The Coronation Cross, also called the Gold Reliquary Cross or the Provincial Cross, belongs among the most prominent monuments of our country. Charles IV had it made in 1357 for invaluable relics that he had collected in several places in Europe. Because of the relics, he considered the cross the most precious jewel of his kingdom. The ingeniously designed cross made of gold plates was to keep Crucifixion relics in particular as well as some other relics.
The entire front part, which is covered with a crystal plate, holds the following relics: in the middle is a cross adorned with precious stones and pearls that holds the wood from Christ’s cross, on the left is a spike from the Holy Cross, on the right is a piece of the rope with which Jesus Christ was tied during the whipping. The upper part contains a piece of the sponge from which Jesus Christ last drank. The lower part holds two thorns from Christ’s crown that are protected in a crystal frame. Some relics were adjusted before the cross was made, which is obvious from the fresco painting in the Holy Cross Chapel at Karlstein that depicts the French king giving Charles IV one of the relics.
The back side of the cross is adorned with precious cameos that serve as little doors of small compartments with other relics. The cameos that were made in different times, some already in the Antiquities, ingeniously use the effect of two-color layers to make the depicted scenes more pronounced, using the lower layer as a background. The upper part of the cross has two cameos: a brown-blue onyx with the Crucifixion and an amethyst with the bust of benedictory Christ.
The left arm of the cross is adorned with a sardonyx cameo with Jesus Christ and on its right is a sapphire probably with a portrait of John the Baptist. It is unique not only because of the type of the precious stone but also because such a hard stone is very difficult to work with.
The lower part of the cross, below the wood from the Holy Cross, has a beautiful antique sardonyx with the portrait of a young woman, below is an agate cameo with two figures and lower yet is a sardonyx cameo with a sitting king.
In the middle of the cross, there is an opening in the shape of a cross, which is covered with crystal and contains another piece of the wood from Christ’s cross that Charles IV obtained from his nephew, French king Charles V.
The edges of the cross are adorned with precious stones and pearls that accentuate the importance of the relics. The actual cross was made of about 3 kg of high-purity gold. According to archival documents, the original gold base of the cross weighed almost 30 kg. The current gilded copper base was made in the Renaissance period.
This goldsmith masterpiece has pure simple forms. It pays a tribute to light – it takes into account the effect of light on the burnished surface of gold plates. The precious stones around the cross seem to glow when penetrated by light.
The Reliquary Cross of Charles IV is one of the most precious monuments of the Middle Ages. Pope Innocent VI hallowed its importance by giving indulgences to “ those penitents and confessors who will visit and see the gold cross with the relics of Sufferance of the Lord….anywhere it is displayed.”