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Byzantine History
Jewelry

From antiquity jewelry has had a powerful place in culture symbolizing, expressing, and unlocking the mysteries of life and the universe. Gold and silver jewelry set with precious stones expresses and confirms religious conviction, ethnic identity, aesthetic appreciation, and social standings.

Christians wear crosses and sacred pendants close to their hearts as tangible signs of their faith and Gods presence in their lives. While this understanding of jewelry has been obscured in modern times by mass-produced synthetics, the discerning eye still yearns for the power and beauty embodied in jewelry of universal design and value.


The Byzantine Synthesis

Byzantium began when the fourth century emperor, St. Constantine, Christianized the Roman Empire and established Constantinople in Byzantium as the capital. During this era a synthesis of classical Greek, Roman, and Christian culture gave birth to unparalleled achievements in art and architecture.

Byzantium synthesized the eternal symbols of Christian faith and spirituality, the philosopher's vision of the universal forms, the mysteries of geometric interrelationships as they apply to art and architecture, and the artisan's skill which sought a balance between humanistic realism and spiritual abstraction.

By the mid-500s this unprecedented and unsurpassed synthesis unlocked and revealed the mysteries of the universe and gave monumental power and beauty to Byzantine art and architecture.


Byzantium And The Slavs

The rich and powerful Byzantine tradition was inherited by the Slavs when they embraced Christianity in 988. While Byzantine aesthetic structures remained fundamental in Slavic art until the 18th century and beyond, Slavic decorative motifs and stylistic variations have made a unique and striking contribution to the development of Christian art that has fascinated and enchanted the world.

Every item you purchase from this catalogue is an authentic expression of Early Christian, Byzantine, and Slavic design tradition, hand crafted in our workshops using ancient techniques and the finest materials.


Recurring Lettering in Early Christian and Byzantine Religious Jewelry

The common language of the ancient Christian world was koine (common) Greek. In Greek and Byzantine practice names were abbreviated by using the first letter, the first two letters, and the first and last letters. The name Jesus begins with iota (I) and ends with sigma (C), and Christ begins with chi (X) and ends with sigma (C). Therefore the inscription IC XC is the Greek abbreviation for "Jesus Christ". The letters nu, iota, kappa, and alpha spell NIKA, which means "conquers." Therefore, IC XC NIKA means "Jesus Christ Conquers."

Frequently the inscription INRI appears on a plaque at the top of a cross. These Latin abbreviations signify "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Occasionally the Greek letters OBCLDXC, which abbreviate "The King of Glory," appear in the same place.

On the reverse side of some crosses we find a depiction of the Virgin Mary with the lettering mu rho for "Mother" and theta upsilon for "of God," to signify "Mother of God". In addition, the letters BONThUI mean "help us".

In early Byzantine jewelry the paired letters chi (X) rho (P) and iota (I) chi (X) are often used. Chi and rho are the first and second letters of the word of Christ. Iota and chi are the first letters of the words Jesus and Christ. In Greek the iota resembles an English I. Frequently the iota is given a miniature loop at the top right side which causes it to double as a rho (P). Therefore, the iota chi insignia can also be interpreted as a chi rho.

In the crosses which make up row 2 of page 2, the Greek words PhOS and ZOE interlock to form a cross and share as a common middle letter omega (w), which looks like the English w but is pronounced o. PhOS means "light" and ZOE means "life", referring to Christ as the "light" and "life" (John 1:4).


Recurring Symbols and Lettering in Slavic Religious Jewelry

The three-bar Russian or St. Andrew cross appears with great frequency in Slavic religious symbolism. Tradition teaches that when the Apostle Andrew preached in southern Russia he placed a life-size three-bar cross at his side. While explaining the Last Judgment he tilted the foot plate to signify that those on the right side of Christ will go up into heaven and those on the left will go down into hell.

The Slavs, who received Christianity from the Greeks in 988, retain the IC XC and the NIKA which means "Jesus Christ Conquers". At the top of cross No. 16 is the Slavonic INTsI, which are the first letters of "Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews". The U (with a foot) is pronounced "ts" and stands for the word "tsar" or "king". Also, TSR and SLVY abbreviate "King of Glory". In other places are SN BZHII, or an alternative SYN BOZHII, which abbreviate "Son of God". At the base of a Slavic cross it is common to find the Greek word NIKA for "conquers" in Slavonic letters (St. Job crosses).

At the base of the cross can also be found a skull, remembering the tradition that the cross of Christ was planted above the burial place of Adam's skull. With the depiction of the skull may be found the letters G A for "Golova Adama", or "the head of Adam". At the base of Nos. 314 and 315 are the letters MLRB, which abbreviate the Slavonic words Mesto Lobnoe Rai Byst, which means "the place of the skull has become Paradise".

On the reverse side of some crosses (St. Olga and St. Vladimir) is the brief Slavonic prayer "spasi I sokhrani," or "save and protect". On the reverse side of other crosses (Old Believer and Soldier) is the Slavonic beginning of Psalm 67, "Let God arise and let His enemies be scattered and let them that hate Him flee from before His face".


 

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