Inlay Cross

The Inlay Cross looks rather disjointed. Why is it made this way and what does it mean?

Inlay Cross

Old French Altar Cross
(Click photo to enlarge)

The antique French Stepped Cross on the right has a brass inlay, like purfling, and is believed to be made from either Spanish cedar or walnut. It probably had a corpus attached at some time.

© Spectrum Wood
(Click photo to enlarge)

In contrast, the grooves of a coticed cross stop before they reach the edges

This next one is a contemporary example, created by Spectrum Wood (

In both crosses, the inlay extends to the edges of the wood, forming a lattice effect rather than creating the same outline as the cross. The designer at Spectrum Wood explains that the reason the inlay extends to the edges is simply for ease of construction. 


What is far more interesting, however, is why a cross should be inlaid at all. The reason may be decorative, functional or the artist may wish to portray a deeper meaning.

In stringed instruments, such as violins and guitars, an inlay is often seen around the edges. This is known as purfling; a narrow binding inlaid into the edges of the top and bottom wooden plates of the instrument. Purfling reinforces the plates and stops any cracks from the edge spreading to the rest of the plate.

Symbolically, the inlay on this cross represents the sapwood of a tree, carrying moisture from the roots, or blood vessels transporting life-sustaining oxygen around the human body. The inlay brings the cross to 'life'.

And 'life' is what the Christian cross is all about. Not just the life of a tree, and not just the physical life of the human body. Rather it is the spiritual life that we can attain through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.

See Meaning of the Cross.

The grooves for the inlay are created on a bench saw with special jigs. With this method, there is no way to cut the grooves without extending them to the edge of the cross.

This follows the tradition of using a hand-saw to cut grooves. The saw is easier than a chisel for producing straight smooth lines, but cannot stop short of the ends. Modern machinery could stop short but here the designer has retained the traditional style.

The dimensions and proportions for the Spectrum Wood cross are based on 1:1.61803... (the Golden Ratio) and chosen simply for its aesthetic appeal.


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