- Museum number
Central fragment of a processional cross made from silver gilt. A centrally placed convex medallion is engraved with the image of the crucifixion of Christ. To the left of the cross is a representation of the Virgin Mary with halo and to the right is Saint John the Evangelist. In the background are falling stars. Around the central medallion are eight pieces of square-cut red and green glass in square settings. Four convex medallions each engraved with an angel form a cruciform pattern around the central medallion and three similar form the arms of a cross. At the top of the cross is a green-coloured piece of glass in a square setting. The cross is further decorated with punched cruciform patterns and silver gilt wire. Two holes in the central lower quarter indicate where the shaft would have been attached.
The reverse of the cross is similar, but missing the central medallion and one of the pieces of red-coloured glass and its setting.
- Production date
- 1800 to 1868
Height: 36 centimetres
Width: 31 centimetres
Depth: 3 centimetres
- Curator's comments
The decoration of the cross uses multiple cruciform shapes, the alternate red and green pieces of square glass form a cross. The square is significant in Ethiopian iconography as it represents the cross, the Tabot and the throne of God.
See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval & Later Dept.
- Not on display
- Associated events
- Associated Event: Siege of Magdala 1868
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Maqdala, an almost impenetrable mountain top fortress in northern Ethiopia, became the seat of power and a retreat for Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868). The Emperor intended Maqdala to become his capital and treasury. He collected many manuscripts from churches throughout Ethiopia and brought them to Maqdala with the intention of creating a great library and seat of learning. His treasury included many fine examples of Ethiopian art including textiles, paintings and metal work.
In the 1860s relations between Tewodros and Britain became strained and relations deteriorated further when Tewodros imprisoned the British consul and several European missionaries. In 1867 a military expedition led by Sir Robert Napier was sent to free the British captives with a force made up of 12,000 men from both the British and Indian armies.
At dawn on Easter Monday April 13th 1868, Napier ordered an assault on Maqdala to destroy Tewodros’s stronghold. When his troops entered the fortress they found the Emperor already dead. Rather than surrender, Tewodros had taken his own life using a pistol which had been a gift from Queen Victoria. This last defiant act has immortalised Tewodros as a national hero for many Ethiopians.
Material taken from Maqdala was auctioned soon after on the Delanta plain. Richard Rivington Holmes, an assistant in the manuscripts department of The British Museum, had accompanied the expedition as an archaeologist. He acquired a number of objects for the British Museum, including around 300 manuscripts which are now housed in the British Library. In 1868 the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, donated to The British Museum two further collections of material from Maqdala.
Material from Maqdala can be found in public collections in North America and Europe as well as in private collections worldwide. When the Maqdala collections first entered the British Museum in 1868 they stimulated a worldwide interest in the archaeology, history and culture of Ethiopia which has continued to this day. For Tewodros’ library see Rita Pankhurst ‘The Library of Emperor Tewodros II…’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 36(1), 1973 pp 15-42.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number