1 3/4 x 5/16 x 1/8 in. (4.45 x 0.79 x 0.32 cm)
0.377 oz. (10.69 g)
Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020
Purchased by David P. Harris from Julia Schottlander (Tetragon) in London on June 13, 1992.
This reliquary cross is one half of a bronze casing for a relic. Relics are the material remains of, or associated with, a holy figure. The image on the front is of a figure who appears to be gesturing to the sky in orant, a prayer-pose. The figure is likely the Mother of God who is often depicted in this position. The cross is missing the back half, as it could open up to store small items in the middle, such as a relic.
This reliquary cross would have been worn around the neck to keep the relic in contact with the owner’s body, close to their heart. The object was likely mass produced using a stone mold. While this cross is made of bronze, similar types of crosses were made from gold. A reliquary cross at the British Museum (no. 1965.0604.1) is one such example. It would have been worn by a higher status individual while our cross would have been affordable to the general public.
A reliquary cross is significant to religious people because it served as a way to connect physically with the divine. The relic inside is often a physical object from a holy figure that the owner might rub and kiss. A person may feel as if they are physically touching something from God. The reliquary cross is, therefore, more than a piece of jewelry. It is a mechanism through which people can feel like they have a personal relationship, and material connection, with God. Such objects were also significant because they could be gifted to secure societal agreements, like promises to one another. These could denote power or aid in diplomacy through the alliances between foreign and/or religious leaders.
Alexis Castor, "Etruscan Jewelry and Identity," in A Companion to the Etruscans, eds. Sinclair Bell, and Alexandra A. Carpino (Malden, MA: Wiley, 2016), 275–292.
Ivan Drpić, “The Enkolpion: Object, Agency, Self,” Gesta 57 (2018): 197–224.
Liz James, “‘Seeing’s believing but feeling’s the truth’: Touch and the Meaning of Byzantine Art,” in Images of the Byzantine World: Visions, Messages and Meanings. Studies presented to Leslie Brubaker, ed. Angeliki Lymberopoulou (Farnham, 2011), 1–14.
Alexander P. Kazhdan, ed, Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991).
Tori Simon ('23) and Ayden Head ('23) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).