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Enamelled crosiers

The comparison between Christ and the shepherd is a recurrent theme in evanlegical writtings and many parables stage the latter. Jesus is the good shepherd. The explanation lies in the fact that Christianity, as well as Judaism, are religions stemming from sheep rearing countries. The attribute of the ministers of the cult is the Pastoral Staff, which underwent a significant evolution through the centuries.


The crosier will therefore play an important symbolic role for Christianity for its representation, and without fail, the Work of Limoges will provide for these objects essential to the celebration of  liturgy.



Limoges enamels cross


 “The Crosier or Pastoral Staff”, also named “ferrules”, “tau”, or “crook”, according to its shape.


Nowadays, Western regions are only familiar with the curved staff, but formerly the same words “cambutta” or “bacula” equally refered to the various styles, as there was not even a single text relating to form specification to refer to. Strictly speaking , in the Greek Church, there is no ancien text mentionning Pastoral Staff. The staff is straight and embellished with an ivory or ebony knob. Not before the XIII century, did the “volute” staff become the Bishop’s atribute, in the West.


 Origin of the Pastoral Staff. Ferrule, tau.- The Pastoral Staff evidently derives from the traveller’ stick. A long time ago, faithfuls would go to mass with their stick, since the first centuries’ ceremonials would advise them to drop their stick off during the Gospel. It was used as a support during the lenghty ceremonies one would attended to while standing.


That being said, no irrefutable evidence can be found of the Pastoral Staff being used  as such, prior to the V or VI century, although its usage is credibly anterior. A letter from Pope Celestin I (422-432 AD) and the Vitae of Saint Cesarius of Arles († 542 AD) mention the Crosier being used in that manner, and since then texts quote it frequently.


The Pope would carry a straight Pastoral Staff , the “ferrule”, a kind of sceptre ending sometimes with a knob, and more often with a simple or double cross. The Pontiffs carried the ferrules during their induction ceremony in the Lateran. Pope Sixtus V abandonned it in 1585. It can be seen, for instance, in the hands of the statues on the façade of Berteaucourt-aux-Dames (XII century), and on the seal of Phillip, Archbishop of Sens, in 1339.


The “tau” is another type of Pastoral Staff” very common in the Middle Ages till about the XIII century. It owes its name to the letter T which depicts it. The tau of Saint Lou (Bishop from 427 AD to 477 AD), preserved in Briennon-the-Archbishop (Aube) could be the oldest known Pastoral Staff, if truly genuine, as it is believed; the wooden shaft ends with an small ellongated barrel of rock crystal, embedded in a silver socket and topped with a cabochon in a bezel setting. Many others are from carved ivory; for instance, the specimen of Fecamp, dating back to the Romanesque period, with a central character surounded by two volutes. The Deutz model, from the romanesque period too, and that of Gerald, Bishop of Limoges, †1022, are also in ivory; they end with two lion heads. The tau of Abbot Morand (990-1004). In Cluny, is a simple crutch from chiselled ivory.


The specimen from the Soltykoff collection, very fine workmanship of lavish engravings under the shaft. Also noteworthy, is the lead Tau (XII century)  in the Cathedral of Coïmbre, and the amber specimen of the Russian patriarch Philarethe Nikitich, once preserved in the treasure of the Cathedral , in Moscow. It worth pointing out that Taus and Cantal Staffs can be confused, since they have identical shapes.


The oldest crosiers.-  In the very beginning crosiers were just a curved stick; it became one of the Bishop’ symbols and early on, by extension, that of Abbots and Abbesses. All sorts of materials were used to create the various types of Pastoral Staff: wood, ivory, horn, silver, etc. Lead crosiers were also found in tombs, as the one in the tomb of the Abbot of Jumieges, William, † 1142, but they were of symbolic importance.


 (Source - « Liturgia, Popular Encyclopedia for Liturgical Knowledge» published under the  direction of  Abbot R. AIGRAIN -Editions Bloud and Gay, in 1931)

Limoges enamels cross
Limoges enamels cross

A number of  liturgical objects are not in use during the service, but are the insignia that a bishop receives at the time of his ordination, some amongst them, were made by Limousin enamellers, such as plates decorating episcopal gloves and crosiers, symbols of the spiritual magnitude of the dignitaries.


Crosiers are divided into two sections, the shafts, long wooden sticks, mostly long disappeared, while the crosserons consisting of three parts (a round cylinder, a node, and a volute) survived in good quantities. The tradition to bury the prelate with his insignia enabled the discovery of numerous crosiers during archeological excavations.


An evolution in style can be seen through various types of crosserons. Dating back to 1175-1185, is the crosier of the Museum of Poitiers, very fine early specimen of crosier with “large flower”, pattern which was most probably inspired by Aaron’s flowering rod and widely used in the Plantagenêt art in the second half of XII century. Around 1200, the palmette-flower shifts towards a certain simplification. The crosier of Abbot Aimon de Mollain, which is preserved in the Louvre Museum, features  a flower with three supple and slender petals. The node is in fine openwork where angels busts replace fabulous creatures, patterns which are traditionally seen on this type of crosiers.


The depiction of the snake is quite common on Limousin crosiers. At the start of XIII century, the crosier of John of Chanlay presents a very sober picture where the body of the animal itself forms the swirl of the crosseron. During the same period, some crosiers depict the snake devouring a flower, alluding to Aaron’s flowering rod, symbol of his election amongst priests.


During the second quarter of XIII century new themes surface, relating to marian iconography: the Annunciation, the Coronation of the Virgin. This renewal corresponds to the development in the Work of Limoges of appliqué elements and of sparsely enamelled gilt copper figurines.


On some crosiers, the volute skirts the copper plate, featuring, on one side, an embossed Christ in Majesty, and on the other, the Virgin and Child. Generally of rather brisk execution, these crosiers evidently reflect a transformation towards a more hasty manufacturing at the dawn of XIII century.


(Source – Enamels of Limoges in the Middle Ages / Dossier de l'Art)



medieval cross bishop
Charroux cross bishop

The Tau from the Treasure of Charroux was found in 1850 in the tomb of the Bishop of Limoges, Gerald, who died suddenly in the Abbey in 1022, while going to Poitiers.

Romanesque and Gothic Crosiers.- From the end of IX century, the volute is attached to the socket with a node that will stay in tune with the evolution and variation of all similar ornaments, as is the case for the node of the chalice or later that of the monstrance. Thereafter, complications follow: imageries are inscribed along the swirl. The Pashal Lamb is often depicted (…). This romanesque style perdures till the XIV century when it is found at times. Elsewhere, fabulous beasts are carved, lions, or eagles, as depicted in the beautiful romanesque horn crosier of the Carrand Collection.


These romanesque crosiers are extremely creative; they represent most diversified sceneries (...A different trend emerged in the XII and mainly in the XIII and XIV centuries: the Limousin enamellers started to produce fine copper crosiers, decorated with champlevé enamels, which successfully rivalled ivory crosiers. Quite a few of these beautiful pieces  are preserved in our treasures and our museums. The volute sometimes ends with a large and wide open floret (…); sometimes it is decorated with gracefully processed sceneries: Saint Michael killing the devil, Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, the Virgin with the dragon beneath her feet, etc. Ivory gothic crosiers often depict the same imagery too, but not with great diversity (…).


 (Source - « Liturgia, Popular Encyclopedia for Liturgical Knowledge» published under the  direction of  Abbot R. AIGRAIN -Editions Bloud and Gay, in 1931)

Limoges enamels cross

The historian Marquet de Vasselot classify enamelled Limousin crosiers into two large main groups: first those with volutes ending in stylized large flowers, then, those with volutes framing characters such as Saint Michael and the Dragon, Adam and Eve, the Annunciation, Christ and the Virgin, the Coronation of the Virgin, as well as animals, lion, snakes, lambs…


The historian Emily Van Moé emphasizes that  crosiers do not resemble a T but a P, a letter which has been frequently decorated in manuscripts. It features in thirteen chapters of the Epistles of Saint Paul, and it could be very interesting to compare the various styles found in specimens as old as the second Bible of Charles the Bold. The letter S is also more opened and often more coiled, thus resembling, even better, volutes of crosiers. As far as the “plots” are concerned, they take place in the decorated letters, either in the enlarged thickness of the letter’s line , or in the field delimited by the loop of that letter. The letter P is suitable for this layout. A more advanced study of crosiers draws attention to some aspects which would seem mundane for letters. Thus, many letters include components ending with heads of snakes or dragon’ shapes. Explanations given for crosiers apply to letters.


 (Source – XIII century Limousin crosiers / Marquet Vasselot)

Limoges enamels cross

While many crosiers have disappeared from  the treasures of Cathedrals or Abbeys, even though they were recorded in inventories, many have been found in graves. Crosier is, indeed, an attribute which follows the deceased, Bishop or Abbey, and is placed in the tomb.

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