Processional Cross
Malcolm and Bill McLeod with cross

“The cross was built in my father’s workshop in Murphy over the course of most of 2005. Early efforts produced considerable progress, but slowed when my work week went to 60-80 hours over the summer. While I was at work, my father managed to produce all of the Celtic knots using a scroll saw and hand chisels. He could easily have finished the balance of the hand carving, but I pleaded to him that I was trying to learn something about relief carving. He managed restraint and I learned a little. We joke that the Celtic knot side of the cross is ‘his’ and the tree of life is ‘mine’. We also experienced a bit of a construction delay during Dad’s bypass surgery. Fortunately, someone knew he had more work to do. Short a couple of coats of shellac, we hurriedly finished just in time for Christmas Eve services.”

stand for processional cross “The body of the cross is hollow and is built using a box (or finger-joint) almost as strong as dovetailing, but much easier to execute on this small scale.”

“The stand is constructed of the same materials as the cross. The stretcher design is intended to reflect the Celtic knot work of the cross; and the three legs (Trinity) to give some continuity with the font design. Lastly, the cross and stand were built with much of my father’s wood, his tools, and I hope, some small measure of the skills I have learned from him. Engraved on the top of the stand is “Molann an obair an saor”, Gaelic for “The work recommends the craftsman.” A more modern interpretation might be judge a man by his work; it is for my father.”

Materials

We chose three materials to work with:

Black walnut was used for the body of the cross and the Celtic knots. It is a hardwood native to North America with a variety of color tones and, while relatively hard, it can be carved with minimal surprises. Its color contrasts well with the other woods we chose.”

Morado (or Brazilian rosewood) was used for the edging and volutes (the ‘holes’ at the intersection of the cross’s arms). It is a very hard, dense wood with a beautiful grain and a subtle red color that finishes as well as any material I’ve ever used. It can almost be polished without use of any oil or varnish finish.”

Flame maple (also fiddle-back, or sometimes tiger maple)” was used for the halo of the cross. This wood “is just hard maple with a rare and peculiar pattern perpendicular to its grain. This was a case of the material driving the design. I originally wanted just clear hard maple for the sun symbol (or halo) with more rosewood trim, but when I saw the flame pattern, I felt it would seem to radiate from the center of the cross.”

Woods used in making processional cross

Background

“I started an Internet search to determine exactly what makes a cross a Celtic cross. I will not testify to the accuracy of the info, but I found numerous references and examples, with most referring to an origin in Ireland. While early instances may have been carved in wood, the earliest surviving examples were carved into ground level stone outcroppings about 1000 years ago. These led to examples that were carved free of the bed rock and then raised upright.”

“A common feature of these Celtic crosses is their extensive use of ornamentation and the ‘sun-symbol’ or halo at the cross apex. Most examples are decorated on all surfaces. Ornamentation often reflects local styles and symbology, but recurring themes are of Celtic knots, and in some examples, mural-like religious scenes. Celtic ‘knots’ are thought to have their origins in the weaving traditions of local peoples. They are comprised of a single strand with no beginning or end.”

“One example referenced in many of the sites I visited is a cross at an ancient monastery on the island of Iona attributed to its founder, Calum Cille (KA-lum Kill). This translates to ‘Dove of the Church’ in Irish Gaelic. He is more commonly know as St. Columba, and brought Christianity to the British Isles. ‘Callum’ in Scots Gaelic is ‘disciple of St. Columba’ and evolved to ‘ma-Collum’, or ‘Malcolm’. I had found my design inspiration.”

“The traditional Celtic knots were a given. The smaller ‘trefoils’, or three lobed knots, are references to the Holy Trinity. The descending dove often symbolizes the descending Holy Spirit, but the tie-in to St. Columba is also worth mentioning. The ‘tree of life’ emerging from the chalice, with the symbolic reference to life springing from the Sacraments, is also a common Christian theme, as can be seen in the banners in our sanctuary. In the case of the processional cross, my Gaelic ancestry, with no small measure of artistic license, caused the tree of life to evolve into Scottish thistle (the national flower of Scotland). Thistle is held in high regard and attributed with great ‘power’ in Scotland. A Danish raiding party was attempting a midnight assault on the king of Scotland’s castle when they blundered into a patch of thistle (and its thorny armament). Guards were awakened. Scotland was saved.

Processional cross details

“The center medallion, engraved with ‘ihs’, was intended as a monogram for Jesus, although references to other interpretations can be found. Similarly, the Greek ‘chi-rho’ references Christ. The other center medallion was a late addition. Well into the construction, it came to me that we could combine a simple Celtic knot with a few thorns and have the crown of thorns.”

Front & back views of processional cross Front and back views of processional cross (Bill and Malcom McLeod are also the designers and crafters for the West Plano Presbyterian Church baptismal font stand)