The Prince and the Plunder

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Processional cross with Mary, Christ and angels

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: A processional cross, given by Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote

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

The catalogue entry reads:

“Processional cross made from brass in four pieces, cross, two lower arms and cast shaft. The hollow tapering shaft has two bands of moulded decoration and a deep vertical slot at the top into which the cross is supported and is secured with three copper nails. Two square plates extend out from the shaft to which the lower arms are each attached with two copper nails. The arms curve upwards to support the body of the cross between two slotted extensions with central hole, both nails are missing. Each lower arm is engraved with an angel with crossed wings, front and back and surmounted with a finial cross.

“The body of the cross is formed from a patée cross with flared poly lobed arms which join at the corners leaving ovoid cut outs known as dove’s eyes. Each has a cruciform motif in the inner corner. The arms have twelve finial crosses around their edges. The surface of the cross is engraved with holy images.

Front, clockwise from top; Mary with her hand raised to her mouth in grief stands to the left of the Crucifixion of Christ. Above the cross is an inscription in Ge’ez and an image of the sun and the moon. To the right of the cross is John his hand raised to his face, below is a winged angel. Just visible at the base of the cross is the skull of Adam. To the right, Saint Gabriel and Saint Michael stand either side of Mary who is seated with Christ on her lap. The saints have drawn swords and their wings extend above Mary in an act of protection and veneration. Mary and extends her fingers in blessing while Christ holds a book in his left hand and extends the fingers of his right in blessing. Both have elaborate halos. To the right is an image of the resurrection of Christ. To the left of the shaft of the cross, Abun Gabre Manfus Qeddus is shown in prayer; his arms extend upwards while a bird descends to him. He is flanked by leopards and the fine lines on his body represent his hair with which he was clothed. Above, Saint George is depicted on horseback spearing a dragon. He is followed by three retainers, Saqrates, Lolis and Herpas who carry spears. In front of Saint George’s horse is Birutawit with her arms folded in front of her.Back, clockwise from top; image of the Covenant of Mercy. Mary has her arms crossed in front of her while Christ holds a handkerchief in his left hand and extends the fingers of his right in blessing. Above them is an angel with outstretched wings. Below are two angels and the prostrate figure of the donor, Fitawrari Yabchu who is depicted with sword and pattered robes. To right; Saint Stephen is shown in the top of a tree and with three swords pointing towards him. Either side of the shaft of the cross is an angel with an outstretched wing. To the right is Saint Takle Haymanot depicted with six wings, his hands raised in prayer. To the left is his leg which according to his Gadl or life story atrophied after years of standing in devout prayer.”

Inscription Translation
This cross was given by Fitawrari Yabchu to Kidane Mirhret for the salvation of [his] body and soul.
Inscription Comment
Fitawrari is a noble title and was formerly a military one, meaning “leader of the vanguard.” Kidane Mirhret, Covenant of Mercy, is the name of the church to which the cross was given.

Inscription Translation
Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews.

Museum number: Af1868,1230.5
Date: 18thC (mid)
Acquisition name: Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh
Acquisition date: 1868

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