Globus cruciger

The globus cruciger (Latin) is an orb (globus) topped with a cross (cruciger), a Christian symbol of authority used throughout the Middle Ages on coins, iconography and royal regalia. It symbolises Christ's (the cross) dominion over the world (the orb), literally held in the dominion of an earthly ruler (or sometimes celestial being such as an angel).


The first known use was in 423 on the reverse side of the coins of Emperor Theodosius II.

The globus cruciger was used in the Byzantine Empire, as shown in this coin of Emperor Leontius (d. 705).
The globus cruciger was used in the Byzantine Empire, as shown in this coin of Emperor Leontius (d. 705).

The visual symbolism of holding the world (in Latin orbis terrarum, the 'circle of countries', hence the word orb) in one's hand, or perhaps even more ominously under one's foot, was a clear message used since antiquity among pagans. Citizens of Rome were familiar with the plain round orb as a representation of the world or universe, and the emperor's dominion and protectorate over it; for example a 4th century coin from the reign of Emperor Constantine I shows him holding a globus in hand; and a 2nd century coin from the reign of Emperor Hadrian shows the Roman god Salus with his foot upon a globus.

With the growth of Christianity in the 5th century, the orb was topped with a cross (hence globus cruciger), symbolising the Christian God's dominion over the world. Symbolically to Christians, the emperor held the world in his hand, on behalf of God. To non-Christians already familiar with the pagan orb, the surmounting of a cross sent a message about the triumph of Christianity. Scale and size in the medieval mind (iconography) was important in the sense of relative size to other objects around it; the world is seen small and the ruler or celestial being large, to emphasise the importance of each element. Despite the globe's symbolism is on a planetary scale, its use (in actual regalia and emblematic) was proliferated among Christian rulers over small parts of the earth, not even all sovereign.

The globus cruciger was used by powerful rulers and celestial beings alike; it adorned portrayals of both emperors and kings, as well as archangels. It first appeared on coins in the early 5th century and remained popular throughout the Middle Ages in coins, iconography and royal regalia. The papacy, holding universal canonical jurisdiction and in the Middle Ages once rivalling the Holy Roman Emperor for the supreme feudal status of liege lord of all other (Catholic) rulers, also maintained the symbol on top of the papal tiara ("triple crown"; there is no separate papal orb). Even in the modern era in England, the Sovereign's Orb symbolises both the state and Church of England under the protection and domain of the royal crown.

Sovereign's Orb

Queen Elizabeth II holding the Orb
Queen Elizabeth II holding the Orb

The Sovereign's Orb is a type of regalia known as a globus cruciger and is one of the British Crown Jewels.

It was created for the coronation of King Charles II in 1661 at a cost of £1,150 - approximately £118,400 adjusted into modern currency.

The Orb is a hollow gold sphere weighing 42 ounces and about 16.5 cm (6.5 in.) in diameter. Around the centre is a band of pearls and gemstones. There is a similar half-band running across the top half of the Orb. Atop the Orb is an amethyst surmounted by a Cross. The Orb is a religious symbol; it represents the Monarch's role as Defender of the Faith and as Head of the Church of England.

During a coronation, the Archbishop of Canterbury delivers the Orb to the Monarch's right hand. The Orb is then placed on an altar, where it remains for the remainder of the ceremony. At the end of the ceremony, the Monarch holds the Orb in the left hand, the Sceptre with the Cross in the right hand, and wears the Imperial State Crown as he or she leaves Westminster Abbey.

The shape and image of the Sovereign's Orb was spoofed in the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail as the "Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch".

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