Neck Cross



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Ethiopia, Africa




Metal alloy


2 5/8 ✕ 1 11/161/8 in. (6.7 ✕ 4.3 ✕ 0.3 cm)

1.62 oz. (45.8 g)

Credit Line

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

Accession Number



Purchased by David P. Harris from Christopher Martin (Portobello Galleries) in London on October 25, 1975.


No damage to side 1; minor abrasions to side 2.

Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

“Let it be pleasing for Bərhan” (horizontal crossbar); “Joy” (lower arm).


Brad Hostetler, and Lynn Jones, eds., Ethiopian Objects in the Blick-Harris Study Collection: Art, Context, and the Persistence of Form, Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): pp. 5–25, 112–27, 131–32, cat. 13. https://digital.kenyon.edu/perejournal/vol8/iss1/1/


The only decoration on this cross, attached to a beaded necklace, is an Amarəñña (Amharic) inscription that spans the horizontal arms and lower half of the vertical arm on side 1. Speaking on behalf of one “Bərhan,” likely the owner of the object, the inscription evokes such feelings as (religious) pleasure and joy in connection with the Crucifixion and Christ’s Resurrection. Side 2 is undecorated.

Two comparable inscribed neck crosses demonstrate alternative possibilities for inscription type and composition. The first displays only a name, “Zewde Kassaye,” — again, likely that of the owner — across its horizontal crossbar, while diagonal lines of incised dots decorate the upper and lower arms of the vertical axis. Though the inscription on the cross in the BHSC is more complex, adding another textual-visual element with the word “Joy” perpendicular to the rest of the inscription, both of these examples place the name of the invoked person on the crossbar.

The other neck cross, now at the Dallas Museum of Art, is inscribed with a Coptic version of the Latin “Sator Square,” a four-way palindrome. The inscription covers all four arms of the cross and is the only source of decoration on the object. Reading clockwise, beginning on the upper arm of the cross, this inscription reads: Alador, Rodas/Sador (sharing the right arm; Rodas being read from left to the right, and Sador from right to left), Danat/Adera (sharing the lower arm), and Alador, repeated on the left arm.

Inscriptions on neck crosses are rare and do not follow a single standard form or type, but these examples, along with the neck cross in the BHSC, show different ways in which words could not only adorn the object but also convey meaning by their arrangement.

Sarah Mathiesen, in Peregrinations: Journal of Medieval Art & Architecture 8, no. 1 (Spring 2022): 132. https://digital.kenyon.edu/perejournal/vol8/iss1/1/

2020.31.pdf (508 kB)
Purchase Receipt and Supporting Materials

2020.31-side2.jpg (3816 kB)
Side 2


Yangät Mäsqäl


Image Location