Byzantine enkólpia were small reliquary pendants that would have been worn resting on the chest of their wearers – from the Greek ‘ἐν κόλπος’, ‘en kolpos’, literally translating to ‘on the chest’. Their origin is associated with pilgrimage sites in the Holy Land during the Justinian era, circa 6th century AD, and continued throughout the Byzantine and post-Byzantine period.
Byzantine jewellery was opulent and played an important social role: it was used to indicate status, but also as a diplomatic tool. The custom of wearing devotional items was derived from the Ancient Roman tradition of wearing amulets depicting mythological symbology as protection against incantations. The Church aimed to purify this belief by substituting pagan images with Christian iconography.
To discover more about Byzantine art, please visit our relevant blog post: The Byzantine Empire, Art and Christianity.