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12th C. Byzantine Bronze Reliquary Cross - Virgin Mary

Near East, Byzantine Empire, ca. 12th century CE. One side of a cast bronze reliquary cross with an incised figure of the Virgin Mary, depicted draped in robes, with her arms spread wide. The other side is hollow, for holding a relic. Size: 1.55" W x 1.75" H (3.9 cm x 4.4 cm)

Relics - physical remains of saints or objects associated with Christ, such as pieces of the True Cross, the shroud His body was wrapped in, or, mythically, the Holy Grail - held tremendous power in medieval Christianity. Reliquaries, objects designed to hold relics, were usually kept in cathedrals or churches, but some wealthy individuals were able to possess them. The less wealthy could purchase replicas of reliquaries, small reliquaries containing less precious items like soil from a holy site, or metal items produced as a form of souvenir from shrines. Later, many of these objects were destroyed in times of religious conflict or strife; ones that are intact have often been passed down through generations of families. The Metropolitan Museum of Art has several of these items in its collection, including on display. See the small hinged cross reliquary depicting Christ and the Virgin on display in Gallery 303.

Condition: This is one side of a full reliquary. Green-brown patina over surface with clear motif.

Provenance: private Orange County, California, USA collection

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