Notre Dame curates classroom crucifixes from around the world

The recently announced Crucifix Initiative aims to bring beautiful crucifixes from around the world to classrooms and other areas of Notre Dame’s campus. These crucifixes will serve as classroom tools and instruments for deep reflection. 

The initiative was launched in 2019 by Dr. Mark Roche, a German language and philosophy professor and former Dean of the College of Arts and Letters. Roche told the Rover that he thought of this project when he was dean. Through the initiative, he hopes that these crucifixes will “make students much more aware of Catholicism as an international institution instead of just an American phenomenon.”

Dr. Roche explained, “When you are in a classroom with one [of these unique crucifixes], you can incorporate it into your teaching. One semester I had a classroom with the world cross from Peru in it, and during another semester I had one with a Ukrainian crucifix in it. I was able to talk to students about these particular crosses and their history.”

Furthermore, Dr. Roche told the Rover that he has been deeply influenced by the thought of the 20th-century philosopher Simone Weil and her writing on the integration of academic study and prayer. He summarized her work: “Our school subjects teach us a mode of concentration that is actually central for prayer. Prayer is not going into a church and ‘la-la-ing’ yourself into thinking, but it is an intense concentration.” 

According to Dr. Roche, reflecting on crucifixes allows for deep meditation because “every crucifix is different. For example, some crucifixes put more focus on the suffering of Christ than others, and each one emphasizes some other aspect [of the Passion]. Acknowledgements of Christ are awakened if students take the crucifixes seriously.”

Dr. Roche was inspired by a personal struggle to concentrate during prayer. He told the Rover, “The first time I prayed in German or went to Mass in German, I had a certain kind of special concentration. That concentration can sometimes be lost when you are going to Mass in your native language. For students, I hope that [these crucifixes] will awaken a knowledge of different cultures and give students an appreciation for the way in which different cultures approach our understanding of the Catholic Church.”

The initiative has already brought 40 different crucifixes from over 20 countries to Notre Dame. One of these crucifixes is a Japanese “butsudan” style crucifix. A butsudan is a small wooden box with closed doors that usually open to reveal a Buddha. While Christians were being persecuted in Japan from 1614 to 1873, Japanese Catholics held crucifixes in these butsudans in place of Buddhas so that they could hide evidence of their faith by closing the doors. 

Another of these crucifixes is a Slovakian plum-wood cross fashioned with a metal and cotton corpus made by the artist Igor Kontúr. The wood used for the cross came from a plum tree which was destroyed in a lightning storm near Kontúr’s parents’ house in Slovakia. 

The crucifixes brought by the initiative have been placed in Jenkins-Nanovic, Decio Hall, Coleman-Morse, and other academic buildings.

The Crucifix Initiative also announced a contest (ending in the spring of 2024) for undergraduates to design and construct their own crucifixes. These crucifixes will be judged on their creativity and uniqueness, and all crucifixes will be given to the university to be displayed across campus. The winner will receive a cash prize of at least $500.

The contest encourages students to create religious art, which St. John Paul II calls “an eloquent example of aesthetic contemplation sublimated in faith.” In his Letter to Artists, he writes, “Art remains a kind of bridge to religious experience. In so far as it seeks the beautiful, fruit of an imagination which rises above the everyday, art is by its nature a kind of appeal to the mystery.”

Margaret Mathis is a junior studying classical languages who plans to become an attorney. She runs a dress-hemming business out of her dorm room and enjoys hand-stitching Cicero quotes or the Notre Dame leprechaun onto everything she owns (which qualifies as “fair use” according to U.S.C. Title XVII Ch.1 § 107 [1]). Reach out to her at

Photo Credit: Notre Dame Campus Crucifix Initiative

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