- Museum number
Processional cross cast in bronze in four parts, cross, shaft and two lower arms. The shaft with elaborate moulding around the base has a deep vertical slot into which the body of the cross sits, secured with two copper nails. Two oblong plates extend out from the shaft of the cross to which the lower arms are attached, each with three copper nails. The arms curve upwards and are joined to a finial cross on the body of the cross by a slot and copper nail. The lower arms are decorated with open work patterning, Ge'ez inscriptions and a finial cross.
The diamond shaped body of the cross is cast to produce an intricate open work central panel depicting; Mary and the infant Christ, Saint Michael, Saint Gabriel, to the left; Saint John baptising Christ and to the right; Saint John suckling from a gazelle. Around the central panel are open work cross motifs set within a framework of crosses. Above is the image of the Holy Trinity, three identical male figures surrounded by the four living creatures. The four edges of the cross are engraved with eleven crowned angels each with hand cross and censer. To the bottom right is a winged priest with turban and censer and Saint John in a tree with a bird. The outer edge is decorated with twenty seven finial crosses.
Back; the central panel is the same as the front with the exception that Mary, Christ and the two Archangels are shown from behind and a small fish appears beneath the scene depicting Christ's baptism in the river Jordan. Above is the Kwer'ata Re'esu, Christ crowned with thorns with two figures shown in profile, left and right mocking him. Engraved around the edge of the cross are fourteen crowned angels each with hand cross and censer.; to the bottom left Mary with halo and two figures look down at Elizabeth suckling the infant Saint John, below is Zachary [?].
- Production date
Height: 61.60 centimetres
Width: 42.30 centimetres
Depth: 7.20 centimetres
- Curator's comments
- See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval & Later Dept.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017-2018 2 Nov-8 Apr, BM Gallery 35, Living with gods
- 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