August 4, 2017 — What is believed to be a 17th-century iron cross, owned by Georgetown University and used by Pope Francis in his first Mass in the United States two years ago, is now part of a one-year Smithsonian exhibition on “Religion in Early America.”
Historians believe the cross came over to Maryland from England with the first settlers in 1634. Jesuit Father Ronald Murphy, a German department professor, rediscovered it at Georgetown in 1989.
Since it was rediscovered, the hammer-welded cross made from ship’s iron has hung in the university’s Dahlgren Chapel. Exhibit specialists at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History created a replica of the cross that will hang in the chapel until the exhibit is over.
“It's exciting to hold something in your hands from the time of the origins of the university as a small rectory school,” Fr. Murphy said. “It's even more exciting to see the cross's importance acknowledged by the Smithsonian.”
The Georgetown professor says the exhibition’s insurers believe the spike on the bottom of the cross may be a nail from either the Ark or the Dove, the ships that made the first expedition from England to what was then the Province of Maryland.
The four-foot high cross’ vertical inscription reads, "This cross is said to have been brought by the first settlers from England to St. Mary's.” The horizontal Latin inscription states Ad perpetuamrei memoriam, or “For the eternal memory of this event.”
“Georgetown’s iron cross is an evocative highlight of Religion in Early America,” says Peter Manseau, Lilly Endowment Curator of American Religious History. “It movingly captures the commitment of the first Catholics in the 13 colonies to make a new home for their faith from the materials they had at hand.
“The museum is grateful to university faculty, administration and campus ministry staff for the opportunity to include this fascinating story in the exhibit,” he said. Source: [Georgetown University]