Educating imaginative, resilient leaders for God's changing world.


The Mary Bray Spence Cross Collection Released


The public is invited to the John Bulow Campbell Library at Columbia Theological Seminary through October for Theological Libraries Month/American Archives Month 2013. Crosses and religious symbols have been depicted in many ways throughout time by artists and institutions reflecting varied cultures and traditions. The library will display books on religious art and symbolism from the holdings of the John Bulow Campbell Library with photographs of a collection of crosses and other symbols from the Library’s C. Benton Kline, Jr. Special Collections and Archives department. 

Campbell Library is also pleased to announce the release into the archives online catalog of descriptions and photographs of the Mary Bray Spence collection of crosses and religious symbols. “The collection includes nearly 760 crosses and other religious objects dating from approximately the 13th century to about 1972,” said Chris Paton, archivist for the library. “Representing a variety of cultures from around the world, the items were collected by Mary Bray Spence of Gulfport, Florida.”   Ms. Spence began the collection while recuperating from a serious accident by asking friends who were traveling to send her crosses and continued to build the collection following her recovery.

The collection was formerly housed at the Presbyterian archives facility at Montreat, North Carolina and was transferred to Columbia Theological Seminary in 2007. The smallest crosses measure approximately ¼” and the largest one is 4 feet tall. The collection includes crosses and crucifixes representing many countries, Christian traditions, and time periods. It also includes some items from other religions and examples of cross motifs used in non-religious items, such as military medals.

Many of the items were made to be worn for decorative or devotional purposes. These are made of materials such as gold, sterling silver, precious and semi-precious gems, ivory, hair, and wood. Other crosses were made for display or practical use. Materials include metals, wood, bone, glass, plastic, stone, textiles, and other media. Unusual and rare items include Victorian hair crosses, Maria Laach limited edition crosses, elaborate filigree items, items attributed to indigenous peoples of several regions, and many unique, hand-made crosses. The collection also includes modern costume jewelry, souvenir crosses, and other mass-produced items.

“Over the past few years, archives staff members examined the crosses, housed them in new containers, and created catalog records for them. Beginning in the fall of 2012, student Myung Jin Chae (’15) worked with archives staff member Meredith Torre to photograph the crosses, so that they can be viewed online,” said Kelly Campbell, library director and Associate Dean for the seminary.

The catalog records and images can be viewed from the link on this page: Typing terms such as “cross” or “crucifix” will locate most of the items; additional terms can be added to look for specific types or shapes, such as “Jerusalem cross” or “ivory.” The archives staff invites the public to look at the crosses and descriptions online and send corrections or additional information to the archivists at

Earlier this year, a large sculpture of a Celtic Cross was placed in front of the library. At 12 feet 6 inches and 2000 pounds, it is one of the largest Celtic crosses in North America. The bronze and steel cross now stands in front of the John Bulow Campbell Library in the middle of campus. The sculpture was given as a gift to the seminary by Irwin Belk, in honor of his wife Carol Grotnes Belk. The artists who created the sculpture are Jodi Hollnagel-Jubran and Hanna Jubran.

Columbia Theological Seminary shares a commitment of "educating imaginative, resilient leaders for God's changing world." As an educational institution of the Presbyterian Church (USA), Columbia is a community of theological inquiry and formation for ministry in the service of the Church of Jesus Christ. Columbia offers seven graduate degree programs and dozens of lifelong learning courses and events as a resource for church professionals and lay people.

Michael Thompson
Director of Communications

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