Cross (cruz guión)
Object Place: Probably Mexico
Overall: 33.5 x 18.2 x 7.8 cm (13 3/16 x 7 3/16 x 3 1/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
William J. Fitzgerald Gallery (Gallery 135)
The equal-sided cruciform structure surmounts a hollow cylinder that narrows toward the cross. The rod, which bears traces of gilding, has been lightly chased with foliate decoration. A baluster with scrolled projections separates the rod from the cross. Four chased “shooting” stars emanate from between each of the
cruciform arms. A circular central boss is decorated on one side with a chased image of the Virgin Mary who, with elbows bent and hands together in an attitude of prayer, displays stylized roses in the folds of her cloak. The image is surrounded by engraved text. On the reverse, a removable circular frame also engraved with text holds a chased disk bearing the image of the Adoration of the Host, in which a consecrated Host, engraved “IHS” with a cross, floats above a chalice. A pair of angels flanks the chalice, and the scene is surrounded by rays of sunlight.
The cruz guión was used to open processions for the bishop, government, community, guilds, and other secular groups that, in the Spanish colonial world, were often affiliated with the church. The cross, mounted on a long staff, led the procession; the sticks, now lost, held aloft the canopy that served to shield the priest or other high-ranking church members from sun or inclement weather. The cross was made for, or more likely commissioned by, Antonio de Benavides, who served as general captain from 1717 to 1734 and was the twenty-eighth governor of La Florida, the region so named by Juan Ponce de León in 1513 and now the state of Florida.
The term guión refers to the cross’s role as a banner or sign. It is thus distinct in purpose and design from the elaborate processional crosses called cruz parroquial that were usually carried by the priest within the church. Stylistically the former can be identified by the baluster shape of the arms and their smaller size. In Latin America, where church and state were intertwined from the start of exploration, the combination of the sacred and profane was commonplace. The religious symbols on this cross suggest that it may have been intended for a particular church. On the basis of its form, however, it is more likely to have belonged to an affiliated fellowship (cofradía).
One mysterious aspect concerns the pine resin found within the central boss. The unidentified silversmith who fashioned the cross could easily have soldered the central sections together, yet he chose to fashion a friction-fit framework to enclose an object; the pine resin was found within. An examination of the resinous mass revealed no artifact, yet it is possible that secular crosses were used as reliquaries. Technological developments may yet discern organic reliquary materials in the resin. Another theory relates to the ancient Mayans, who used resinous incense. Further research may indicate whether a lingering cultural impulse may have played a role in the placement of this unusual material within the cross.
This text has been adapted from “Silver of the Americas, 1600-2000,” edited by Jeannine Falino and Gerald W.R. Ward, published in 2008 by the MFA. Complete references can be found in that publication.
"+SE ISIERON ESTE GION Y LAS SEIS BARAS DE PALIO AÑO DE 1721." (This cross and six canopy sticks were made in 1721) in roman letters, engraved on cross, surrounding disk of the Adoration of the Host. "IHS" engraved within the Host. "+SIENDO GORVERNADOR Y CAP.[A superscript] GEN[A superscript] EL S[R superscript] D[N superscript] ANTONIO DE BENAVIDES." (Governor and Captain General Señor Don Antonio de Benavides) in roman letters engraved around image of the Virgin Mary.
By 1878, unearthed from property on Oneida Street, St. Augustine, Florida, by property owners William H. Keith (b. 1803 - d. 1885) and Harriet Lovett Keith (b. 1837 - d. 1917), St. Augustine and exhibited at Bigelow, Kennard and Co., Boston; 1880, placed on loan to the MFA; passed by descent and in 1928, given to the MFA. (Accession Date: August 21, 1928)
NOTE: It is not known when this object, along with six other pieces of ecclesiastical silver (MFA accession nos. 28.464 – 28.470) was buried. The cross (28.468) is inscribed with the date 1721 and the name of the Spanish governor and captain general of Florida, Antonio de Benavides (1718 – 1734). It has been suggested that the silver was buried after Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, in response to fears that the U.S. government might seize church property. See Jeannine Falino, Silver in the Americas, 1600-2000. American Silver in the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA, Boston, 2008), pp. 465-466, cat. no. 370, and pp. 524-525, Appendix I.
Gift in memory of Mr. and Mrs. William H. Keith