6 will be led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who has emphasized that the coronation is fundamentally a religious ritual and likened it to the ordination of a priest. In the official souvenir program, the archbishop said that in the middle of all the “magnificence and pomp” is a moment of “stillness and simplicity” when the King is anointed with holy oil, dressed in a simple white shirt and will be “in the full knowledge that the task is difficult and he needs help.”

The coronation, which has remained much the same for more than 1,000 years, formalizes the monarch’s role as the Supreme Governor of the Church of England and marks the transfer of their title and powers. The last coronation of a British monarch was that of the late Queen Elizabeth in 1953. Westminster Abbey has been Britain’s coronation church since 1066 and King Charles III will be the 40th reigning monarch to be crowned in May 2023.

During the service, Charles will swear to uphold the law and the Church of England. The Archbishop of Canterbury will anoint the King’s hands, breast, and head with holy oil and he will then be presented with items including the Royal Orb, representing religious and moral authority; the Scepter, representing power; and the Sovereign’s Scepter, a rod of gold topped with a white enamelled dove, a symbol of justice and mercy. Finally, the archbishop places St Edward’s Crown on the King’s head.

It is not actually necessary for the monarch to be crowned to become King – Charles automatically became King the moment his mother Queen Elizabeth II died.

The True Cross

Relics of the True Cross have long been revered, and pilgrimages have been conducted to the churches where they are kept, despite skepticism about the volume and authenticity of such relics and whether they could all come from a single cross.

There are no early accounts that the Apostles or early Christians preserved the physical cross. Tradition has it that Helena, the mother of the Roman emperor Constantine I, travelled to the Holy Land 326–328 where she discovered the hiding place of three crosses that were believed to have been used at the crucifixion of Jesus and the two thieves. Helena was not sure which of the three was the cross on which Jesus died until a miracle revealed one as the True Cross.

Designing the Cross of Wales

Designed and made by master silversmith Michael Lloyd, in consultation with the Royal Collection, it is crafted from recycled silver bullion provided by the Royal Mint at Llantrisant, a shaft of Welsh windfall timber, and a stand of Welsh slate.

Dr Frances Parton, Deputy Curator of the Goldsmiths’ Company, who managed the commission said, “The Cross of Wales shows the relevance of traditional skills and craftsmanship in the modern world. Using the ancient craft of chasing silver, Michael Lloyd has created a beautiful object which combines a powerful message with a practical purpose. We are thrilled that the Cross will both feature in the Coronation and see regular use within the Church in Wales.”

Designer and maker, Michael Lloyd said, “This project started with a love of the material, its malleability, its potential for expression. The commission has allowed me to delve into the previous 1,000 years of faith and history. Now, with more than 267 thousand hammer blows, the Cross has emerged from the inanimate sheets of silver, and I am delighted it will be used as part of the Coronation Service on 6th May.”

“Inspired by medieval Welsh art and design, the Cross of Wales combines historical reference with the very best contemporary craftsmanship”, said Tim Knox, Director of the Royal Collection. “It has been a unique and interesting project which we have been delighted to consult upon.”

In compliance with the Hallmarking Act, the silver elements of the Cross bear a full hallmark (of the London Assay Office), including the Royal Mark (leopard’s head) which was applied by the King himself in November 2022 when visiting the Goldsmiths’ Centre in London.