Byzantine Enkolpion Reliquary Cross with Mary Theotokos
A finely modelled Byzantine enkolpion cross pendant made of bronze, featuring a hinged top and base. The front depicts the incised image of the Virgin Mary with her arms raised at her side in the Orans position. Above her nimbate head is an inscription announcing her to the viewer, “ΘΕΟΤΟΚΕ” in Greek, the Mother of God. The reverse is decorated with a cross with its arms incised in the pattern of palm fronds terminating in rounded points. The roundel on the left arm is embellished with a glass inlay while the remaining roundels, as well as the circular centre, are empty and would originally have held a similar piece of inlay.
Date: Circa 10th-12th century AD Condition: Fine condition with slight patination and earthly encrustations to the surface. Barrel-shaped suspension missing, the two halves are held together with a coiled wire which however prevents the cross to open.
Enkolpia were small pendants worn around the neck, and examples have been found tracing back to Late Antiquity and the beginnings of the Christian faith. The cross shape was the most popular symbol for such amulets; an emblem of Christianity that held it’s own apotropaic values. Many enkolpia were designed to hold reliquaries, as can be seen here by the opening function of the pendant. The reliquary was believed to work in tandem with the talismanic qualities of the cross-shape to protect the wearer from harm and evil. Such pieces were very popular in Byzantium, and were made in an assortment of materials, from gold and silver, to bronze and lead.
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