Sometimes it is said that in religious art “the spirit creates form”. It is believed that such art must be made directly by human hands, as humans were created in God’s image and inherited the Kingdom of God. Moreover, not everyone can create them. To do so, one has to take part in Church life, to possess sufficient knowledge of the Church tradition and a strong relationship with God. Only then will the spiritual inspiration experienced by the artist be conveyed to others through their work. While working, such an artist prays and asks God for help; it does not necessarily have to be a set oral prayer, just a silent and almost unconscious appeal to God, permeated with love for one’s Creator. It is this love that gives spiritual meaning to the work of art and makes it “come alive”, and it is this art that is most likely to stir the soul of a fellow human being.
In addition, no matter how long we debate the greater importance of content as opposed to form, in the end we will have to admit that in this particular case the two are inextricably linked. The more perfect and superior the form, the deeper and more precisely it can express a particular content. Therefore, an artist with a genuine talent as well as the relevant technical skills, one who carefully and responsibly studies the peculiarities and history of religious symbols, selects the most preferable shape, color or precious metal for them and adheres to the highest quality standards, will be more capable of conveying their meaning.
It should also be remembered that a work of religious art can be beautiful or made from expensive materials; in itself, this does not indicate that the artist was disrespectful toward this particular symbol or made an attempt to “secularize” it and strip away its true spiritual meaning. On the contrary, in many ancient sacral cultures, beauty was regarded as a manifestation of spirituality, and sensual (palpable or visible) beauty was no exception. Accordingly, sets of jewelry served not only to enhance wearer’s appearance, but also to help them learn about the surrounding world and find a symbolic expression for its complexity. This, in turn, helped the wearer feel at one with the world and to perceive themselves as an integral part of the universe. This awarded ancient humans a certain degree of spiritual protection. Rather than rejecting this idea, the Church appropriated it and endowed it with an even greater spiritual significance. For example, in the Byzantine Empire, a massive and ornate pectoral on someone’s chest was by far not the only form in which one could encounter the Holy Cross. The same sign was sometimes depicted on other jewelry (such as earrings, belts or bracelets) and even on some household items. This helped sanctify earthly, everyday life and to give it a spiritual quality. On feast days and other special occasions, women in medieval Russia would sometimes wear beautifully decorated crosses that matched their festive clothes. Traditions like these could be worth reviving in our times.