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. (December 2010)
Gold pectoral cross from Italy
or subalpine regions, late 6th century–7th century
A pectoral cross or pectorale (from the Latin pectoralis, "of the chest") is a cross that is worn on the chest, usually suspended from the neck by a cord or chain. In ancient and medieval times pectoral crosses were worn by both clergy and laity, but by the end of the Middle Ages the pectoral cross came to be a special indicator of position worn by bishops, and the wearing of a pectoral cross is now restricted to popes, cardinals, bishops and abbots. The modern pectoral cross is relatively large, and is different from the small crosses worn on necklaces by many Christians. Most pectoral crosses are made of precious metals (platinum, gold or silver) and some contain precious or semi-precious gems. Some contain a corpus like a crucifix while others use stylized designs and religious symbols.
In many Christian denominations, the pectoral cross symbolizes that the person wearing it is a member of the clergy, or that the wearer is a member of the higher or senior clergy. However, in many Western churches there are an increasing number of laypeople who choose to wear some form of a cross around their neck.
While many Christians, both clergy and laity, wear crosses, the pectoral cross is distinguished by both its size (up to six inches across) and that it is worn in the center of the chest below the heart (as opposed to just below the collarbones).
Throughout the centuries, many pectoral crosses have been made in the form of reliquaries which contain alleged fragments of the True Cross or relics of saints. Some such reliquary pectorals are hinged so that they open to reveal the relic, or the relic may be visible from the front through glass.