Such a cross, also known as an enkolpion, could have been worn as a pectoral cross, which, during the Middle Ages, was an attribute of bishops. Throughout the centuries a great number of crosses were made to hold a secondary relic in them, containing pieces of saints’ clothing, pieces of the True Cross, hair fragments, and so on. Crosses offered protection to the wearer and would have been available all over the Byzantine Empire.
Byzantine Enkolpion Cross with Important Saints
A finely modelled Byzantine cast bronze enkolpion reliquary cross, featuring a hinged base and a suspension loop for wear. The front features the engraved depiction of a full length robed figure of a bearded and nimbed saint, portrayed holding a cross in his right hand, while lifting his left in a gesture of benediction. Two names of Byzantine saints are written around him. On the left is mentioned “Saint Nikolas” (NHKOLOC), possibly referring to a Patriarch who died in 925, and on the right, “Saint Blaise” (BLACOC), which might be identified with a monk from Amorion who died at the start of the 10th century. On the reverse, another religious figure is engraved, holding the same position of benediction, but beardless and without a halo. Here too, two names are written by his sides. The left holds the name of “Saint George” (GEORGHOC), and the right, “Saint Demetrius” (DEMETPHOC). These two saints are ‘megalomartyrs’, or saints who went through martyrdom before 313 AD, date of the Edict of Milan which made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire, hence obtaining a prominent place in the venerations led by the Church. This piece is a beautiful example of Byzantine religious craftsmanship. It combines some very popular saints to some more local and less common ones on a support worn by the faithful to help them in their daily lives.
Condition: Extremely fine, complete and intact. Sediments and ageing prevent the cross to fully open.