Processional cross

probably 18th–20th century
17 1/2 x 12 1/2 x 1 3/4 in. (44.45 x 31.75 x 4.45 cm)
Arts of Africa
Arts of Africa, Level 3
Dallas Museum of Art, gift of Dr. Hebe Redden and Dr. Kenneth Redden
Image courtesy Dallas Museum of Art

General Description

Processional crosses have been in use in Ethiopia since at least the 12th century. They are commonly made of bronze, or less commonly, of iron or silver, and cast by the lost-wax process. In the Ethiopian Orthodox liturgy, processional crosses play a fundamental role: during worship, priests use the crosses, mounted on poles, to bless the congregation, the baptismal water, the sacraments, and the four corners of the church. When taken out of the church and carried in religious processions, their pierced designs create dramatic silhouettes against the sky.

This silver processional cross is a particularly fine example of late 19th century craftsmanship. Almost rhomboid in shape, it features a quadrilobed frame, an intricate openwork pattern, and a square decorated with incised circles at the center. Around the perimeter of the cross, five pairs of facing birds each support an equal-armed cross with miniature cross finials. Incised lines decorate both the cross and the lower rectangular arms which were added to help the shaft support its weight. The cross can be approximately dated to the reign of Emperor Menelik II (r. 1889-1913) as it is stylistically close to crosses in other collections which can be related to this ruler by inscriptions. One such cross is currently in the collection of the Linden Museum (Stuttgart); another is in the Museu de Cultures de Món (Barcelona); and a third, from a private collection, has been published in a catalogue of the exhibition Arise and go toward the south: 2000 years of Christianity in Ethiopia (2007). The similarity between these three examples is evident not so much in the form of the crosses, which are different, but in the treatment of the metal and in the distinctive rectangular lower arms decorated with split palmettes.

Adapted from

  • Jacopo Gnisci, "Crosses from Ethiopia at the Dallas Museum of Art: An Overview," African Arts 51, no. 4_ _(Winter 2018): 48–55.

  • 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: Third Millennium Publishing, 2001), 75.

  • Csilla Fabo Perczel, "Art and Liturgy: Abyssinian Processional Crosses," Northeast African Studies 5.1 (1983): 19-28.

Web Resources

  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Read more about Ethiopian processional crosses.

  • YouTube (Associated Press Archive)
    See processional crosses in use during Timkat (Epiphany) celebrations in Gondor, Ethiopia.