Symbols of Strength and Spirituality
Imagine you are an immigrant, perhaps German or Polish, living on the Great Plains of America during the Nineteenth Century. An outbreak of diphtheria takes the lives of some friends, neighbors, and worst of all, your own little son. You go to the barn to find pieces of wood to fashion a small coffin. Heartbroken, you and your wife bury your precious little boy. You forgo the common wooden cross to mark the grave.
|TYPICAL PIONEER FAMILY|
Instead, you visit the "smithy" in the village, another immigrant like yourself who understands you want a traditional iron cross, one that will last centuries.
You work with the smithy to create a special cross made of iron and other bits of scrap metal he might have. The cross will be unique, one of a kind, to mark the child's grave. The design will tell a story...
In September 2005, my husband and I embarked on our fourth and last trip to Europe. After landing in Frankfurt, we began a long trip by tour bus through Central Europe. I admit the trip did not interest me at first, but my husband thought we should see this area of Europe. By the time we finished the tour, I said it was second on my list of favorites.
We visited places in several countries (in order): Frankfurt, Berlin, Warsaw, Poznan, Auschwitz, Krakow, Slovakia, Budapest, Vienna, Prague, Rothenberg. and back to the Frankfurt Airport.
During this long journey, I was enthralled with everything (except Auschwitz), but one vision remained with me--the iron crosses in cemeteries on the long drive between Eastern Germany and into Poland. The tour guide never mentioned them, but I'd watch out the bus window and see one cemetery after another among fields of flowers or crops of some kind.
The iron crosses were easily identifiable. The cemeteries always lay close to the road, and since the bus didn't travel very fast on the narrow roads, I had time to study quite a few.
When we arrived home, I looked up information about the Wrought Iron Crosses, and learned how and why they were made.
Several years later, we...once again...were on a tour bus. This time we were on one of several tours to SEE AMERICA FIRST. No, we saw it last! We flew to Denver and met our fellow passengers, and boarded the bus the next morning. (3/4 of the passengers were from the UK--I fell in love with the joyous group discovering America.)
CEMETERY IN KANSAS
On the first leg of the trip, we drove from Denver to Cheyenne and on to South Dakota to Mt. Rushmore and Deadwood. Much of the countryside was flat--the Plains or Prairies. Once again I saw cemeteries with the iron crosses. I was thrilled, and tried to explain to others, but no one else seemed as excited.
These immigrants who came to America during the migration to the West brought with them the blacksmiths and artists who created iron crosses for their deceased loved ones.
The unique crosses are scattered from central Canada to Kansas, from the Mississippi to the Rockies. Those prevalent in the Dakotas are of the Germans from Russia.
The cross represents the sacred.
The iron represents strength.Unlike wooden crosses, they were tough enough to withstand prairie fires, storms, and even time itself.
Each cross is unique, made from metals that were available at the time. The size, shape, style, color, design, and symbols all have cultural significance. Each one tells a story, and not everyone can "read" the story. For example, one features an iron snake crawling up the cross. At the very top of this same cross is an angel. It tells the story of creation, the fall of man, and heavenly salvation.
Common features were the sun, a heart, a star, leaves, flowers, a tree, and shapes of animals. Filigree was popular on many crosses.
Have you seen the Iron Crosses of the Plains of the United States? I'd love to know if anyone else has seen these, either in Europe or America.
Thank you for visiting my blog today.
Encyclopedia of the Great Plains
Rural Kansas Tourism