A long-time friend of my parents wrote me a letter recently, telling me that she’d found something unusual in her late mother’s jewellery box. Today I visited her and had a look.
It’s a small cast copper-alloy crucifix, darkly patinated, with a semi-obliterated image of the crucified Christ incised onto the front surface. The piece is made like a box, hollow on the back side, with loops at the top and bottom as if it had originally been joined to a back piece. Its dimensions are 82 by 45 by 5 mm, length 70 mm if you disregard the loops.
The crucifix has no provenance, and its owner can only guess how it ended up in her mother’s jewellery box. This is a little frustrating, because unless I’m entirely mistaken, we’re looking at an 11th century enkolpion, a reliquary crucifix intended to hold a small relic. They’re not common finds. A more elaborate one was found in the 1990s at Uppåkra near Lund, one of Scandinavia’s richest 1st Millennium settlement sites and beyond doubt a Dark Ages royal seat. So this is breaking news!
(Twoflower’s gonna cry now, because his scale markers were at my office and I couldn’t get them before I left this morning. I apologise!)
Update 5 December: Dear Reader Tobias has found an exact match for the piece on the web site of a Californian antiques dealer. The Californian enkolpion is complete, retaining both its halves, but it is also unprovenanced.
Update 8 December: Writes Jörn Staecker, Scandinavia’s foremost authority on these things (and I translate):
“The find belongs to my type 3.3.1 (p. 161 ff). Date, 10th century, probably a mass product from Palestine. Most likely, the reliquary cross came to Scandinavia with a traveller in the 19th or 20th century. In the bazaar in Istanbul, there are more Byzantine objects than there are in the museums…”