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Hand Cross (mäsqäl)

Arts of Africa

Ethiopian Crosses
Christianity most likely arrived in Ethiopia in the first century. The conversion of King Ezana in 330 c.e. led to its official acceptance and the minting of coins bearing one of the earliest uses of the cross as a Christian symbol. Although the silver pendant crosses in the Museum’s collection are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their forms have a considerably longer history, as the much older copper, wood, and iron crosses here demonstrate.

Hand crosses, which are used by priests, are either hand-held or suspended from a cord around the neck. They are kissed by the faithful to receive a blessing. Processional crosses are carried on long poles in religious processions. Prayer staffs are used to mark rhythms during sacred dances and as supports to lean on while standing for long hours during Orthodox church services. Together, all of these crosses are emblems of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s ongoing authority.
  • Place Made: Ethiopia
  • DATES 19th or 20th century
    DIMENSIONS 11 1/2 x 3 3/4 in. (29.2 x 9.6 cm)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Franklin H. Williams
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Ethiopian silver hand cross. Upper section of overall diamond shape pierced. Solid shaft has circular section and two vertical rows of nicklike incisions on each side. Down centers of sides are rows of incised Xs flanked on top and bottom by a dot and four horizontal lines. Shaft joins a two-part terminus consisting of a pierced, 4-lobed, diamond shaped elements and a square. The square has 3 circular vertical elements, a pierced interlace pattern, and a solid central area with an inscription in Ge'ez on one side and angel's head and wings on the other. Condition: Some tarnish; otherwise, good.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
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