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Cross-Shaped Polycandelon

mid 6th century
56.6 cm x 56.6 cm (22 5/16 in. x 22 5/16 in.)
silver and niello

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image After restoration, reverse
After restoration, reverse
Additional Image Detail of stamp
Detail of stamp
Additional Image Detail of stamp
Detail of stamp
Additional Image Detail of stamp
Detail of stamp
Additional Image Detail of stamp
Detail of stamp
Additional Image Detail, before cleaning
Detail, before cleaning
Additional Image Detail, center with inscription
Detail, center with inscription
Additional Image Fragment, before restoration
Fragment, before restoration
Additional Image Fragment, before restoration
Fragment, before restoration
Additional Image Fragment, before restoration
Fragment, before restoration
Additional Image Sion Silver Group
Sion Silver Group

The Sion Treasure (BZ.1963.36.1-3,11 and BZ.1965.1.1,5,12) is an extensive and varied group of liturgical objects and church furnishings discovered in the early 1960s in southern Turkey. A significant part of this treasure is in Dumbarton Oaks, while much of it is housed in the Antalya Museum, with a few pieces in private collections. The treasure’s name derives from the niello inscription on an oblong polycandelon mentioning “Holy Sion,” possibly the church or the monastery for which the objects were made. Many Sion Treasure items are inscribed for a Bishop Eutychianos, who is otherwise unknown. Several other individuals are named, but they, too, are unknown among historical sources. Many objects are unique—for example, a cross-shaped polycandelon and a peacock censer. Almost all the objects in the treasure are of exceptionally high quality, and many were in excellent condition when they were found, like the patens. Some pieces, however, were bent or crushed, suggesting that they were going to be melted down and their metal reused. If, as is supposed, the treasure was buried during the early seventh century, when Sasanian invasions were followed by Arab incursions, the Byzantine imperial authorities most likely were calling in church silver to mint coins in order to pay the wages of the emperor’s army.

The notion that “God is light” is repeatedly stated in the written sources and one can assume that every Christian in the Byzantine period was familiar with Jesus’ words, according to John 8:12: “I am the light of the world; he who follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of Life.”

The cross-shaped polycandelon, which originally held oil-filled glass vessels, is a perfect fusion of “otherworldliness” and the very practical function of bringing light into the darkness. Suspended by chains, the light of the inserted lamps casts shadows that magnify the ornament and patterns of the cruciform platform with the intertwining ornaments. Foliate decoration and pairs of dolphins are subtly integrated with circles and leaves and show the masterful contrast between negative and positive, cut-out forms and shiny silver surfaces.

Lighting devices were essential in the Byzantine churches, not only for sheer practical reasons, but for their key role within the dramaturgy of the liturgy. From detailed instructions in typika (documents prescribing the church and monastery rules) we know that the illumination, the number and kind of lighting devices and sources, varied during the services and according to the church calendar and specific feasts or commemorations.

This cruciform light fixture was accompanied by at least eleven similarly decorated polycandela, most of them rectangular or circular in shape. They all contain an openwork monogram of Bishop Eutychianos who is the otherwise unknown clerical donor who presented more than thirty liturgical vessels to the Sion Church, and carry further inscriptions and votive dedications revealing the religious aspirations and intentional wishes of the donors and their precious gifts to obtain salvation and be commemorated. On our polycandelon we read, “O, Thrice-holy Lord, help.”

- G. Bühl

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 19, no. 67.

C. Mango, "The Byzantine Collection," Apollo 119 (1984): 21-29, fig. 5.

The Archbishop Lakovos Library of Ecclesiastical and Historical Sources, vol. 10 The Life of Saint Nicholas of Sion, trans. I. Sevcenko and N.P. Sevcenko (Brookline, Mass., 1984), pl. 15.

S. A. Boyd, M. M. Mango, and G. Vikan, Ecclesiastical Silver Plate in Sixth-Century Byzantium (Washington, D.C., 1992), 10, 25, 78, 80-82, 178, no. 28, table 1 no. 5.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 90-91, 98, pl. p. 99.

L. Bouras and M. G. Parani, Lighting in Early Byzantium, Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection Publications (Washington, D.C.:[Cambridge, Mass.], 2008), 88-89, no. 26.

H. Hunter-Crawley, "Embodying the Divine: The Sensational Experience of the Sixth-Century Eucharist," in Making Senses of the Past: Toward a Sensory Archaeology, Center for Archaeological Investigations Occasional Paper, ed. J. Day (Carbondale, IL, 2013), esp. 171, fig. 8-5.

Acquisition History
Purchased from George Zacos (dealer) by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss, Switzerland, 1965.

Given by Mrs. Robert Woods Bliss to Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., 1965.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.