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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Coptic Pendant Crosses

Penn Museum - Coptic Pendant Crosses

Coptic Pendant Crosses

“Coptic Pendant Crosses” have been worn by Ethiopians, like other Christians, as a visual symbol of their faith for over 1,600 years. The Coptic Cross reflects the Greek and Latin influence, while their more elaborate designs hold symbolic messages. The crosses above are of various configurations, some are ornamental works formed into delicate tracery, some are decoratively notched, and some are of a simple cross-shape with incising.

The term “Coptic Cross” refers to many Christian cross variants associated with Coptic Christians. Old Coptic crosses often incorporate a circle, sometimes the arms of the cross extend through the circle dividing it into four quadrants. The early Gnostic sects also used the circled cross.

The Coptic Cross is an essential form of Ethiopian art with elaborate and complex openwork decoration. The cross motif emerges from the decoration, with the design often forming a rotated square or circular shape, though the designs are highly creative and varied. They usually have no figure of Christ, and the design can incorporate many smaller crosses.

Ethiopian Art

Traditional Ethiopian art from the 4th century until the 20th has focused on the distinctive tradition of Christian art, mostly for churches, in forms that include painting, crosses, icons, illuminated manuscripts, and other metalwork such as crowns. Its history goes back almost three thousand years to the kingdom of D’mt. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has been the main religion in Ethiopia for over 1500 years, for most of this period in very close relationship with the Coptic Christianity of Egypt, so that Coptic art has been the primary formative influence on Ethiopian church art.

An essential form of Ethiopian art that is also related to Coptic styles are the crosses. They are usually copper alloy or brass, plated with gold or silver. The heads are typically flat cast plates with elaborate and complex openwork decoration. The cross motif emerges from the decoration, with the design often forming a rotated square or circular shape, though the designs are varied and inventive. They usually have no figure of Christ, and the design often incorporates many smaller crosses.

Ethiopian Orthodox Church

The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is the largest of the Oriental Orthodox Christian churches. One of the few pre-colonial Christian churches in Sub-Saharan Africa, the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church has a membership of over 45 million people, the majority of whom live in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church is in communion with the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria.

Ethiopia was one of the very early countries to have officially proclaimed Christianity as the state religion in AD 333. The Ethiopian church also claims that one of its churches, Our Lady Mary of Zion, is host to the original Ark of the Covenant that Moses carried with the Israelites during the Exodus.

Coptic Pendant Crosses

  • Title:                Coptic Pendant Crosses
  • Culture:           Coptic
  • Date:                20th Century
  • Providence:     Ethiopia
  • Materials:        Silver
  • Museum:         Penn Museum

Reflections

  • Ethiopians have worn crosses as a visual symbol of their faith for over 1,600 years.

Explore the Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology

Ethiopian Quotes

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“Coffee and love taste best when hot.”

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It is foolish for someone to stay thirsty when he is in the midst of water.

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“If you pick up one end of the stick you also pick up the other.”

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“Little by little an egg will walk.”

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“Don’t spend the evening in a house where you can’t spend the night.”

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“A good name is better than good perfume.”

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“After the hyena has gone, the dog barks.”

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“When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.”

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“Dine with a stranger but save your love for your family.”

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“When the heart overflows, it comes out through the mouth.”

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“Eat when the food is ready; speak when the time is right.”

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“Coffee and love taste best when hot.”
– Ethiopian Quote

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Photo Credit: GM

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