Skip Navigation

Hand Cross (mäsqäl)

Arts of Africa

Ethiopian Crosses
Christianity most likely arrived in Ethiopia in the first century. The conversion of King Ezana in 330 c.e. led to its official acceptance and the minting of coins bearing one of the earliest uses of the cross as a Christian symbol. Although the silver pendant crosses in the Museum’s collection are from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, their forms have a considerably longer history, as the much older copper, wood, and iron crosses here demonstrate.

Hand crosses, which are used by priests, are either hand-held or suspended from a cord around the neck. They are kissed by the faithful to receive a blessing. Processional crosses are carried on long poles in religious processions. Prayer staffs are used to mark rhythms during sacred dances and as supports to lean on while standing for long hours during Orthodox church services. Together, all of these crosses are emblems of the Ethiopian Orthodox church’s ongoing authority.
  • Place Made: Ethiopia
  • DATES 17th or 18th century
    DIMENSIONS 8 1/8 x 2 3/4 x 1/8 in. (20.6 x 7 x 0.3 cm)
    COLLECTIONS Arts of Africa
    ACCESSION NUMBER 1998.126.3
    CREDIT LINE Gift of Miodrag Janjusevic
    CATALOGUE DESCRIPTION Iron hand cross with lower tablet, central shaft, upper cross with ram horn projections, and a fine patina. Condition: Good.
    MUSEUM LOCATION This item is not on view
    Not every record you will find here is complete. More information is available for some works than for others, and some entries have been updated more recently. Records are frequently reviewed and revised, and we welcome any additional information you might have.