Behind Russian monumental wayside crosses
First of all, the tradition to establish monumental crosses outside the temple comes back to ancient times. Made of stone or wood, they have a height of several meters. Such crosses call for prayer and worship of the Savior, and therefore called worshipers. Put for various reasons, the first worshiping crosses appeared in apostolic times. According to their spiritual significance, they were missionary. In particular, Nestor the chronicler in the “Tale of Bygone Years” mentions the installation of crosses by the holy apostle Andrew the First-Called on the Kiev mountains. And also on Valaam after the overthrow of the idols of Perun and Veles.
Meanwhile, the aim of wayside crosses differs – from thankful, or memorable, to providing safety, from used as chapels, and to primitive (navigation). However, the division of crosses into different species (as well as many other divisions) is rather arbitrary. Often the same worship cross could be both a vowal, a boundary, and a protective one.
As a rule, oriented to the east, such cross with the raised end of its crossbar was to point north. Often during the installation of the cross, made an eminence at its foot, symbolizing the Calvary Mountain – the site of the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ. The basis of this elevation was the handful of earth brought to the place of installation of the cross.
A special construction had roadside (cross-border) crosses – on the top of it made a “roof” of 2 boards. And if, under this shelter, was an icon in the kyot and a lamp inside, such crosses in Russia were called “golubtsy”.
Widely spread in pre-revolutionary Russia was the tradition of installing crosses – the deputies of the temple. Such crosses appeared on the site of the construction of the future church as evidence of the sanctification of this place and asking God for blessing for construction. At such crosses believers could pray, until the builders completed the construction of the temple. The Russian tradition also demanded to mark with a cross a place of a burned or deserted church (for example, in a ruined settlement).
In particular, great importance had crosses – the deputies of the church in the area, only recently mastered by Orthodox people. There was not yet that customary spiritual space of the church where the soul of a believing person could rest. The symbol, the deputy of such a space, until the construction of the temple or chapel, served an eight-pointed Orthodox cross. It was a sign of God’s presence here, and a reminder of faith. Therefore, especially many crosses – deputy temples were on the vast, harsh expanses of the North and Siberia.
In addition, Primitive (navigational) crosses, which height reached 14 m, served as landmarks for both seafarers and ordinary travelers. Pomors of northern Russia used these crosses very widely, applying them to pilot maps. Visible from afar, they, like beacons, pointed to the seafarers and fishermen the way to the saving wharf, where one could weather the storm. Such a navigational cross is, for example, still standing in the Bay of Well-being.
Meanwhile, for simple travelers, caught in the bad weather, guides were large crosses – the raised end of their crossbar pointed strictly to the north. Usually such crosses stood on the dominant heights, and that made them seen from afar. An example for the whole of the Orthodox world here was a notable cross, installed very long ago on the top of the holy Mount Athos.
An example of a missionary cross is quite possible to consider the cross of the Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Olga, placed on the bank of the Velikaya River near Pskov. In this place the holy princess and her companions saw three heavenly rays converging on the earth. And also the cross of St. Stephen of Perm on the site of his first sermon to the Perm inhabitants.
The custom to install the crosses on Russian soil originates in ancient times. Our Orthodox ancestors, having a strong faith, knew about the importance of the installation of the crosses in this temporary life. It was for the salvation of their souls and neighbors in the eternity. Therefore, they installed crosses on special memorable places, at the crossroads, and near villages. So, when going along the road or entering the village, a person could ask for mercy and offer a thankful prayer to the Lord and the heavenly intercessors.
Sometimes they put a cross on the vow. For example, at the birth of the heir or on the occasion of an important event in the life of the family (called vows). Thus, not far from Pereyaslavl-Zalessky is still a chapel, built as a canopy over the vow cross. And according to legend, Tsar Ivan the Terrible himself established it in the memory of the birth in 1557, the heir of Theodore.
Besides, the whole village could give a vow to put a cross. For example, on the occasion of the Heavenly intercession in epidemics, the case of livestock, drought and other troubles and misfortunes. People placed crosses also in honor of the saints revered in the area, church holidays, and significant events in the life of the country and the reigning family. With the installation of the cross, the deserters began their hermit life, and very often in this place later appeared the monastery.
Fortunately, preserved to this day evidences of such wooden and stone crosses in Russia. Orthodox cross-bow crosses are most often wooden, less often – stone four-pointed or cast. Sometimes masters decorated them with carvings and ornaments. Anyway, their Orthodox content and orientations to the east remain unchanged.
Meanwhile, for the peasant culture of the North Volga region is characteristic the presence of a large number of wooden crosses of the XVII-XIX centuries. The earliest of these was the cross of 1625 from the village of Bor and the cross in 1626 from the village of Nevazha.
Among crosses honored in Russia are those put in memory of any significant events that played an important role in the life of Orthodox Christians (called memorable). For example, notable is one cross of the 17th century, made and placed by Peter the Great in the Una Bay on the coast of the White Sea. It was as a sign of salvation during the storm on June 2, 1694. Noteworthy, when visiting the Solovetsky Monastery, Peter I himself carved on the cross such an inscription: “This cross was placed by Captain Peter in the summer of Christ 1694”.
However, later, the unique historical monument changed its location several times: in the 18th century the cross “after the decay” moved to the Assumption Church of the Pertominsky Monastery. At the request of Archangelsk citizens and with the permission of Emperor Alexander I, in 1805, the cross was transported with all the honors to the Trinity Cathedral of Arkhangelsk.
Besides, there is a tradition in Russia to establish memorial crosses that do not always coincide with the burial place of a Christian. Put on the spot of sudden death, often in our time they appear along the roads.
In Russia the tradition of establishing the crosses is reviving. Today they are put at the entrance to the cities, on the site of the destroyed temples, on the hills, in memory of the victims of repression, and along highways in places of accidents.
Interestingly, such cross appeared even in honor of the creators of the T-34 tank. In particular, in 2003, in the village of Sholokhov near Moscow, near the T-34 tank museum. Built in honor of the tank’s designers and all its combat crews, near it take place prayer services and requiems.
And finally, behind Russian monumental wayside crosses is a spiritual shield from all enemies visible and invisible. Many large cities of Russia are fenced on four sides with protective guard crosses. All the crosses, having different memorable and significant meanings, first of all serve as a believer place for prayer and worship to the Lord and our God Jesus Christ.