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rosary workshop - museum - Europe - Crucifixes
THE  SKULL in ART
tradition of adam - golgatha - victory over death


 ~ ADAM HAD A BEGINNING ~

 
 MichaelAngelo (1508 and 1512)
Sistine Chapel Ceiling
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GENESIS: THE FIRST MAN
The first man, Adam had a beginning and we know his story from Genesis 1:26-27. God created man, Adam, from the clay of the earth! Jesus' earthly beginning was as a baby born of the Virgin Mary (Luke 1: 26-38,  Luke 2:1-20)!  We know this through Scripture and through Holy tradition passed down by word of mouth along with the written word. We are also taught through visual symbols in inspired art as we see above in the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. 
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In the same manner, we will explore the mystery of the skull shown under the crucified Jesus in art. And where was the Center of the World - does it matter? Were Jesus and Adam neighbors that lived 1000s of years apart? And, ask the question, who is the New Adam? 
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CENTER OF THE WORLD?
Was Adam, as many ancients believed, created in the center of the world? Some say when Adam stood up after his creation, his feet touched down upon the center of the earth. (in the very spot where Christ would be crucified) And would Jerusalem, as ancients believed, be that center of the world?  Was the earth or clay from which Adam was formed in Jerusalem ruddy, or terracotta? ADAM (means 'terracotta' or ' ruddy') 
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Remember in Genesis 2:8 we are told that after Adam was formed, God planted a garden "in Eden in the East", then placed Adam there. Eden was created after Adam according to Scripture he was placed there later.
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JERUSALEM
Think of the events that happened in the area we now call Jeru-salem.  Abraham was instructed by God to go sacrifice his son Isaac at a special place, on Mt Moriah where eventually the First and Second Temple were built, in Jerusalem. 
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Jerusalem was the birthplace of the Christian Church: (Jesus instructed His disciples to wait in the city until they received the Holy Spirit, which was sent to them on the Day of Pentecost, some 50 days after they had witnessed the betrayal and death of their leader, Jesus. (Church of the Holy Sepulcher). The 2000 year old Western Wall is the holiest site for the Jewish people, is in Jerusalem. And The Dome of the Rock is built on the rock where the JewishTemple once stood. The Dome of the Rock is considered the holiest spot after Mecca (Islam).   All in Jerusalem.
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THE TIME CLOCK? 
Today, many still believe that Jerusalem is the geographical center around which all world events happen. That the time clock for the beginning and end of the world - is here, and it was not just the center of the 'known world' to ancients. 
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NAVEL OF THE EARTH
Remember, it was the old rabbinical sages who taught Jerusalem was the 'Navel of the Earth' - and that  - all life sprang from there. Also called  ‘The Center of the Earth’ because it is the place where ancients believed the earth was founded. 
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So the question for today is, where was Adam buried? Or was Adam's skull reburied - or - taken to Jerusalem at a later date? Is that why the ancients call this hill, the site of the crucifixion of Jesus,  'The Place of the Skull?' 
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 .. JOHN 19:16-17 ...
16 Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, 17 and carrying the cross himself  he went out to what is called the Place of the Skull, in Hebrew, Golgotha.
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There is no way to know for certain but there is no question that this icon imagery below tells the rich and beautiful story of the redemption of man! It can be confusing  yet the words come forth from Romans 2:33-36 to give us great comfort:
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ROMANS 2:33-36 ..  
33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How inscrutable are his judgments and how unsearchable his ways! 34  "For who has known the mind of the Lord or who has been his counselor?"  "Or who has given him anything that he may be repaid?" 36 For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. 
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It is a great reminder that God can and will do what he wants to do and it makes little difference how we choose to analize it. He is who he says he is and that is all we really need to know. Enjoy what we have found in art and know there is much more in the depths of his riches and wisdom and knowledge. His treasure house is full and overflowing!

SEARCH ROSARY WORKSHOP:


for more information see the following
PLACE OF THE SKULL   -   WHO IS THE NEW ADAM?
SKULL IN ART   -  FRANCIS TAU SIGNATURE
more great links
VARIATIONS   -   FRA ANGELICO
OLD CRUCIFIXES   -  TWO SKULLS?   -   OLD BELIEVERS ICON
what does memento mori mean?
MEMENTO MORI   - SKULLS & ROSARIES   - LINKS
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 ~ PLACE of the SKULL ~

 Traditionally, Christ was crucified outside the city walls of Ancient Jerusalem on a hill or a place called the SKULL. GOLGOTHA (Aramaic / Hebrew for Skull) CALVARY: (Latin: Calvaria for "a skull") and KEFALAION (Greek) Excavtions in the 4th century changed the terraine so the Church of the Holy Sepulchre could be built over the holy sites of the crucifixion and the tomb. 
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 ..  GENESIS 3:5
I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will strike at your head, while you strike at his heel."

This place was well known by the Jews to be the traditioual burial place of Adam, thus the name, Golgatha. This is why we see the name in Scripture.



 ~ WHO IS THE NEW ADAM ? ~

THE NEW ADAM

 ..   1 CORINTHIANS 15:45
45 So, too, it is written, "The first man, Adam, became a living being," the last Adam a life-giving spirit.
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+Since early times, Jesus is seen as the 'New Adam' ( And Mary as the New Eve ) overcoming the sins of Adam through his passion, death and resurrection. So the skull symbol represents Adam. Rare but seen, two skulls at the bottom of the crucifix, that of Adam and Eve. See   EXAMPLE (also see St Paul's words about the New Adam below:



~ THE SKULL IN ART ~ 

 
CARAVAGGIO (1571 - 1610)
Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Antica, Rome
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ST FRANCIS IN PRAYER
  A magnificent work of art imaging St. Francis in Prayer by Caravaggio The lights and darks are powerful along with the symbolism of the cross and skull. Poverty and humility were popular subjects during this period as was the skull and it links back to the Tau signature of Francis below. 




~ ST FRANCIS TAU SIGNATURE ~

 FRANCIS' PARCHMENT BLESSINGS
 On the back of the blessing, Brother Leo wrote:
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"The blessed Francis wrote this blessing for me with his own hand"  and [also] said, "In a similar way he made with his own hand this sign TAU together with a skull" 
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CLOSE UP OF TAU

WITH SKULL BELOW
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(It is barely visible here but look at the base of the Tau cross and note it pierces th eye of the skull.  The skull is in a rocky grave noted by the traditional jagged 'box like' frame around it .)
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THE BLESSING - 1224)
FROM FRANCIS TO BR LEO
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"May the Lord  bless you and keep you.  May He show His face to you and be merciful to you.  May He turn His countenance to you and give you peace. The Lord bless you, Brother Leo."
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This beautifully framed blessing was in the level church chapel, (in the chapel of the relics) when we visited before the earthquake, please check as several more visits since, during repairs, etc. Worthy of a visit!
  



~ VARIATIONS ~

 VICTORY OVER DEATH
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A BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLE
This crucifix with a large skull at its base is an exceptional example of the visual tradition of victory over death. Believed to be originally seen on the internet through the collection of Joseph Perez and his mom Berta of Church Woman Antiques (Ebay) - with many thanks!




 ~ FRA ANGELICO ~

 
Fra Angelico (1395 - 1455) 
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HIS REDEEMING BLOOD
The detail below is from the fresco by Fra Angelico (1435) titled "Schädel Adams am Berge Golgatha, Detail einer Kreuzigung mit Hl. Nikolaus und Hl. Franziskus" (Head of Adam to mountains Golgatha, detail of a Kreuzigung with Hl. Nikolaus and Hl. Franziskus). The image shows the skull of Adam under the cross of Christ with Christ's redeeming blood flowing down and over his head. For more information please click icon. 
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 ..   MARK 15:22
They brought him to the place of Golgotha (which is translated Place of the Skull).
(also see Matt 27:33, Luke 24:33, John 19:17)
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~ OLD EUROPEAN CRUCIFIXES ~

 
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SEE FULL COLLECTION
 Be sure to see this collection of crucifixes that carry the traditional skull and crossbones at the bottom.  Popular through mid 1800s and came in a variety of sizes that were used on rosaries, as pectorals and on the wall over the bed. Germany seems to be the center for manufacture but many were hand made. Some were called Coffin Crucifixes as rested in the coffin, then given to the family of the deceased. (for more information click icons above)




~ TWO SKULLS on the 'TREEN' CROSS ~

RARE DOUBLE SKULLS 

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ADAM AND EVE
 OBVERSE: One side shows the crucifixion with the skulls of Adam and Eve at the bottom meaning the cross brings us salvation and resurrection from the dead.  REVERSE:  Shows Christ at his baptism, including those who witnessed his baptism.  It also shows events in the life of Christ.  Remember in the Orthodox Church the baby is baptized, confirmed and given communion in one rite! The placement of the cross layout and figures match Greek and Russian Icons from the 17 century. For more information (click icon above)




~ 'OLD BELIEVERS' ICON - CRUCIFIX ~

 
 Russian 'Old Believers' Icon Cross with Guardian Saints. 
Circa 1800s. Bronze.  Heavy casting. 
Rare miniature size: 2.5 by 3.5". 
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BELOW CHRIST’S FEET
Below the feet of Christ we see the letters IT and MAPB. They stand for The Mount of Golgopha "and" The place of the skull has become Paradise. 
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SKULL OF ADAM
Under these letters we find the skull of Adam. Remembering Holy Tradition teaches  Christ was crucified in exactly the same place as Adam was buried. When the blood and water poured forth from the side of Christ Adam was sanctified and the whole world was given the hope of salvation from Adam until the end of the end of time. (for more information click icon above)




~ MEMEMTO MORI ~

 MEMENTO MORI: (Remember thy Death)  The skull is also seen on old rosaries and chaplets as 'Memento Mori' (Remember thy Death). Here we see a skull bead threaded onto a rosary or chaplet just above the crucifix. Especially popular with Priests and Nuns in the 19c.

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MORE ON THE
TRADITION OF ADAM
The skull and crossbones symbol carries a very old tradition that Adam was created and also buried on Calvary, GOLGATHA ('The place of the skull') and this is where Christ was crucified. His blood, the blood of salvation, the precious living blood, the blood that gave and gives life ran down the cross onto the skull of Adam below, redeeming mankind in the midst of the earthquake that opened the earth. The symbol of the skull may also be seen in early rosaries as a bead before the crucifix, or, as it is being prayed, right after the crucifix. ( Early references to the tradition of Adam's skull: Origen 185 - 253 AD)

 PLEASE NOTE:
The Jews who became Christian, carried this tradition of Golgatha and Adam. They honored and memorized it to be pass from generation to generation.  It was understood that not a 'jot or tittle' was to be added [even] by the teller. Scripture we know today was formed by traditionl memory.
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For more information on this tradition of the New Adam, please visit links below.  The attempt of the Rosary Workshop here is to better understand why the skull was such an important symbol in art and story telling - and eventually rosarymaking during earlier periods of history. Remembering first of all that art was'read' by its symbols to a people who did not know how to read or have easy access to books. Imagery and tradition were very important. 


 LEARN MORE 
ABOUT ADAM IN TRADITION
learn more of this beautiful history
Essay on Adam Under Calvary - Fr Bagatti OFM
Chapel of Adam (Church of Holy Sepulchre) Jerusalem
A great link showing the 1st century rocky terrain 
where Christ Was Buried 
Golgatha cross section map
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WHAT IS
TENEBRAE ? ANASTASIS?
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LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SKULL IN ART BY FOLLOWING THE  LINKS BELOW AND ALSO USE THE SEARCH BELOW BY ENTERING 'SKULL' TO SEE ALL ON OUR SITE.

SEARCH ROSARY WORKSHOP:


read about the tradition of the skull
THE SKULL IN ART  -  THE NEW ADAM
OLD EUROPEAN CRUCIFIXES
see our Rosaries using skulls, following old tranditions
RDLM SKULL ROSARIES   -   MEMENTO MORI
 and also see these links
DIA de los MUERTO (a Celebration in Mexico)
OLD BELIEVERS ICONS & CRUCIFIXES
 and did you know about this? 
CAN YOU IDENTIFY THIS? (two skulls
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