Our unique altar cross was gifted to Liberty United Methodist Church in honor of Gina Kieffer Wilson (b. 1887 – d. 1951) by her husband, Ralph Kieffer, and dedicated during services on Easter Sunday 1952.
The carving is done in a relief style in mahogany wood, completed by Myrtle Brooke Freeman in 1951.
The cross is carved in the Celtic cross style, a Latin cross featuring a ring (nimbus) surrounding the intersection of the arms and upright / stem, a style that emerged in Ireland, France and Great Britain during the Early Middle Ages (late 5th/early 6th century through the 10th century). The style enjoyed a revival during the 19th Century and variations remain popular today.
There are four separate panels, each with three figures, representing the 12 Apostles. Directly over the image of the crucified Christ is the crown of thorns. Close to the base rest two lambs. The meaning of the ‘circles’ directly below the image of Christ is unknown. They may be meant to evoke the images of heads of nails, but are a common design element in other representations. Across the arms of the cross, to the left and right, are angels.
The pattern for the art many have been inspired by old world crosses, such as the stone high cross at Muiredach, although similar images can be found abundantly. Another example of the iconic imagery can be seen in the painting by Paul Henry (1876-1958), “Celtic Cross in a West of Ireland Landscape c.1929 ” (View here, Morgan O’Driscoll, Irish & International Online Art Auction 14th April 2020, Lot 19).
Photo: National Library of Ireland on The Commons, No restrictions, via Wikimedia Commons
Ms. Freeman may have selected mahogany for it’s workability. The wood is known for holding details well, is easily accessible even today and still considered an affordable option as one of the best woods for high-quality relief carving projects. Mahogany is a wood known for being resistant to moisture and atmospheric changes and the trees produce clear large pieces. (Learn more about Mahogany here.)
Unfortunately, there have been no records located for the exact carving pattern, transfer method (carbon paper vs. transfer paper transfer) tools used or the work hours required to complete this beautiful addition to our sanctuary. The church historian continues to review historical records and information will be updated as available.