Nancy Cross

Nancy is the home of Art Nouveau in north-east France.

On the Prussian border, the area has seen much fighting throughout its 3,000 year history. It is small wonder that behind the town's elegant facade of sophistication is the gritty motto: Non inultus premor - 'I cannot be touched with impunity'.

Nancy Cross

Nancy Cross
Nancy Cross

The photographs of these two Nancy Cross pendants were sent to us separately by people in the US, but the pendants most likely originate from Europe.

Neither of them have any identification markings on the back, but on the front there is a prominent thistle. The thistle is a symbol of Lorraine and is a main feature in the coat-of-arms of Nancy, the former capital of Lorraine. 

The first cross shown on the right is very small, measuring just 25 mm high and 17.5 mm wide. We don't know how old it is, beyond its discovery in an antique shop in 1969. It has the typical flowing curvilinear forms of Art Nouveau, for which Nancy is renown. These are plant-inspired motifs which appear in the art of several ancient cultures; from the Persian and Indian 'Paisley' swirls, to the New Zealand Koru, to the Far Eastern Tomoe.

Nancy Cross
Nancy Cross

The age of this second cross is also unknown. After the First World War, a North American soldier brought it from the area of Alsace-Lorraine, France, for his young sister in the United States.

An art collector has also sent us photographs of a ring in his possession, believed to have once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, which also shows the thistle with the Lorraine cross. This would date the thistle/cross combination to at least the 1500s.


Cross on city gate
Porte de la Craffe, Nancy (city gate)
Thistle on cross
Central detail of thistle with small cross

Thistle on cross
Small gold Lorraine cross on a silver pin. (Owned by our friends in Tasmania)

Nancy coat-of-arms
Nancy coat-of-arms

© Association Sportive Nancy-Lorraine (football club)

The overall shape is that of a Lorraine Cross. A similar cross is seen in the flag of the area's separatist movement, the National Forum of Alsace-Lorraine, the bilingual borderland between France and Germany. This flag also dates from the First World War.

Interestingly, on the second cross we can see a tiny version of the same style repeated on each of the six buds, and there's a seventh tiny cross on the left side of the thistle. (Click any image to enlarge.) Note that there is just one cross on the thistle, and not balanced with another, implying that seven seems to be a significant number for this item.

The 'seven' is most likely in reference to the seven sacraments (rather than 7 virtues, 7 works of mercy, etc.) because of the tiny cross on the left side of the thistle. Conventional thought is that a Roman soldier pierced the right side of Jesus when he was on the cross, so religious art usually shows the lance on the left side of the cross. From this wound flowed the blood, and it is supposed that is why the Eucharist cup is usually in the centre of artistic renditions of the seven sacraments.

The motto adopted by Nancy is Non inultus premor (I cannot be touched with impunity). Accidentally grasp a spiky thistle and you'll agree with that.

Scotland has a similar motto: Nemo me impune lacessit (No one wounds me with impunity) and the Scottish Royal coat of arms too incorporates the thistle.

Nationalforum Elsaß-Lothringen - Forum Nationaliste d'Alsace-Lorraine


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