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Creation Date

10th–11th centuries


Eastern Mediterranean; perhaps Constantinople




Copper alloy (bronze)


3 3/8 × 2 1/4 × 9/16 in. (8.6 × 6.4 × 1.4 cm)

2.7 oz. (76.6 g)

Credit Line

Bequest of David P. Harris ('46), 2020

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul in 1968.


The two halves of the cross were originally hinged together at the top. This hinge is now broken, but it is not clear when this occurred. The cross would have locked at the lower end, but the holes in which the two parts would have been fastened together are no longer extant. The metal tabs at the bottom are unevenly worn. The surface has a dark shine that has been worn away heavily on the sections in highest relief. The faces are almost all completely gone, except for some areas on the edges of the evangelists’ faces. There is also some pale, powdery residue in the crevices that is most concentrated near the top center of the object on both sides. September 2022. - Lucy Adams ('23)

Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

1. On the upper arm of the cross: ΦC, (Φῶς, “Light”).

2. On the left arm of the cross: ΙΔΕΟΥΟΣΟΥ (ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου, "Behold, your son," John 19:26).

3. On the right arm of the cross: ΙΔΟΥΗ[...]ΣΟΥ (Ἰδοὺ ἡ μήτηρ σου, "Behold, your mother," John 19:27).


Brad Hostetler, with Ani Parnagian, "From Private to Public: The Collection of David P. Harris," in Ethiopian Objects in the Blick-Harris Study Collection: Art, Context, and the Persistence of Form, eds. Brad Hostetler, and Lynn Jones, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 5–25.


This solid bronze pendant is an example of the wearable reliquaries, or phylacteries, that were commonly worn throughout the Byzantine Empire. This example originally consisted of two sides cast in relief and connected by a hinge, with a hollow center to hold a religiously significant object. Byzantine wearers believed that such an accessory provided spiritual and physical protection, and that it proved their devotion to God. They wore reliquaries like this one on a cord around their neck, often close to the skin.

The front of this object shows a relief of the crucifixion. Christ’s body is simplified; details may have been worn away by rubbing. He has a distinct halo, and he wears a sleeveless tunic, called a colobium. The Greek inscription “Light” is framed between the sun and the moon above his head, a reference to the eclipse of the sun as described in the Gospels. Jesus’s mother, Mary, stands at his right hand, next to the Greek inscription that reads "Behold, your son." St. John the Apostle is at Christ’s left hand, facing the inscription that reads “Behold, your mother.” Both of these inscriptions are words spoken by Jesus to Mary and John, as recorded in the Gospel of John 19:26–27.

The other half of the reliquary bears a relief of Mary, the Mother of God, surrounded by portraits of the four Evangelists, confined to medallions. She is shown with her arms raised to the sky.

Cross forms became popular in the sixth or seventh century as a reference to the growing cult of the True Cross, and pectoral reliquaries like this one were the most popular form of wearable religious accessory in the Byzantine Empire from the ninth to twelfth centuries. The iconographic design of the Crucifixion on one side and the Mother of God on the other was most popular between the ninth and eleventh centuries, and the word “Light” inscribed between the sun and the moon above the Crucifixion started appearing on such crosses in the tenth century (Pitarakis 2021, 531–32).

Crosses of this type were produced in urban centers of the empire. The material of these objects, copper alloy, suggests that they were made from stone or clay molds, and likely purchased by Byzantine citizens from local artisans. Reliquaries such as this one could have been filled with fragments of the True Cross mixed with a substrate, as well as small stones, sand, incense, or bone fragments (Pitarakis 2021, 531).

The ubiquity of reliquary crosses does not diminish the importance of such objects to their owners. The wear on the figures suggests that its owner touched the cross frequently, perhaps rubbing it to “activate” its protective qualities. Crosses were thought to protect wearers from demon attacks and general misfortune, and to bolster a person’s chances of salvation. In the late eleventh century, Byzantine workshops began creating small, box-like reliquary accessories rather than cross-shaped ones, marking a shift in the types of reliquaries worn in Later Byzantium (Pitarakis 2021, 533).

Works Cited

Pitarakis, Brigitte. 2021. “Amulets, Crosses, and Reliquaries.” In The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Art and Architecture, ed. Ellen C. Schwartz, 525–540. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Lucy Adams ('23) for ARHS 291 Museum Object (Fall 2022).


Made entirely of bronze, this pendant consists of two sides—originally connected by a hinge, now broken—that come together to create a hollow container. This cross was worn over the chest, and it is a clear example of a common type of accessory that was used by a variety of Byzantine citizens as a reliquary, or a container for a holy relic, such as a piece of a saint’s bone or any other religiously significant object.

One side bears a relief of the scene of the Crucifixion, with St. John and the Virgin Mary on either side of Christ, and the three following inscriptions:

1. On the upper arm of the cross: ΦC, (Φῶς, “Light”).

2. On the left arm of the cross: ΙΔΕΟΥΟΣΟΥ (ἴδε ὁ υἱός σου, "Behold, your son," John 19:26).

3. On the right arm of the cross: ΙΔΟΥΗ[...]ΣΟΥ (Ἰδοὺ ἡ μήτηρ σου, "Behold, your mother," John 19:27).

The other side bears a relief of the Mother of God surrounded by portraits of the Four Evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, the men attributed to the first four books of the New Testament.

This cross is nearly identical to a bronze reliquary cross featured in the exhibition The Glory of Byzantium (no. 119) at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Crosses of this type were produced in urban centers of the empire, many with similar iconographic compositions. The material of these objects, copper alloy, suggests that they were likely purchased by common Byzantine citizens from local artisans, made from a common stone mold. Because there are so many surviving examples of reliquary crosses that resemble—both in function and in form—the cross in the Blick-Harris Study Collection, the type of holy relic that they contained was likely not something as prestigious as fragments of the True Cross or of bones of those religiously revered, but instead secondary relics, like stones or other small objects that came in contact with the foremost objects.

However, the commonality of both the cross and the relic-type does not diminish the personal identification that these items would have provided. The wearer probably felt a connection to the Empire and its societal authorities (both living and iconographic) at all times of display, perhaps especially during higher religious periods of the imperial calendar. These crosses served as markers of faithful citizens of the Empire who relied heavily on their loyalty and belief, both to their state and to their heritage.

Sources Consulted
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.

Helen C. Evans, and William D. Wixom, eds., The Glory of Byzantium: Art and Culture of the Middle Byzantine Era, A.D. 843-1261 (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997).

R. Martin Harrison, ed., Excavations at Saraçhane in Istanbul, Volume 1, The excavations, structures, architectural decoration, small finds, coins, bones, and molluscs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).

R. Martin Harrison, Nezih Firatli, and John W. Hayes, "Excavations at Saraçhane in Istanbul: Fifth Preliminary Report, with a Contribution on A Seventh-Century Pottery Group," Dumbarton Oaks Papers 22 (1968): 195–216.

Maria Vassilaki, ed., Mother of God: Representations of the Virgin in Byzantine Art (Milan: Skira, 2000).

Sharon Wohl, "The Grand Bazaar in Istanbul: The Emergent Unfolding of a Complex Adaptive System," International Journal of Islamic Architecture 4, no. 1 (2015): 39–73.

Spencer Hirsch ('23) for ARHS 110 Introduction to Western Art (Spring 2021).

2020.142.pdf (407 kB)
Supporting Materials

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Crucifixion back

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Oblique view - Crucifixion

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Mother of God front

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Mother of God back

2020_142_d.jpg (5023 kB)
Oblique view - Mother of God

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Oblique view

2020.142h.JPG (4386 kB)
Oblique view

2020.142-scale.JPG (4470 kB)
Scale Comparison