Processional cross

probably 18th–20th century
Cast brass alloy
17 × 11 7/8 × 1 1/2 in. (43.18 × 30.16 × 3.81 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

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 brass processional cross features a pattée cross—a cross with arms of equal length—at its center. A tau cross (shaped like a T) under a double arch is attached to each of the horizontal and upper arms of this pattée cross, whereas the lower arm is covered by the shaft. It is unclear whether this motif, which has been linked to the window patterns of some Ethiopian churches, can also be interpreted as an abstraction of the wings of the Four Beasts which surround the cross in some 15th-century examples. The central pattée cross is enclosed in a quatrefoil frame, which, in turn, is placed inside a diamond-shaped frame. The edges of this latter frame function as the base of seven closed pattée crosses. These are joined together by pierced quatrefoil elements and topped by pierced trefoil finials. As noted by Di Salvo (2006: 63), similar finals can be seen on the hand cross held by Saint Gäbrä Mänfäs Qǝddus in the church of Peter and Paul north of Wuqro, in northern Ethiopia.

This work, which can be tentatively dated to the 18th century, belongs to a group of crosses which have been variously dated to a period between the late 17th and 19th centuries and are surprisingly uniform in style. To judge on the large number of surviving examples, crosses in this form were produced in large numbers. Indeed, numerous closely related examples have found their way into museum collections, such as that of the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, the Peabody Museum, the Addis Ababa University Institute of Ethiopian Studies, and the Portland Art Museum.

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.