This Ethiopian ceremonial iron hand cross (Mäsqäl) – a small, stylised iron cross – would have been the personal possession of an Ethiopian ecclesiastic. Ethiopian priests always carry a hand cross, which would be passed down from father to son. The hand cross is either hand-held or suspended from a cord around the neck, and is used by the priest to bless the faithful during processions and religious festivals. The hand cross also serves as a form of personal identification. Priests display their hand cross in front of their chest as a sign of their professional identity during ceremonial occasions, or when they are photographed.
Crosses have always played an important role in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church as symbols of resurrection and life. In the textual and visual culture of Ethiopian Christians, the cross has been venerated for centuries as the most important source of physical and spiritual protection, and as the fundamental marker of communal and individual identity.
Ex Private Collection, UK
Estimated Period: 18th/19th Century
The Metropolitan Museum, ‘Hand Cross (mäsqäl) 18th Century’, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/317830
Victoria & Albert Museum, ‘Cross’ http://collections.vam.ac.uk/item/O108488/cross-unknown/