An image of the ESSA cross was printed on the cover of The Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology. The piece below, about the genesis of the ESSA cross, is included in the book.
THE ESSA CROSS
Towards the end of the last century Gert Swart was commissioned to make a cross for the Evangelical Seminary of Southern Africa (ESSA), a multicultural seminary drawing students from many countries in Africa. ESSA’s campus, a small but significant example of urban renewal, is situated in the South African city of Pietermaritzburg, the capital of KwaZulu-Natal.
The complex symbolism of the cross was carefully selected to convey several messages including the suffering of many South Africans in the turbulent, violent years before the birth of our democracy, the suffering of countless others in what must be one of the bloodiest centuries in the history of the world and, crucially, one of redemption, reconciliation and hope.
Gert used images of his hands, each with a finger on the trigger of a gun directed at the Lamb, to contextualize the cross – in a province known as the “killing fields of Natal” in the 80s – and as a comment on the complicity of each one of us in the brutal execution of Christ on the cross.
As people gathered to dedicate the cross on 11 September 2001 news was filtering through of the audacious and devastating attacks on the Word Trade Towers and the Pentagon. So it was that while the USA reeled, a small assembly intimately acquainted with terror and tragedy, exuberantly celebrated the arrival of the ESSA Cross, a beacon of hope on a dark day in a dark world.