Palm Crosses – African Palms

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Have you ever wondered where the palm crosses come from that are given out in church on Palm Sunday?

But before we answer that question here’s a little bit of history…. The palm branch is a symbol of victory, triumph, peace, and eternal life originating in the ancient world. The palm was sacred in Mesopotamian religions, and in ancient Egypt represented immortality. A palm branch was awarded to victorious athletes in ancient Greece, and a palm frond or the tree itself is one of the most common attributes of victory personified in ancient Rome. In Christianity, the palm branch is associated with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry on Palm Sunday, when, according to John’s gospel, “they took palm branches and went out to meet Him”.

The palm crosses that are available at St Andrew’s on Palm Sunday are sourced from a charitable trust called African Palms. The crosses are made from dried leaves of the dwarf palm Hyphaena coriacia. These grow wild in the Masasi area of Tanzania: they are not cultivated and no trees are cut down to collect the leaves from which the crosses are made. Fr Alan Talbot, an Anglican priest who served as a missionary in the diocese of Masasi, started the African Palms project in 1965. His aim was to give villagers the means to earn some money to supplement their meagre income. This didn’t interfere with their work as farmers and gave them dignity in earning their own money. He sent the crosses to friends in the UK with the aim that they should try and sell them, they proved popular, so he sent more.

Fr Alan Talbot returned to the UK in 1969 and continued the development of the project. He was delighted when all denominations started to use the crosses and in doing so united many Christians on Palm Sunday.

Over the years a charitable trust was set up to manage the income raised by the international sales of the crosses and any profits made are used for health, education and water supply projects in the Masasi area. Purchasing these palm crosses is a small act that can bring tangible improvements to people’s lives.

Ruth Bailey, Church Administrator

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