Processional Cross (15th-16th century)
The cross on the altar dates back to the late 15th century and was originally in the church of Santa Maria della Scala, demolished in 1776. It has had various later additions: the niello and embossed silver medallions from the early 16th century are based on the theme of salvation, as evident in the two main ones, representing the Crucifixion and Christ Pantocrator (ruler of all things).
The cross, used as a processional funeral cross, was part of a liturgical set normally employed during the funerals of members of the aristocracy from all over Europe, which used to take place in Santa Maria della Scala as it had ducal status.
It is made of four segments of almost equal length and shaped as elongated trapezia, as in early medieval crosses (Lombard and Carolingian), which were in turn modelled on early Christian or Byzantine iconography.
In one of the two main medallions the crucified and suffering Christ, Christus patiens, his head reclined slightly, is encircled by a golden oval with rays emanating from it. Christ’s face bears no sign of pain: he looks like he is asleep. At the sides are a grieving Virgin Mary, St. John the Evangelist and Mary Magdalene; below him, St. John the Baptist. Equally encircled by a golden oval (in the other main medallion) is Christ Pantocrator with rays emanating as a symbol of his glory and the victory of light over darkness. Christ is the light of the world. He is surrounded by the emblems of the four evangelists and appears solemn and austere. With his right hand, he is giving a blessing while his left hand is holding the Gospel, the good news, the revelation. A triangle on his head symbolises the Trinity, and a dove above it the Holy Spirit, providing a close link between the Pantocrator and the mystery of the Trinity. The austere expression implies that the Word Incarnate is the image of the Father.
These two medallions are a summary of the story of Salvation. Christ is the Saviour, the judge and the advocate all at the same time. He is empowered by the Father to judge us, but he also brings justification by bearing our sins for us.