The Prince and the Plunder

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

Richly engraved processional cross

Published / by Andrew Heavens / Leave a Comment

What: A processional cross covered in engravings, 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 cast from bronze with cast, hollow shaft and lower arms engraved and gilded. The tapered shaft is decorated with two raised mouldings and has a deep slot into which the body of the cross rests and is secured with two metal nails. Two lower arms, extend from the shaft, curving upwards and are attached to the cross with curved silver [?] plates and nails. A crack to the left lower arm has been repaired using the same technique.

“The body of the cross is formed from a patée cross with poly-lobed arms which flare out to join one another leaving ovoid cut outs known as dove’s eyes. Two finial crosses decorate the upper edges of the cross and two further finial crosses decorate the tops of the lower arms. The body of the cross and both lower arms are richly engraved, both front and back, with holy images, floral motifs, angels and ge’ez inscriptions. The background, which is patterned with fine punch marks, contrasts vividly with the gilded imagery.

“Front; clockwise from top; Image of The Holy Trinity represented by three seated and haloed male figures with their hands raised in blessing. They are set within a hexagonal box, surrounded with images of a winged bird, ox, lion and man representing the four living creatures and the throne of God. Directly below is Emperor Bakaffa prostrate. To the left is the transfiguration of Christ, with Moses to the left and Elijah to the right and below them Christ’s sleeping followers, Peter, James and John. To the right of the shaft of the cross is Abun [?] and to the left is Abun Tekle Haymanot both in traditional priests turbans. To the right is the image of the ascension of Christ, with Mary, to the left, shown with a halo and with her arms crossed in front of her. Three angels are also depicted with their wings crossed in front of them symbolic of their reverence at Christ’s divinity and glory.Back; clockwise from top; The image of the Crucifixion of Christ. Below the cross, set within a rectangle are falling stars, the sun and the moon. To the left an angel collects Christ’s blood, directly below is Mary and to the right is Saint John. In the centre of the cross is a group of figures, one on horseback. To the right two figures in profile flog Christ who is tied to a post. To the right of the shaft of the cross is the Kwer’ata Resu or striking of his head, which shows Christ wearing the crown of thorns. To the right is an image of Saint Gabre Manfus Qeddus with his arms raised in prayer. He is shown wearing a scapular and large stone, with dashed lines across his body representing his hair, with which it is said he was clothed. He is surrounded by lions and leopards. To the left is a depiction of Christ in the garden of Gethsemane. He kneels and prays before the image of an angel or Holy Spirit who bears a cross and a chalice. Around him Peter and the two sons of Zebebee are sleeping. Lower arms;
Front, left; Abun Abib with halo and turban.
Front right; unidentified saint.Back, left; Saint Raphael depicted spearing a whale outside a round church.
Back, right; Saint Michael spearing the devil who is surrounded by flames.”

Museum number: Af1868,1230.6
Date: 1721-1730
Acquisition name: Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh
Acquisition date: 1868


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