Lording over Interstate highways 57 and 70, the “Cross at the Crossroads” was built for broadly noble religious reasons — and to out-size every other big cross out there, especially the giant cross in Groom, Texas, which was both its inspiration and its toughest competition.
198 feet tall and 113 feet wide, forged out of over 180 tons of steel anchored in untold fathoms of cement, the cross can withstand winds hurled by evilest of forces at up to 145 mph. Its stark, slab-sided design conveys the corporate utility of a logo — no distracting crucifixion blandishments, just the plainest symbol of Christianity. The structure also conjures aspects of the World Trade Center towers, which came crashing down in 2001 less than three months after the cross went up.
No two accounts agree on its cost; some estimates range into the multi-millions. But the Cross Foundation that built it says that 20 million people drive past the cross each year, and that a percentage of those people will see it and become good Christians, and that makes it all worthwhile.
Thrusting heavenward out of easy-to-reach flat farmland, the cross seems even bigger than it already is, an effect not enjoyed by some other crosses that were unwisely built on distant hills (Unfortunately, the view from the top of the cross can only be imagined, as its hollow innards have only a single, off-limits ladder and no way to look out). The massive slab into which it’s anchored is awash in piped-in church music and surrounded by monuments for each of the Ten Commandments, which deliver inspirational audio homilies at the touch of a button. Granite blocks, set flush with the earth, serve as simple memorials and as billboards for testimony. “Live 4 Jesus Die is Gain” reads one. Another proclaims, “In These Trying Times a Sign — God is in Control.”
Corvettes at the Cross and the Blessing of the Bikes are two of the seasonal events held at the cross’s Welcome Center and chapel. Volunteers staff the facility in four-hour shifts.
The height of the cross was carefully chosen to exceed the dimensions of the Groom cross (which is 196 feet) but to still be below the 200 foot mark. “FAA regulations,” said one of the volunteers. “You have to have a light on top if it’s 200 feet. And there’s no way in heck that we would put a light on top.” (We heard a similar gripe from the folks at Christ of the Ozarks.) This is apparently a matter of principal rather than aesthetics.
(We’ve always thought this regulatory height barrier established an intriguing line of demarcation between worldly safety and spiritual salvation. The bigger the cross, the more likely it is noticed, and the higher rate of conversion. Seems like requiring a little beacon on top shouldn’t be stopping anyone from making a cross 10 or 20 times taller and saving sinners two states away.)
A small theater in the Effingham Cross welcome center shows a video, available for purchase, which recounts the construction. It was “an intricate and delicate ballet,” the narrator says. “Until the Lord comes back and this world comes to an end, the light of this cross is going to shine for people who travel by.”
But only if the Lord gets a little help. Literature at the cross asks for donations to help pay for its upkeep, which includes “a substantial electric bill for lighting.”