The Matará Cross is a cross carved in wood by a member of the native Matará tribe in Argentina, evangelized in the 16th century. The fundamental mysteries of our faith are carved on the Cross: the creation, symbolized by the sun and the moon, the birth of Christ, symbolized by the Star of Bethlehem, the instruments of the Passion of Christ and the Crucifixion, the Eucharist, the Blessed Virgin Mary represented as a Spanish queen, and the flames of purgatory. It is one of the oldest crosses found in Argentina and it shows the evangelization of the New World. This Cross has been assumed as part of our religious habit, considering it a symbol of the evangelization of the culture and manifestation of our total consecration to Christ crucified. Our Institute takes its name from it.
The Symbols of the Cross of Matará
Top portion of the vertical wood:
You can observe some signs that appear like an “A” (#3) and an “O” (#4), whose interpretation signifies Alpha (Α) and Omega (Ω) – the begining and the end of all things. With the largest characters an “M” is visible, which is the initial for the name of Matará. Underneath, a continuation of Roman letters corresponds to the number 1 and a Greek cross (#13). In the following lines the capital letters “ATA” (#2) along with what appears to be the lower case letters “r” and “a” and other small motifs that are difficult to interpret. Combining all of the letters we have the word “Matará.” Under these letters are the number 1-5-9 (#1) and other signs that are not recognizable, which indicate a year. It could be 1594.
Regarding the horizontal wood:
The figure of the Lord stands out, which extends to the vertical part of the wood where the entire figure is completed. The figure of the body of Jesus Christ is designed with very originally stylized features. A crown is supported on the head and behind there is a halo (#8). Around the waist there is a cloth that covers the center of the body, and the feet are shown holding themselves above a support.
Three celestial (or sidereal) symbols are represented: the sun (#5), the moon (#6), and a comet (#7). The sun is the primary symbol of life, of light and of strength, which are also characteristics of our Lord; the moon recalls that Jesus Christ died in the fullness of the Jewish Passover when the full moon was complete; and the comet reminds us of the star that accompanied the Three Kings to Bethlehem.
Two symbols are embossed: The hammer that was used to pierce Christ with the nails (#14); and the Eucharist (#9) depicted as a chalice with two crossed elements (perhaps of wheat) and over these a representation of the host from the Last Supper.
Remainder of the vertical part of the wood :
Around the body of Jesus, it is possible to observe the whips which are a symbol of the flagellation (#11), the lance that pierced His side(#17), the ladder with which His body was lowered (#18) and the long stylized nails of the crucifixion (#15). Below this appears the figure of a bird, a rooster (#10), which retells the story of Peter denying the Master three times before redemptive crucifixion. Below this figure can be seen two points, which are likely to be the dice (#12) with which the soldiers cast lots for the Lord’s clothing.
A brilliant feminine figure with a crown and halo that is carrying in her hand a scepter is visible (#16). This figure represents the traits of a Spanish queen, who is without a doubt the Virgin Mary. Four tongues of fire (#19) spring forth from a common fire and below this there is a figure with the distorted face of a person that with the curious touch of feathers and this could be an indigenous chief (#20). His posture is one of supplication with the hands crossed in a position over the chest, which would indicate he is imploring the intercession of Most Holy Mary in order to be freed from Purgatory, which is symbolized by the tongues of fire.
We are able to find in the Cross a highly unified vision: both a theological and descriptive account of the Passion of the Lord, as well as a notable artistic expression. The carving also includes the manifestation of an anonymous author giving testimony to the arduous work carried out by the Jesuit missionaries in the region of the Salado River.
Undoubtedly the Cross, the object of this study, had a catechetical purpose. It served this purpose in the time period in which it was first completed and helped to spread the faith among all the semi-sedentary indigenous peoples of that region, namely, the Matará people and afterwards the Villelas and other Chaqueño groups, who inhabited the territory of Santiago (regions of the Salado and Chaco-Santiagueño).