BYZANTINE RELIQUARY CROSS WITH MARY
Measurements: 7.7 cm − height, 3.5 cm − width
Description: A bronze Byzantine reliquary enkolpion cross, made to be worn on the bosom, made up of two separate crosses held together by a hinge at the bottom, which allowed the cross to be opened to expose the relic, and a suspension loop at the top, which allowed the cross to be worn around the neck. The two outer sides are decorated with scenes in relief. On one side is the Virgin Orans, wearing a tunic and a maphorion, surrounded by three portraits of unidentified saints. There is a cross above Mary's head. The Crucifixion appears on the other side. Christ is shown standing against the cross rather than suspended from it. He wears a collobium and a low-hanging encolpion cross around his neck, his feet are supported by a suppedaneum, a large footrest.
These reliquary crosses were produced in the urban centres of the empire, as they repeat the same compositions and iconographic types. The large number of surviving examples excludes the possibility that these crosses were used solely to contain fragments of the True Cross or other types of primary relics, such as the physical remains of saints. It is much more likely that the crosses contained secondary relics, such as earth or pieces of silk that had been made holy through contact with the body of a saint.
Provenance: Ex. important collection of Christian items from a City gentleman, formed in 1970's - 1990's.
Reference: Evans, H. C., Wixom, W. D., The Glory of Byzantium. Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era. A.D. 843-1261, 1997, p. 169.
Period: 9th - 12th century AD
Condition: Very fine, intact, with patination over the whole.