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pectoral cross holy land Knights templar cross

Pectoral (Crusader?) Cross

Origin / Date England or Palestine, Later 13th century
Material Bronze, traces of gilding
Dimensions 4 cm high
Availability Sold


solid cast, this unusual crucifix displays the dead Christ with head turned right and arms extending upwards, knee-length perizoneum probably knotted on the right. Very rubbed, perhaps already because held a lot when worn around the neck. Indeed, because of greater wear on the feet it is not possible to say for certain, despite the likelihood, that this is a ‘three-nail’ type of crucifixion, with feet crossed, as the legs remain parallel and the feet perhaps only partially overlap because of their disproportionate width, a stylistic feature also seen in the hands.
There is no crown and it is not possible to tell for sure whether a beard was engraved or not. The depressions either side of the head on the arms of the cross may have held a stone and indicated sun and moon.
Stylistically, the compact form, the square cross and the shorter perizoneum, all go back to a carolingian version of the earliest hellenistic examples of the crucifixion.
If we assume crossed feet, it is also very close, in a general way in terms of shape and proportion, but including the diagonal cut offs of the arms of the cross, to a small depiction of a crucifixion on a portable tablet in the hands of Fides in the baptistery in Pisa, done by Nicola Pisano in the mid 13th century. This was perhaps already a common form (derived from Byzantine models) in the North as a similar kind is found on the metal reliquary from Floreffe abbey (done in 1254) now in the Louvre.
In 1995 John Cherry at the British Museum also suggested a date of late 13th century while Peter Saunders of the Salisbury Museum signalled a broadly similar lead figure in their collection, of similar date, and the only cognate found so far.


Although the facts surrounding the provenance are no more than suggestive, though highly so,  this modest little cross stems from a time when a whole medieval period associated with it, the High Middle Ages, came to an end. The massacre of the Franks in Acre in 1291 by the Mamluks, where even the monks were murdered whilst singing matins, more or less ended the Latin presence in the Holy Land and also signalled the beginning of the slow decline of the influence of the Church. At the same time, in January 1307, as if martyrdom in Palestine was not enough, the last six templars at Dinsley were arrested and charged, with at least two brothers ending up in the Tower of London.The new century was to be one of more domestic internecine battles in Europe such as the Hundred years war interspersed with the ravages of the plague.


Found in 1995 near Walkern (Stevenage, Hertfordshire) on the site of Box wood, this unassuming pectoral cross has an extremely interesting context. First of all small personal items such as this are often associated with pilgrimage and the Holy Land, indeed, were often made there. Secondly, the people who had the most regular business in the Holy Land, and not only in times of conflict, were the Knights Templar, and their chief preceptory and base in South Eastern England was precisely 7 km West from the site,  at Temple Dinsley. An even closer templar building is The Priory in Little Wymondley, founded in about 1203 by Richard Argentein, a Norman knight associated with them. Lastly, only 15 minutes walk away from Box wood (also known as Pryors wood) was the manor of Chells (now in Stevenage) which was in Templar hands some time between 1216 and 1272 (cf. Sir Henry Chauncy, The Historical Antiques of Hertfordshire).

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