Catholic jewelry has a long and rich history. It has taken on many forms and many meanings over the millennia. From the hidden meanings of anchors and Ichthys, to the development of the crucifix in the 5th century A.D., Catholic jewelry has played a large part in the faith of millions.
Early Catholic jewelry:
While the cross has always been the most important Christian symbol, it was not openly used as such until the 4th century A.D. Early Christians feared persecution for their faith, and so developed several symbols that were not easily recognized as Catholic jewelry in order to recognize each other. The two most prevalent of these symbols were the anchor and the Ichthys. The Ichthys, two intersecting arcs resembling the profile of a fish, was probably used in Catholic jewelry as a reference to Christ as “the fisher of men”. The anchor, or mariners cross, was used in Catholic jewelry as a symbol of hope based in the faith in Christ. By using these forms of Catholic jewelry early Christians were able to avoid persecution.
The cross and the crucifix
It was not until the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the 4th century A.D. that the cross became openly and widely used in Catholic jewelry. More than fifty variants of the cross would later develop, but the four most important were: the Latin cross, a cross with a horizontal bar intersecting a longer vertical bar near the top; the Greek cross, a cross with equilateral arms; the Tau cross, a cross in the shape of the letter T; and the Saint Andrews cross, a cross shaped like the letter X. The crucifix, a Latin cross with the body of Christ (corpus) and the inscription INRI or “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” upon it, did not become prevalent in Catholic jewelry until the 5th century A.D. Whereas the Protestant churches use a Latin cross left blank to symbolize the Resurrection, the Catholic Church uses the crucifix to symbolize the sacrifice of Jesus.
The tradition of wearing Saint medallions is derived from the pagan practice of wearing talismans depicting their gods as a form of protection. The Catholic Church, instead of banning it, embraced this practice, substituting the pagan gods with Catholic saints. Saint medallions are now one of the most popular forms of catholic jewelry. They are worn as a way to invoke the protection of a patron saint. Patron Saints include: St. Francis of Assisi, patron saint of animals, ecology, and peace; St Patrick, patron saint of Ireland and excluded people; St. Helena, patron saint of archeologists and converts; St. John Bosco, patron saint of students and laborers. Here is a good page to view all styles of Catholic jewelry.
Where is the best place to purchase Catholic jewelry:
To get an idea of the different styles and prices that are available in Catholic jewelry it is more convenient to view them online before shopping around at local jewelry stores.