The Prince and the Plunder

A book on how Britain took one boy and piles of treasures from Ethiopia

Processional cross, fragment

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: Fragment of a cross, made of silver, gilt and coloured glass, taken by the British Museum’s expert on the expedition, Richard Rivington Holmes

Where: The British Museum, Great Russell St, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 3DG

Provenance: Maqdala referenced at length in the museum’s acquisition notes.

The catalogue entry reads:

“Central fragment of a processional cross made from silver gilt. A centrally placed convex medallion is engraved with the image of the crucifixion of Christ. To the left of the cross is a representation of the Virgin Mary with halo and to the right is Saint John the Evangelist. In the background are falling stars. Around the central medallion are eight pieces of square cut red and green glass in square settings. Four convex medallions each engraved with an angel form a cruciform pattern around the central medallion and three similar form the arms of a cross. At the top of the cross is a green coloured, piece of glass in a square setting. The cross is further decorated with punched cruciform patterns and silver gilt wire. Two holes in the central lower quarter indicate where the shaft would have been attached.

“The reverse of the cross is similar, but missing the central medallion and one of the pieces of red coloured glass and its setting.”

Curator’s comments: “The decoration of the cross uses multiple cruciform shapes, the alternate red and green pieces of square glass form a cross. The square is significant in Ethiopian iconography as it represents the cross, the Tabot and the throne of God.”

Acquisition notes: “Richard Rivington Holmes, an assistant in the manuscripts department of The British Museum, had accompanied the expedition as an archaeologist. He acquired a number of objects for the British Museum, including around 300 manuscripts which are now housed in the British Library. In 1868 the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, donated to The British Museum two further collections of material from Maqdala.”

Museum number: Af1868,1001.10
Height: 36 cm
Width: 31 cm
Depth: 3 cm
Previous owner/ex-collection: Sir Richard Rivington Holmes
Acquisition date: 1868

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