Jewels of the Romanovs

Treasures of the Church

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Altar Cross

Altar Cross
Moscow, 1731
Gold, uncut diamonds (.48 carats), emeralds (13.50 carats), pearls (240 carats), sapphire (24.85 carats), semi-precious stones, enamel
15 3/4 x 8 1/4 in (40 x 21 cm)
Yaroslavl State Museum-Preserve
Inv. No. YMZ-7880, s/u 4

In Orthodox churches hand-held altar crosses, such as this one, are presented by the priest at the end of the service for the faithful to kiss before leaving the church. The cross is in the traditional and distinctive Russian style, with a tilted cross bar for the feet of Christ half way to the base. At Christ's feet is a skull, which symbolises the hill of "Golgotha" - meaning the "Place of the Skull"- outside the walls of Jerusalem where the crucifixion took place. On either side of Christ, on the arms of the cross are, on the left, Mary, the Mother of God and, on the right, St. John.

Above Christ the artist has placed a small emblem of the Holy Spirit as a dove and God the Father in heaven. Representations of God the Father in human form were forbidden by the Orthodox church as idolatry. Its appearance in Russian ecclesiastical art shows the influence of Western forms.

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