The Gero Cross in Context: Thietmar's Chronicon and Episcopal Liturgy in the mid-10th Century.
In Thietmar of Merseburg’s Chronicon, Gero, the archbishop of Cologne from 969 to 976, miraculously repairs a split in a crucifix by placing a piece of Eucharist in the fracture and tearfully praying before the object. This story is particularly intriguing because it is the only direct reference to the Gero Cross, one of the earliest Western crucifixes to depict Christ dead. Historians who have used the account to gain perspective on the impulses and thoughts behind the creation of the artifact have typically focused on two key elements in the story. The first historiographical tradition has emphasized Gero’s tears and the cross itself as precursors to the affective Christian devotion that would arise in the twelfth century. This teleological interpretation removes the Gero Cross from the particular context of its creation, the Ottonian episcopal culture of the mid and late tenth century, and needlessly anticipates future developments. A second interpretation has focused on the Eucharistic component of the story, which is thought to reflect a renewed emphasis on the theology of the Eucharist that would culminate in the eleventh-century conflict between Berengar and Lanfranc. While this analysis is more convincing, it also retrojects later developments into the Ottonian period, obscuring the unique cultural conditions in which the cross arose.
In order to appreciate the Gero Cross as a specifically Ottonian artifact, and to begin to understand the potential meaning of the image for the individuals involved in its creation, the non-Eucharistic liturgical elements of the miracle story must be appreciated. In contrast to the Eucharistic historiographical tradition, this perspective is more faithful to the internal elements of Thietmar’s story, in which the miracle is brought about not by the transubstantive moment but by the action of episcpopal benediction. This approach also orients the Gero Cross within broader trends of Ottonian cultural and intellectual production in the mid-10th century that witnessed a new emphasis on the bishop’s liturgy, most notably with the compilation of the Romano-Germanic Pontifical in the 950s and early 960s. Moreover, placing the Gero Cross in this specific context broadens the available sources for understanding the object beyond Thietmar’s specific miracle story to more general Ottonian treatments of crosses and crucifixes.