• Stewart Bunn

Crucifix uncovered during Oldbury Cottage restoration

Updated: Feb 4



During the restoration of Oldbury Cottage, many pieces of broken pottery and glassware were found, but one of the absolute gems was this beautiful crucifix, which was discovered buried in soil near the front gate post.

It's clear that this crucifix was not the kind to be worn on a necklace, as evidenced by the small hole at the very top of the cross which is orientated the wrong way if a chain were to be placed through it. This crucifix was aparently designed to be mounted on a wall with a small nail, so what was its purpose and why was it found near the gate post?

Important features in Catholic homes

Catholic homes are historically said to have three things in common; a small font filled with holy water near the front door, various statuary and crucifixes around the house, and finally an alter or shrine.

The font would traditionally be filled with holy water so you and your guests could bless yourselves when coming and going from the home. We're not sure if Oldbury Cottage was equipped with such a font - if so, we certainly haven't found it.

Next, and more commonly we suspect, devout Catholics would mount a crucifix above the doorway or at the entrance of a property in order to indicate the primacy of Christ to the resident family. The practice meant that the residence belonged first to Christ, and his sacrifice is accepted by those who live within. It was also a reminder that Jesus is welcome in the home.This practice apparently finds its roots in an ancient Roman tradition that helped identify homes before street addresses came into use. Then, Romans indicated who lived in a home by placing a 'titulus' above their door. Sometimes, crucifixes would be placed in each room as well.

Thirdly, Catholic families would position an alter or shrine somewhere in the home, where prayers and offerings could be made.

Why the gate post?

It's likely that the crucifix was placed on the gate post of the main entrance to the property in order to protect those who lived at the property or worked in some form of dangerous job.

The sandstone hut behind Oldbury Cottage is believed to be much older than Oldbury Cottage itself. It may have been used to store explosives as its walls are much thicker than those typical of the time. It is a fact that directly across the road, on the banks of the Wingecarribee River, is an old quarry from which the sandstone for St Francis Xavier Catholic Church was extracted. Explosives may well have been stored here, away from the quarry, to save lives in the event of an explosion. There's also a possibility that the hut played a role in the construction of the Old Hume Highway in the 1830s.

The crucifix may have become dislodged from the gate post at some point and fallen to the ground, where it eventually became buried. This would have saved the object from years of harsh weather conditions as the inlaid timber is perfectly preserved, as are the delightful details.

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Address: Oldbury Cottage, 7 Oldbury Street, Berrima, NSW, 2577, Australia

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