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The Coronation Cross

The Gold Reliquary Cross made at the request of Charles IV is another prominent item of the coronation set. It was not made until 1354 and thus could not be used for the coronation of Charles IV; however, it was used already for coronations at the beginning of the 16th century and this is why today it is better known as the Coronation Cross. Charles IV wanted for the Czech kingdom the same reliquary cross as the Roman cross that he as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire was granted. His ardent wish to own invaluable relics and his ambition to aggrandize the kingdom by a prominent liturgical object came true in the beautiful adornment of the cross, in particular the exquisite set of relics.

The ingeniously designed cross, made of gold plates, is a work of court goldsmiths. The entire front part is covered with a crystal plate that allows one to see the relics of the Crucifixion of Christ (the wood from the Holy Cross, thorns and a part of the sponge, rope and spike). The sides of the cross are lined with sapphires that are set in such a way so that light could penetrate them, thus creating a halo. The back side of the cross is adorned with cameos with beautiful reliefs that date from the Antiquities all the way to the 12th century and cover small compartments for other precious relics. In the middle of the back side of the cross, there is a little crystal window with another part of the wood from Christ’s cross. Charles IV obtained the relic somewhere in Europe but did not hesitate to place it in the “most valuable object of the Czech kingdom” as he described the cross in his letter to the pope.

The cross with the relics was kept together with other invaluable relics at the Karlstein Castle and was displayed every year on the Feast of the Spear and Spike of the Lord, during which the highest indulgences were given. At the place of today’s Charles Square, up to one hundred thousand people would gather to see the sacred insignia shown from the chapel in the middle of the square. The cross was not included in the articles of inventory of the treasure of the Cathedral of St. Vitus until the year of 1654. The cross has a Renaissance base; based on some archival documents, the original gold base weighed an incredible 30 kilograms.

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