Byzantine-era cross on permanent loan to church attracts the faithful

A group of parishioners had gathered inside the chapel of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church for a planning meeting a couple weeks ago when a woman came in searching for the “healing cross.”

Past the church pews, at the end of a long hallway, the Byzantine-era cross hung encased in a glass box, surrounded by gold studs and illuminated by lights. The woman reached through a hole drilled in the glass. She touched the face of Christ etched into the center of the cross no bigger than one’s palm. She spent about 10 minutes in the church and then silently left.

She is one of many believers who have traveled from throughout the Southland to see the bronze object. They say it calms their fears and eases their pain. One couple from Ventura came after a death in the family.

“We just need something right now,” they told Elaine Loke, parish administrator at the Glendale church.

The ancient cross, likely from Eastern Europe, made its way to Glendale via Facebook.

Anson Williams, a director known for playing Potsie on the ‘70s-era TV show “Happy Days,” is an avid collector of ancient artifacts from Egyptian amulets to bible etchings. He considers himself spiritual, not religious, yet when he saw the small pectoral cross in a Manhattan gallery’s catalog, he had to have it.

“It’s pretty intense,” Williams said. “You can get a piece of history for what you pay for a Tiffany necklace.”

For years it stayed in a safe in his Los Angeles-area home. But every now and then he’d take it out of its velvet bag and show it to friends. It soon got the nickname the “healing cross” after several people said they felt calmer once they touched it.

It’s likely a placebo effect, Williams said, but he still wanted to share the cross with others. He wrote a message on his Facebook profile that he was looking to give it a new home.

Jason VanBrossum, an entertainment entrepreneur and longtime member at St. Mark’s, saw the post and convinced Williams to permanently loan the cross to the church, a historical entity in its own right. The church was founded when large pastures speckled the San Fernando Valley in the 1880s.

In November, the cross was framed and hung in the chapel for all to see. The church is open most days from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

The cross has had the same effect as the statue of Christ carrying a cross outside the church, said Rev. Mark Weitzel. People leave flowers by the sculpture and if they’re removed, often within an hour, they will be replaced. Weitzel has seen a jogger wearing headphones stop and kneel before the statue before continuing on.

“It’s something tangible that helps people stay connected,” he said. “When you have something that’s 1,500 years old, it gives you a sense of connection to a community that’s no longer alive with us now.”

That’s mostly why the church accepted the cross. It was not to become a destination for pilgrims, but rather a way to display a historical artifact that may help people connect to prayer.

“A sacramental object itself inspires a sense of well-bring and peace,” VanBrossum said. “It’s not that you touch it and all of a sudden your eczema has disappeared. That’s not what we’re saying.”

VanBrossum runs a Facebook group called “The Healing Cross.” It currently has 69 members, some of whom have written testimonials about their experiences visiting the cross.

No one knows who wore the cross or who created it, but there are clues that give a glimpse into its past. There’s a hole at the top where a chain may have been strung through. Along the arms, there are imprints where jewels once sat.

Three small Greek letters line the top. They look like an M, P and A. VanBrossum has contacted religious scholars to decipher the mysterious letters.

“A human being made this and I’m affected by it 1,500 years later,” Williams said. “You hold this and you go ‘Who else held this?’ It gives you such respect for the past.'


Follow Brittany Levine on Google+ and on Twitter: @brittanylevine.


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