- Museum number
Processional cross made from brass with a cast hollow shaft. The squared shaft is decorated with a rectangular panel of intricate interlaced designs front and back and tapers to a triangular point. Two squared lower arms extend out from the centre of the shaft to the top. The lower arms are decorated with herring-bone designs and with two finial crosses on the lower edge. The body of the cross is supported in a slot in the top of the shaft and is secured in place with a nail; two further nails set within quatrefoils attach the cross to the lower arms. The diamond shaped body of the cross if formed by a central patée cross with extensively flared arms which join at the corners.
Front; the flared arms are each decorated and edged with interlacing representations of snakes on a ground of punched circular designs and with a finial cross. The central panel is engraved with, clockwise from left; Saint Michael with striped wings and sword, Jesus holding a scroll or book, Mary, Saint Gabriel, Matthew, John, Luke and Mark [?] all bearded and holding books.
Back; the flared arms are edged with scrolled serpentine motifs and decorated with pateé crosses on a ground of punched circular designs, with a finial cross. The uppermost arm has a central cross with Ge'ez inscription. The central panel is engraved with twelve haloed, bearded men representing the Apostles.
- Production date
Length: 12.25 inches (slip catalogue)
Length: 31.50 centimetres
Width: 21 centimetres
Depth: 2.50 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)
- Good. The shaft has been repaired
- 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