A cross of light bearing the inscription “in hoc signo
vinces” (in this sign you will conquer) miraculously
appeared to Roman Emperor Constantine before the
battle of Milvian Bridge. His victory over his
brother-in-law and co-emperor Maxentius and subsequent
conversion to Christianity had a profound impact on
the course of Western civilization. In 330 A.D.,
Constantine transferred the center of imperial power
from Rome eastwards to the city of Byzantion. Renamed
Constantinople, this city became the capital of the
wealthy, powerful Byzantine Empire.
While Christianity replaced the gods of antiquity,
traditional Classical culture continued to flourish.
Greek and Latin were the languages of the learned
classes. Before Persian and Arab invasions devastated
much of their eastern holdings, Byzantine territory
extended as far as south as Egypt. After a period of
iconoclastic uprising came to resolution in the 9th
Century, a second flowering of Byzantine culture arose
and lasted until Constantinople was temporarily seized
by Crusaders from the west in the 13th Century.
Christianity spread throughout the Slavic lands to the
north. In 1453, Constantinople finally fell to the
Ottoman Turks effectively ending the Byzantine Empire
after more than 1,100 years. Byzantine art and
culture was the epitome of luxury, encorporating the
finest elements from the artistic traditions of both
the East and the West.
The Byzantine Divine Liturgy was a symbolic
re-enactment of Christ's incarnation, teachings, and
sacrifice. This Great Mysterium - the redemption of
humanity - unfolded in an elaborate church ceremony
that included prayer readings, the singing of hymns,
and procession of clergy decorated in lavish
vestments, some of whom carried processional crosses.
Others swung censers gently back and forth, filling
the air with sweet smelling smoke. The eucharistic
bread was stamped with various patterns. The ceremony
stimulated all the senses and engaged the mind,
allowing the worshipper to experience the divine.
This Byzantine bronze cross likely served as a staff
finial that would have been carried during a ceremony
procession. The hollow tiered base would have been
attached to the tip of a staff of finely polished or
delicately carved wood. From this base, a human hand
emerges, holding the cross in between its thumb and