From the first moment Pope Francis stepped out on the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica soon after being elected pope, Catholics around the world have been captivated by the man chosen to lead the Catholic Church. What fascinates so many people about Pope Francis is his humility and simplicity.
In a world where appearances count, the way Pope Francis chooses to dress and adorn himself speaks volumes about his quiet, meek persona. Unlike many of his predecessors, Pope Francis chooses to wear a simple white cassock and pectoral cross when he’s seen in public.
It’s his pectoral cross that intrigues many people. You may be wondering: why does he choose to wear it? What’s the history behind the particular cross he wears? Let’s take a closer look at what we discovered.
History of the Pectoral Cross
The pectoral cross (Latin for “of the chest”) is a cross worn by popes, cardinals, and bishops on a chain or cord around the neck. The large cross rests on the chest near the heart. One of the first popes to wear a pectoral cross was Pope Leo III, in the year 811. He was given the cross as a gift from Nicephorus, the Patriarch of Constantinople. The cross was made of gold and soon it became customary for popes to wear a pectoral cross as an outward symbol of their prestige and power. Pectoral crosses are typically made of gold and many early crosses were adorned with jewels and precious stones.
Pope Francis’ Pectoral Cross
In striking contrast to previous pectoral crosses, Pope Francis’ cross is made of silver, and there are no stones or jewels. Pope Francis refused the customary gold cross that was offered to him when he became pope, choosing instead to continue to wear the same cross he wore for many years as archbishop and cardinal in his native Argentina. (Pope Francis received the cross as a gift from a friend after becoming archbishop of Buenos Aires).
As can be expected, Pope Francis’ pectoral cross has special meaning to him and deep symbolism. According to the magazine Messenger of Saint Anthony, when Pope Francis was a bishop and later a cardinal, he often visited the poorest areas of Buenos Aires. As he traveled and visited with the poor and destitute population he would hold onto his pectoral cross—a gesture symbolizing his desire to be a shepherd to the poor. As Pope Francis would speak and pray with the outcast and downtrodden, many of them were drawn to his cross and would find solace by touch and kissing it.
What Does Pope Francis’ Pectoral Cross Look Like?
The images that appear on Pope Francis’ pectoral cross are fitting of a man whose goal is to shepherd his people to a life of simplicity as they grow closer to God. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is seen on the center of the cross. Jesus is holding a lamb around his shoulders as He leads a flock of sheep. The sheep represent all of us who follow Jesus and His desire to have everyone follow Him. As was typical of Jesus, He is simply dressed and barefoot. Above is a dove symbolizing the presence of the Holy Spirit. Pope
Francis is well on his way of molding his legacy as the “good shepherd” pontiff. Just as Jesus did, he has reached out to countless people suffering from all types of maladies, even washing and kissing the feet of the sick. He has said he chose to be named after St. Francis because St. Francis is “the man of poverty, the man of peace, the man who loves and protects creation.” He urges us to live as St. Francis did.
What better way to be reminded of St. Francis and Pope Francis’ simple, yet profound message than to wear your own pectoral cross.