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HOME : Byzantine Art : Archive : Byzantine Silvered Bronze Reliquary Cross with the Virgin Orans
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Byzantine Silvered Bronze Reliquary Cross with the Virgin Orans - X.0058
Origin: Eastern Mediterranean
Circa: 8 th Century AD to 12 th Century AD
Dimensions: 3.5" (8.9cm) 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 a now lost decorative inlay 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.” The Virgin is identified by the Greek inscription “MT THO,” meaning mater theou, translated as "Mother of God." The forms of the Virgin have been abstracted. This suggestive style heightens the spirituality of the work, for it is the idea of the holiness of the figure that is the focus, not her physicality. A large central depression where an inlaid decorative element would have once been place marks the reverse. Incised petals surround the lost inlay, suggesting that it would have been a colorful piece of stone or glass, suggestive of a flower. 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.0058)


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