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The 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 as such.
 
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 2010
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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