The Chapter house of Lichfield Cathedral has a replica on display of the folded cross found in the “Hammerwich Hoard”. It shows the cross straightened out and all the missing garnets added and is stunning. This “crux gemmata”, or jewelled cross, is a very early icon of Christianity and the earliest known was held by Helena, mother of Constantine the emperor who converted to be Christian. The strange splayed ends of the arms is said to represent the growth of the cross as a “tree of life” and clearly appear leaf-like in shape. The four outer garnets could be a reminder of the four gospels. The large central garnet is a guess, and might instead have been some depiction of Christ. Behind the garnets are small holes which might have been how the cross was attached to the leather binding of a gospel book. The fine decoration was made separately and then soldered onto the gold base, and so was made in many layers. The gold is of high quality.
This kind of cross was first known from the 4th century. The hoard item is a “treasure of early England” and is possibly the finest icon to see in any Cathedral. The replica is a wonderful piece of modern craftsmanship. The original is a “must-see” artefact.