Mystery of the Cross
by Judith Couchman
IVP Books (InterVarsity
Press), P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426, Pb., 226 pp., 2009.
ISBN 978-0-8308-3539-3, $17.00.
Judith Couchman has written
many religious-themed books including The Shadow of His Hand, Designing
a Woman’s Life and Art of Faith. She is a part-time art history
instructor at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs. Couchman’s
latest book is The Mystery of the Cross, in which she gives examples
of the various designs of the cross through the ages, and a brief background
for each, including her personal comments.
The book is interesting
for the lay person and suitable for a group study of the cross or religious
art. The book begins with the megalith in Scotland about 3000 B.C., which
is called The Standing Stones of Callanish and seen from above, in the
shape of a cross. Then, through the Crucifixion, Emperor Constantine’s
Chi-Rho Cross (shepherd’s crook at the top) to the cross-shaped design
of cathedrals, the reader gets a overview of the cross and how the design
changed through the years. What I thought was interesting was that the
church-goer who goes to the front of the church for communion is actually
“walking one side of the cross,” when they go forward on the center aisle
to the front and then leave the communion rail to go down a side aisle
and back to their seat in a pew. One doesn’t usually think of having done
this during a service.
Another historical theme
from the 13th century, explains about a church being a place of sanctuary
and how a person who requests this can stay within the church for 37 days,
confessing to a priest and wearing penitent clothing. Then they could either
decide to stay in that country for a trial or have nine days in which to
leave the country. Not every church was a “sancturarium,” only those designed
The Mystery of the Cross
is just that, a mystery, as we don’t really know what style of crucifixion
Jesus died from. There were many variations of wood stakes and the cross-design
was only one of them. Yet, the two pieces of wood, one vertical and one
horizontal, have remained through the years to be at the heart of Christianity.
This is explained in readable prose, with drawings and a religious comment
at the end of each chapter. A good addition to a library.
Reviewed by Marie Asner