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    Gilded-Silver Mounted, Double-Sided, Pectoral Reliquary Cross with Carved Steatite (Enkolpia)

    Mount Athos, Macedonian Greece
    15th century

    total length of chain (circumference as worn): 72cm, length of cross (without coin): 7.3cm, width of cross: 4.5cm, thickness of cross: 1.1cm, weight: 97g

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    UK art market

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    This pectoral reliquary cross (enkolpia) is of engraved silver which encloses a double-sided cross carved from brown steatite stone. It is suspended from the original, heavy silver chain. The silver (chain and cross) have traces of gilding (gold plating).

    The enclosed steatite cross  shows the crucified Christ on one side, and probably the risen Christ on the other. Traditionally, however, such crosses are supposed to enclose pieces of the True Cross or relics of saints.

    Ikononaki-Papadopoulos (2001) provides a taxonomy of enkolpia in the collection of the Gereat Monastery of Vatopaidi on Mount Athos and all those with carved steatite are dated to the 15th century or earlier. Later examples, if they enclose a carved representation of the cross, generally enclose carved wood.

    Suspended from the cross is an old Ottoman Empire coin bearing the tugra of a sultan on one side. It is probable that this is a later addition. There are loops on the side arms of the cross for other decorations to be suspended.

    The design and the engraved motifs are Byzantium in inspiration. It is very likely that the enkolpia was made by monks on Mount Athos, the peninsula off the Macedonian Greek mainland which has been home to various Christian Orthodox monasteries since around 800AD, and from which women have been banned (and even most forms of domesticated female animal) for most of that time.

    The example here is in fine condition and is wearable.


    Ballian, A. (ed.), Relics of the Past: Treasures of the Greek Orthodox Church and the Population Exchange – The Benaki Museum Collections, 5 Continents, 2011.

    Ikononaki-Papadopoulos, Y., et al, The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi: Enkolpia, The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi – Mount Athos, 2001.

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