BYZANTINE RELIQUARY CROSS WITH
ST. JOHN AND ST. NICHOLAS
Measurements: 9.7 cm − height, 4.3 cm − width
Description: A large bronze Byzantine reliquary enkolpion cross, made up of two separate crosses held together by a hinge at the bottom, which allowed the cross to be opened to house 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 a depiction of Saint Nicholas in orans position, bearded, wearing a tunic and with inscribed decorations beneath his outstretched hands. The inscription 'O AGHOC NHKOLAC ('Saint Nicholas') is above his head. On the other side is a depiction of Saint John Chrysostom in orans position, dressed in bishop's costume, with two open books below each outstretched hand. The inscription 'HOANHC' ('John') is above his head.
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.
Further reading: Boehm, B. D., Relics and Reliquaries in Medieval Christianity, 2001.
Period: 9th - 11th century
Condition: Very fine, intact, with inscriptions still easily visible and patina over the whole.