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HOME : Byzantine Art : Archive : Byzantine Silvered Bronze Reliquary Cross with the Virgin Orans Flanked by Archangels
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Byzantine Silvered Bronze Reliquary Cross with the Virgin Orans Flanked by Archangels - X.0057
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 8 th Century AD to 12 th Century AD
Dimensions: 3.25" (8.3cm) high
Collection: Byzantine Art
Medium: Silvered Bronze

Additional Information: SOLD

Location: United States
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A reliquary is a receptacle for keeping or displaying sacred relics. For Christians, relics were objects connected with saints or the actual physical remains of saints. The veneration of the sacred relics of martyrs is a practice known to date from at least as early as the 2nd century. The Crusades led to an influx of relics from the Middle East and reliquaries became popular items of adornment used for protection by crusaders and the wealthy elite who could afford such luxuries. Although the practice of veneration was defended both by the 13th century theologian St. Thomas Aquinas and by the Council of Trent in the 16th century, the veneration of icons has always had a greater importance in the Eastern Orthodoxy.

This beautiful Byzantine reliquary cross once housed the relics of a Christian martyr. The Latin-shaped cross has been incised with a representation of Mary on the front and St. Thomas on the reverse. The Virgin is shown with her arms outstretched in prayer, bent upward towards the heavens. This specific pose is known as the Virgin Orans, meaning “Praying Virgin.” Above the Virgin's head is the Greek inscription “PANAGHA,” translated as, "All-holy," the Christ child is depicted in front of her, and there are the busts of archangels Michael and Gabriel at the ends of the arms of the cross. On the reverse, St. Thomas stands with his hands before his chest and is identified by the Greek inscription above his head, “O AGHOC THOMAC,” meaning, "the holy Thomas.” At the end of the left arm is St. Peter, labeled in Greek “PETPOC,” and at the end of the right arm is St. John, labeled in Greek “HOANHC.” The forms of figures have been abstracted. This suggestive style heightens the spirituality of the work, for it is the idea of the holiness of the figures that is the focus, not their physicality. The reverse of the cross has been inscribed with a series of letter, possibly relating to a prayer or standing for a passage from the Bible. The sacred, protective energies of this spectacular reliquary cross continue to radiate outwards, still as potent and powerful as the day it was first worn.
- (X.0057)


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