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Ethiopia is one of the world’s oldest Christian communities.
This large, fine, pierced Cross is of engraved, pierced brass that has been plated with high-grade silver. It is double-sided. It would have been displayed on festive occasions and used in religious processions. The base is fitted with a conical tube that has been rivetted on. A wooden staff would have been inserted into this to allow the Cross to be held aloft.
The Cross is not just a symbol of Christ’s Crucifixion and suffering but also of his resurrection. Processions often feature many priests each with a large processional Cross. The Crosses both marked out the parameters of the holy procession, as well as leading the way for the faithful.
This Cross has been formed by cutting the arms for the design from hammered, sheet metal and then further engraving then, before being joined together.
The form follows that which is typical for large Ethiopian processional Crosses: it has the hollow shaft for holding a long pole, a pair of lower supporting arms through which a long cloth would be threaded for processional use, and the quatrefoil form on an equal-armed Greek Cross.
It is decorated throughout with symmetrical, abstract openwork.
Similar examples are illustrated in Seiwert (2009, p. 93) and Phillips (2004, p. 125).
Such processional Crosses were made in monasteries by specially trained monks.
The example here is in excellent condition. There is the expected rubbing and loss to the silvering.
Biasio, E., Majesty and Magnificence at the Court of Menelik: Alfred Ilg’s Ethiopia around 1900, Verlag Nueue Zurcher Zeitung, 2004.
Perczel, C.F., Ethiopia: Folk Art of a Hidden Empire, Mingei International, 1983.
Phillips, T., Africa: The Art of a Continent, Prestel, 2004.
Seiwert, W.D., Jewellery from the Orient: Treasures from the Bir Collection, Arnoldsche Art Publishers, 2009.