Concluding my 2022 pilgrimage to Walsingham and Bury St Edmunds, I was able to visit a small exhibition at St Edmundsbury Cathedral which had been put in place as part of the celebrations of the 1000th anniversary of the founding of the church by King Canute in 1020. (The two-year delay was the result of the Covid pandemic.)
As well as several illuminated medieval books which had been produced in the scriptorium of what was an abbey in pre-Reformation times, perhaps the highlight of the what was on display was the Bury Cross, sometimes know as the Cloisters Cross. Here, in miniature as the artefact is only 35 centimetres in height, figures of biblical characters embellish this beautiful object, which was carved from walrus ivory in about 1140, probably at Bury St Edmunds.
But although the Bury Cross and the other priceless items in the exhibition were only available to view under conditions of rigorous security (no large bags, no photography and only to those who provided their contact details), I was surprised to learn that the cross wasn’t even the real thing but a replica made from mineral-filled cast resin (plastic to you and me!) using a 3-dimensional imaging process. Enhanced with some traditional hand-carving and finished with a patination that makes it look more like ivory, this contemporary copy of a centuries-old cross seemed even more amazing than the real thing, which is in the collection of the Cloisters Museum in New York City.
However, earlier on my pilgrimage I had encountered a very different example of a cross in the quiet parish church in Stanway in Gloucestershire. There, available to buy for £2 towards church funds, were several examples of The Cross in my Pocket; each with a small tapestry case with a tiny matching cross inside, the little gift also included a copy of a poem which, in simple and almost child-like language, conveyed the significance to Christians of this well-known symbol of their faith.
When I had walked into that church that morning, I had felt very burdened with concerns and anxieties about situations close to me and also in the wider world of politics; at times I had even felt almost overwhelmed by these and was slowly coming to a realisation that I could hardly carry on with my pilgrimage with such a lack of peace in my heart. But somehow, having bought a Cross in my Pocket for myself and for a friend and making my way onwards that day , I knew I had to trust God to work in what seemed to me almost impossible circumstances.
One verse of the short poem enclosed in the little case reads:
When I put my hand in my pocket,
To bring out a coin or a key,
The cross is there to remind me,
Of the price he paid for me.
Since that day I have tried to ensure that I really do have The Cross in my Pocket in my pocket; sometimes I have even just walked along with it between my fingers, allowing it to remind me that the Lord Jesus, paying the greatest price for each one of us, can be trusted in even the deepest pain. How easily we can take this on for ourselves rather than bringing it to him at the place where he freely laid down his life for us all.
Of course, in one sense it doesn’t matter if the cross we contemplate is a contemporary replica, fabricated using laser technology, of a nine-hundred-year-old walrus ivory artefact or a small hand-stitched item available in a country church, the message is the same.
But The Cross in my Pocket is just that: in my pocket!
For further details of the Bury (or Cloisters) Cross please see Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York . For discussion of the replica see The Cloisters Cross [replica] – Princeton University Library Catalog. For instructions on how to make your own Cross in my Pocket see A cross in my pocket | Inspired (mothersunion.org)