It is tiny in size — measuring only 1.1 inches in width — and its top is broken, but a 400- year-old copper crucifix found at Newfoundland’s Avalon Peninsula earlier in July has big historical significance, according to historians. It symbolizes an early dream of religious freedom in North America.
The artifact is clearly a Catholic item, featuring a simple representation of Christ on the front and the Virgin Mary and Christ Child on the back. Yet it was found in a predominantly English settlement.
Back in England, its owner would could be fined, imprisoned or put to death for practicing Catholic faith, according to Barry Gaulton, Field Director of the Colony of Avalon and Associate Professor of Archaeology at Memorial University of Newfoundland.
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“The Catholic iconography is unmistakable. As with all archaeological discoveries, the context in which the artifact was found tells us its story,” Gaulton said in a release.
The story the crucifix tells is that of the dream of the Newfoundland’s settler, Sir George Calvert. Calvert was an English lord who helped settle the colony around 1628. His vision was to create a community where all Christians could enjoy freedom of religion without fear of persecution. He was one of the early pioneers of religious freedom in North America.
Just the presence of the Catholic crucifix reveals that Calvert’s vision had started to take shape. The small cross was found by Anna Sparrow, an undergraduate student at Memorial University in St. John’s.
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As for who the crucifix belonged to, the archaeologists are not sure. They say it could have belonged to one of the craftsmen working on Calvert’s house, or the colony’s second governor, the Catholic gentleman Sir Arthur Aston, or even George Calvert himself.
An archaeologist’s job can be painstaking, tedious work, involving careful excavation, delicate sifting and gentle brushing. For Sparrow, the thrill of finding such a significant artifact, made all the hard work worthwhile.
As she said in a press release, “There is so much time, effort and patience involved in excavation, that to find something with such historical significance is incredible.”