- Museum number
Processional cross cast in bronze and engraved. The body of the cross is formed from an outlined patée cross filled with interlaced cruciform motifs, with four open work crosses at the intersection of each arm. The arms of the cross are further extended and embellished with fluid serpentine designs and circular cruciform motifs. The squared, hollow shaft of the cross is tapered and engraved front and back with Ge'ez inscriptions. Two lower arms extend out from the shaft in the form of interlaced parallel bands which curve out and attach to the base of the cross. Either side of the shaft is an abstract representation of a snake and an extended band which joins the arms of the cross. The surface of the cross is decorated with engraved linear and punched designs.
- Production date
Length: 47 centimetres
Width: 35 centimetres
Depth: 3 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval & Later Dept.
- On display (G66/west)
- Exhibition history
2017-2018 2 Nov-8 Apr, BM Gallery 35, Living with gods
1978, London, British Museum, Christian Orient
1995/6 Oct-Jan, Royal Academy of Arts, Africa: The Art of a Continent
1996 Mar-May, Berlin, Martin Gropius Bau, Africa: The Art of a Continent
1996 May-Sep, New York, Guggenheim Museum, Africa: The Art of a Continent
"Sacred: Discover what we share" British Library, 23rd Apr 2007 to 27th Sep 2007
- Very good.
- 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