Hand-held Cross

probably late 17th–18th century
Iron alloy, cast
Overall: 7 7/16 x 2 5/8 in. (18.89 x 6.67 cm)
Arts of Africa
Not On View
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Hebe Redden and Dr. Kenneth Redden
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

Hand-held crosses have been in use in Ethiopia for centuries, and are an integral part of the practice of Ethiopian Christianity. The crosses are made of cast metal or hand-carved wood and most often consist of a cross of equal-length arms, a short handle, and a square base. Some scholars have suggested the square base represents the tabot, the consecrated slab identified with the Ark of the Covenant, and the tablets of law it contained. Hand-held crosses belong to individual priests, who use them to perform benedictions, in which the crosses avert evil and invoke divine blessings. These blessings occur not only within the context of worship, but also in priests' day-to-day interactions with lay people.

This cross's arms widen at the outer ends, and are capped with trefoil finials. Its form indicates it may be older than many of the other Ethiopian crosses in the Dallas Museum of Art collection. Similar crosses appear in Ethiopian painting from the second half of the 17th century onward, as illustrated by paintings in the church of Däbrä Sina Maryam in which several saints are shown holding crosses that are almost identical to this one, which probably belongs to the late 17th century or 18th century.

Drawn from

  • Jacopo Gnisci, Crosses from Ethiopia at the Dallas Museum of Art: An Overview, DMA unpublished material, 2016.

  • Roslyn A. Walker, The Arts of Africa at the Dallas Museum of Art (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2009), 264-266

  • C. Griffith Mann, "The Role of the Cross in Ethiopian Culture," in Ethiopian Art: the Walters Art Museum, ed. Deborah E. Horowitz (Surrey, UK: Third Millennium Publishing, 2001), 75.

  • Csilla Fabo Perczel, DMA Unpublished material, 1992.

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