Crown of thorns will top 120-foot cross

Crown of thorns will top 120-foot cross

Gary Blair (right) and grandson Nelson Howell inspect the crown of thorns built to replicate the crown placed on the head of Jesus when He was crucified by Roman soldiers. The crown has been built to the scale of the 120-foot cross that is being erected near the intersection of Highway 6/278 and I-55. In the background are color-coded plans used to build the crown.
The Panolian photo by John Howell

By LaJuan Tallo,
NWCC Assistant Director of Communications/Public Information,
and John Howell
For many weeks, while plans have been completed and the site prepared for erection near I-55 of The Cross, work has been proceeding on the crown of thorns that will be unique to the 120-foot structure.
That feature has been carefully crafted in aluminum and is ready for installation at a crucial time during The Cross construction now under way at the corner of Randy Hendrix and House-Carlson Drives. Inside a large building at Batesville Tooling and Design, a succession of skilled local craftsmen volunteers joined BTD’s Gary Blair and family to weave the crown’s base from four-inch aluminum pipes studded with over 90 three-foot-long aluminum thorns.
“Sammy Perkins came by one day and said he’d like to help,” Blair said. Others quickly made the same request — Mark Haley, Rodney Steele, Billy Shankle — and with Steele, welding instructor at Northwest Mississippi Community College, came 40 eager welding student/volunteers.
Steele said he decided to approach his students because he felt like it would be a great training experience for them.
“I told them about the project, and made it clear that it was strictly voluntary and not for a grade. But I felt like it would be a great training experience because we would be working with aluminum. We don’t get to use a lot of aluminum in our classes because it is very expensive, and we don’t really have the funding to buy a lot of it,” Steele said.
The Cross Project in Batesville began about a year ago on the inspiration of Carol Anne Lightsey and her father, Dr. Deck Stone. Lightsey with her husband, the late Robert Lightsey, had seen other roadside crosses as they traveled for him to receive medical treatments.
Soon, the project moved under the umbrella of The Cross Ministry, a non-profit organization founded in 2000 by Dr. David Ball to allow an ongoing Convoy-of-Hope-type ministry in the community.
Within that framework  a Cross Committee was formed for planning and fund-raising. Kirk Rowsey was named chairman.
A similar cross at Winona was adopted as their model and its builder, Dr. Jim Potter, also known as the “Cross Man,” was enlisted to erect the cross in Batesville.
A strategic lot near I-55 at the corner of House-Carlson Drive and Randy Hendrix Drive was donated as the site for the Christian icon. The initial funding goal of $175,000 for construction and erection of The Cross was met.
Cross Ministry members continue to solicit donations to help pay for the lighting and maintenance of the small, landscaped and parking area at its base.
The idea to add the crown of thorns came after the initial decision to erect the Cross.
“David Ball came to me and asked me if there was any way to put a crown of thorns on there,” Blair said.
BTD designed it by first downloading a detailed drawing of thorn-festooned branches woven around each other. The process to make a huge replica from aluminum is recorded on real-size, color-coded drawings hung from the walls of the building where the volunteer craftsmen gathered to work.
Students had to weld two halves of the 36” thorn together down each side, according to Steele. Then they had to grind and buff them. Students made more than the 90 thorns, so that there will be enough to work with.
Once completed, the thorns were attached to the four-foot aluminum pipe at varying angles to replicate the random appearance of the woven thorns. The pipes themselves are curved around each other, but not twisted, though their appearance in the assembled crown creates that impression for the viewer.
BTD engineer Dan Blair said that the finished crown is about 24 feet in diameter, 75 feet in circumference and weighs about 1,400 pounds. It will be carried to the site in four pieces, and then assembled around The Cross as its upright portion is being prepared for the cross arms.
“There were so many people, it’s the peoples’ Cross,” Gary Blair said.
And people can still become involved, including the young welders from NWCC.
“Students can go down to the site outside and help construct the cross, but again it is strictly on a volunteer basis,” Steele said.
Northwest’s Welding and Cutting curriculum is designed to prepare the student for entry-level employment in the field of welding and cutting.
The curriculum includes Shielded Metal Arc Welding (SMAW), Gas Metal Arc Welding (GMAW), Flux Cored Arc Welding (FCAW), Plasma Arc Cutting (PAC), Carbon Arc Cutting, Oxyfuel Cutting, Gas Metal Arc Aluminum Welding, and Gas Tungsten Arc Welding (GTAW).
Northwest offers both day and evening classes in welding and cutting. For more information, contact Steele at (662) 562-3388 or email


  1. Lynda Harrell on July 7, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    It looks like the thorn should have been brown color to stand out better.
    I think it’s a beautiful cross and a great idea. The trees from the southside of
    55 needs cut so anyone can see it without twisting their head.

    • Carol Anne Lightsey on August 24, 2017 at 2:24 am

      We understand what you are saying about the crown of thorns. Believe me, several options were thoroughly explored & discarded one by one. In time, the aluminum crown of thorns will darken to about the color on the backside of a stop sign. We looked into powder-coating & even took half of the crown of the crown of thorns to BE powdercoated. But after looking at the colors available & warranties & the fact that the colors can deteriorate with time. ….none of which would last long enough anyway ..we decided NOT to powder coat it. After exploring all options,it was a unanimous decision of all involved in building & creating the crown of thorns to brush the aluminum & leave it as is. Coloring…,darkening of the aluminum itself will occur naturally & will be done by God Himself. It will be perfect!!! The crown of thorns is up about 90 feet. Although it could come down, we would probably never be able to put it back up. Therefore, we opted not to use any color method which would interfere. We opted for the surest, best, most lasting, & enduring color for our crown of thorns & the least p, longtime maintenance or problems down the road. We have realized the issue with the trees from the beginning but needed to erect THE CROSS in order to see exactly what needs to be done. We have been issued a permit to remove the trees by MDOT, but they have also said they cannot help us further. Several options are being considered. The last time I was informed, the best offer we had for the tree removal was $35,000. I’m not sure that is still our best option. One of the issues involved is that the pipe that runs from Enid Dam to the power plant is in the area & cannot be injured. Federal & state regs are involved also. I did receive word today that some of the trees on the corner lot across from THE CROSS & beside the frontage road will also be removed. We still have 2 outstanding bills to pay before knowing whar funds we have left & where we stand financially. . It is recommended that landscaping be done in September, so that definitely needs to be done soon. We also want to purchase benches & add some Bible verses, & in time, possibly do a few other things. These things will take time & funds in addition to the ongoing lights, water, & grass cutting, & maintenanc p…not to mention the trees. Please note that while THE CROSS has been erected, there are always going to be needs & things to do that require funding. We appreciate your questions & concerns

      • Carol Anne Lightsey on August 24, 2017 at 2:27 am


  2. Lawanda Denise Mcadory on April 27, 2018 at 4:48 pm

    love it….just saw it on our trip

Leave a Comment