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Processional Cross

Early Byzantine
6th century - early 7th century
47.6 cm x 28.4 cm (18 3/4 in. x 11 3/16 in.)

On view


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The tang (tongue) on the bottom of this cross indicates that it was probably inserted into a staff for use in ceremonial processions. Like so many fixtures in Christian culture, the processional cross has its roots in both the Gospels and imperial legend and is, of course, the symbol of Christ’s death and resurrection. The making and use of crosses in worship did not really thrive in the repertoire of Christian imagery, however, until after Eusebius published the legend of Constantine’s critical vision of a cross in the sky, accompanied by the promise, “In this sign you shall conquer.” As the first Christian emperor, he was to be further associated with the cross in the legend of his mother, Helena, discovering the wood of the true cross in Jerusalem (see HC.T.1915.01.(T)) . The carrying of the cross in procession, then, had dual significance, denoting both the triumph of Christ and that of the emperor.

The inscription on this cross identifies a time frame and a place for its creation: epi Ioannou presbyterou tes Theotokou komes Phela, “in the time of John, priest of the [church of the] Mother of God of the Village of Phela.” Unfortunately, the site of the town of Phela is unknown. The cross was found on the Syrian coast. The fact that there are no control stamps is consistent with manufacture in Syria. The method of creation, solid casting, is more extravagant than the more usual technique of applying hammered silver sheeting to a bronze base.

- J. Hanson

M. C. Ross, Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting, Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection 1 (Washington, D.C., 1962), 19, no. 14, pl. 18.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 21, no. 73.

J. P. C. Kent and K. S. Painter, Wealth of the Roman World : AD 300-700, exhibition catalogue, British Museum, (London, 1977), 85, no. 146.

M. M. Mango, C. E. Snow, and T. Drayman Weisser, Silver from Early Byzantium: the Kaper Koraon and Related Treasures (Baltimore, Md., 1986), no. 65.

G. Bühl, ed., Dumbarton Oaks: The Collections (Washington, D.C., 2008), 104, pl. p. 105.

Exhibition History
London, The British Museum, "Wealth of the Roman World A.D. 300-700," March 25 - Oct. 3, 1977.

Baltimore, Walters Art Gallery, "Silver Treasure from Early Byzantium," April 18 - Aug. 17, 1986.

Acquisition History
Purchased from George Zacos by John S. Newberry, Jr.;

Gift of John S. Newberry, Jr. to Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, DC, 1955;

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, DC.