Ancient Near East, Holy Land, early Byzantine empire, ca. 7th to 8th century CE. A beautiful cast-bronze reliquary cross comprised of two crucifixes which fit together and a large tubular suspension loop with a trapezoidal base. The obverse side depicts the standing Virgin Mary with her son Jesus Christ in front of her as the central imagery, and both figures are flanked by the Apostles Peter and John. Mary is depicted as the Theotokos, or Mother of God, as indicated by the abbreviated Latin lettering above her. The face of Jesus is noticeably worn, perhaps through countless instances of methodical, meditative rubbing. The reverse face displays an image of Saint George with his Latin name shown above his head. Though originally able to be opened, the bottom terminals of both halves as well as the suspension pin have fused shut. Wonderful layers of emerald-green and russet-hued patina envelop the surfaces of this stunning example from ancient Byzantium! Comes with custom mirrored display stand. Size: 5" H (12.7 cm); 6.375" H (16.2 cm) on included custom stand.
The term "relics" is meant to encompass the physical remains of saints or objects associated with Christ, such as pieces of the True Cross, the shroud His body was wrapped in, or, mythically, the Holy Grail - held tremendous power in medieval Christianity. Reliquaries, objects designed to hold relics, were usually kept in cathedrals or churches, but some wealthy individuals were able to possess them. The less wealthy could purchase replicas of reliquaries, small reliquaries containing less precious items like soil from a holy site, or metal items produced as a form of souvenir from shrines. This example is known as an "enkolpion" (literally "on the chest") because it was meant to safely contain such relics inside the cross which would have been worn on a daily basis.
Later, many of these objects were destroyed in times of religious conflict or strife; ones that are intact have often been passed down through generations of families. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has several of these items in its collection, including on display. See the small hinged cross reliquary depicting Christ and the Virgin on display in Gallery 303.
Provenance: private Secaucus, New Jersey, USA collection
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