Byzantine Reliquary Cross (Encolpion)


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Byzantine Reliquary Cross (Encolpion)


H: 10.8 cm

This cross, which can still be opened and closed, is composed of two bronze boxes that were molded and held by hinges. A thick suspension ring enabled the encolpion to be worn as a pendant.

Like is usually the case, this reliquary cross (encolpion in Greek) bears many icons from Christian iconography: on the main side, the crucified Christ, dressed in the colobium, is flanked by miniature images of the Virgin (on the left of the horizontal arm of the cross) and St. John the Theologian (on the right). The cross is surmounted by a tabula ansata (without inscription here), by a small disk and by the crescent moon. On the other side, the center of the image is occupied by the Virgin in adoration, her arms raised, framed by four medallions representing the bust of the four evangelists probably (a letter visible on the left of each medallion, now illegible, enabled their identification).

All the decorations are in low relief or simply incised.

The hollow portion formed inside the box was intended for the sacred relic that the faithful would have worn around the neck. The custom of carrying a relic was largely widespread in Asia Minor, in the Balkans and in the southeastern part of the Byzantine Empire, where many examples of reliquary crosses were discovered. Rather than pieces of the True Cross, these small sacred boxes would have contained soil, or fragments of the personal effects of a saint, or that has been in contact with his person.

Complete and very well preserved, but the lower hinge is partially lost. Surface in good condition, with superficial green corrosion.

Unique work



Genève Switzerland

Rue Etienne-Dumont 9, Geneva, Switzerland