Some of the most precious and finely wrought objects of the Middle Ages were made for use in the liturgical service of the church. Crosses and censers were carried in procession, while reliquaries, caskets, and shrines held the remains of saints or objects associated with them. Because of the sacred function of these objects, they were made of the most valuable materials available: ivory, bronze, enamel, rock crystal, and gold. Through their hallowed contents or their liturgical function, these objects provided access to the divine, yet they were also displays of wealth and craftsmanship. Censers and vessels were cast in bronze, while other objects, such as caskets and reliquaries, were assembled from a wooden core and covered with ivory, enamel, and gilded metal. Often, if such costly materials were out of reach, wood or other modest materials were painted and gilded to resemble them.
This double-sided cross would have been carried in church processions and, during Mass, placed on or near the altar. Made of wood, it is covered with stamped gold leaf to create the textures and patterns common to gilded and engraved metal objects. At the foot of the cross stands Saint Francis, recognizable by his brown robe. Francis, who died in 1226, was the founder of the Franciscan order of monks, known for its embrace of poverty and commitment to preaching to the people. Since Francis received the stigmata for his identification with Christ’s Crucifixion, the order was particularly devoted to the cross. The image of Saint Francis and of the Franciscan saint Louis of Toulouse on the reverse suggests that the cross was made for a Franciscan community.