M198 | Crucifix

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Robert Cruickshank (1743-1809)
Eastern Woodlands
Aboriginal: Haudenosaunee (Iroquois), Kanien'kehaka (Mohawk)
1785-1795, 18th century
7.8 x 3.8 cm
Gift of Mr. David Ross McCord
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Cross (4)
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Keys to History

The cross and the crucifix were introduced to Aboriginal people by the earliest French missionaries to arrive in North America. A major feature of European colonization of North America was the conviction that Aboriginal people needed to abandon their own spiritual beliefs and embrace Christianity. Crucifixes were initially distributed among Aboriginal converts. During the fur trade era, however, they became popular trade items, usually without religious significance.

This crucifix was made by Robert Cruickshank, one of the major suppliers of trade silver to Montreal-based fur traders. Many pieces of church and domestic silver known today bear his familiar touchmark "RC" or "RC Montreal". The crucifix has a stylized plaque at the top of the cross with the letters INRI - an abbreviation of a Latin phrase that translates as "Jesus of Nazareth the King of the Jews". The skull and crossbones at the base of the cross refer to Golgotha (Calvary) or "the place of the skull", the site where Jesus was crucified.

  • What

    This is a silver crucifix made by one of the leading Montreal producers of trade silver. Crucifixes were worn suspended from the neck or affixed to clothing.

  • Where

    This crucifix was made in the studio of Robert Cruickshank, a silversmith working in Montreal from about 1773 until his death in 1809. It was most likely commissioned by a merchant and then given or traded to a Mohawk person living in the community of Kahnawà:ke, situated near Montreal.

  • When

    Crucifixes were first introduced to Aboriginal people by missionaries, who were active in eastern Canada from the early 17th century. This crucifix dates to the last quarter of the 18th century.

  • Who

    Robert Cruickshank, a Scottish silversmith living and working in Montreal from about 1773, was a major producer of trade silver. He made this crucifix which was subsequently given or traded to an unidentified Mohawk person living in Kahnawà:ke, near Montreal.