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     Home > IMPERIAL RUSSIA > Imperial Russian Antiques

    Russian Orthodox "Old Believers'" Baptismal Cross, circa XIX C.

    Russian Orthodox "Old Believers'" Baptismal Cross, circa XIX C.

    Cast in bronze with blue and white enamels. Measures 58.5 mm x 31.8 mm; weighs 11.3 grams. This is a typical "Old Believers" "pectoral cross worn by a person since the Baptism.

    The cross is in very good to excellent condition. The enamel is almost perfectly preserved on both sides having only minimal surface flaking, no significant chips - a very uncommon case. The raised details of the artwork remain beautifully defined, almost completely free of the usual wear and pitting. There is nice patina to the bronze with some light verdigris near the bottom that adds character.

    The iconography of this cross is very interesting. Its obverse features a Byzantine-style cross with three crossbeams and footrest at the bottom - the symbol of Russian Orthodox Church - surrounded with the Instruments of the Passion of Christ, the Holy Lance and the Holy Sponge attached to the end of a cane; grape vines; several inscriptions with Cyrillic letters; and an image of the skull, or the Adam's head buried below the cross. The Holy Lance and the Holy Sponge are always depicted on the Russian Old Believers' crosses, representing Calvary (Golgotha). On such a cross, the "INRI" inscription made by Pontius Pilate is considered blasphemous, and is never used as the nameplate. Instead, the top end of the pennant bears an inscription "King of Glory" in Church Slavonic. The sides of the blue horizontal crossbars are inscribed "Son of God."

    The skull (or Adam's head) depicted below the cross refers to Golgotha (Calvary), the site where Jesus was crucified, which means "the place of the skull" in Hebrew. An ancient tradition of Catholic and Orthodox Churches held that it was also the burial place of Adam, thus symbolizing the ultimate victory of Christ over sin and death.The grape vines along the edges of the cross are a symbolic reminder of Christ's preaching according to the Saint John's Gospel: "I am the vine; you are the branches" (John 15:5).

    The reverse of the cross features Latin-shaped cross surrounded by the vines and filled with the Scriptural text of Psalm 68 in Church Slavonic meaning "Let God Arise, Let His Enemies Be Scattered." The inscription is worn but still partly legible. This psalm-based prayer is traditionally inscribed on the reverse of the Old Believers' Orthodox body (Baptism) cross pendants, meaning to provide protection of the faithful bearer of the cross against the evil spirits (God's enemies), and thereby is considered a version of the Exorcism prayer.

    Please note, pen in our photo is for size reference.

    Item# 34786


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