Affixed to the altar before the apse was the cross. It’s edges were frayed, roughly hewn from quarter sawn timber long ago. The reclaimed piece was swollen and pocked with burls. Striations of discoloration, wrapping around the trunk, intimated the shape of a hobbled man, or a rot in the wood. Well-lit by the clerestory above the chancel, the cross was positioned prominently, as if basking. The carpenter had placed the cross there, shunting it into a notch in the ground, embroidered with mosaic tile. He cursed the splinters collected by his hands.
Over time, the basilica changed many hands, each flock with their own vice and preference. For a century or so, the cross absorbed bitterness and contention. In-fighting broke out across the aisles, until a meeting was convened to determine the spirit of their creed and what they said about their Lord. Most were satisfied by the outcome. At the end of it, the rich young ruler who ordered the meeting stepped forward and placed a thoughtful hand upon the hardened exterior, sensing great things ahead.
Not soon after, it was stained with blood. Buckets of coagulated sanguine absorbed into the sword-gouged trunk, bright red, before fading to purple and blue. Suffering abounded in the lands choked with smoke and ash, until a pragmatic flock emerged, resourceful enough to stifle the sickness of violence that seemed to infect the sullen, stagnant air. The cross was crowned with temporal power by the rich young ruler, but the gilded crown bore the likeness of a bad forgery.
New edicts were established regarding what the cross could and could not be. It took the aspect of many things. The cross was showered with wealth and abundance. Even the soft gold coins withered the cross’ face, bruising and softening the wood. Two attendants fought over the cross, for a time, until they conceded, finally, to a stalemate. Each mutually regarded one another with hate, their flocks diverging. They sat apart from one another, on either end of the cross. It stood between the camps, buffeted by anger and distain. After a time, the flocks relented, weary of the conflict, abandoning the refuse of entrails and sinew they had draped over the arms of the cross. The dawning light, emerging through the open portal in the narthex, exposed the rot. And members of both flocks returned to clean it as best they could.
The cross still stands there now, black as charcoal and steeped with dried blood. Some still approach, as if recognizing an old friend. Those that stay, marvel for a time and consider the carpenter that left it so many years ago. Those that depart, do so quickly, though not before dressing it in fashionable clothing, berating it, and covering it with semen and feces. The weight of shackles, handcuffs, bandoliers, braids of Ethernet cable, fascist flags dipped in gasoline, drape around its neck like a noose. There, on the altar, it stands: objectified by filth, defeated.
Yet, despite all this, the flock heaps their burdens upon it willingly. And they depart, each one, with a spring in their step.