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E01939: Inscribed element of a reliquary cross with labelled depictions of probably *Stephen (the First Martyr, S00030), and possibly *Nicholas (bishop of Myra under Constantine, S00520), and *Helena (empress and mother of Constantine, ob. 328, S00185). Reportedly seen in Ḥimṣ/Emesa (northwest Phoenicia). Probably 6th-7th c.

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posted on 18.10.2016, 00:00 by pnowakowski
A thin bronze cross-shaped plaque with loops on the upper and lower arms. H. 0.095 m. Thought to be the cover of a reliquary cross. Reportedly seen in Ḥimṣ/Emesa by R.P.N. Karam (probably in an antiquities market) and communicated to René Mouterde in 1934. First published by Mouterde in 1959 with a drawing.

The left hand arm is decorated with an engraving of the bust of a woman holding a small cross in front of her. Next to this image there is an inscription:

Νη̣κ(όλαος) (?)

'Nicholas (?). Helena.'

The right-hand arm bears an image of the bust of a man and the inscription:

ὁ με-
ίσ<ος> Στέ(φανος) (?)

'In the middle Stephen.'

The vertical arm of the cross is occupied by a full-size depiction of a standing man with a nimbus, blessing with his right hand and holding a book in his left hand. Above him there is a bust of a man with a nimbus.


Evidence ID


Saint Name

Stephen, the First Martyr : S00030 Helena, empress, mother of Constantine, ob. 328 : S00185 Nicholas, bishop of Myra (Lycia, south Asia Minor), ob. 343 : S00520

Saint Name in Source

Στέφανος Ἑλένα Νηκόλαος

Image Caption 1

Drawing. From: IGLS 5, 200.

Type of Evidence

Inscriptions - Inscribed objects Images and objects - Other portable objects (metalwork, ivory, etc.) Archaeological and architectural - Extant reliquaries and related fixtures Images and objects - Representative images



Evidence not before


Evidence not after


Activity not before


Activity not after


Place of Evidence - Region

Syria with Phoenicia

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc


Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Ḥimṣ/Emesa Thabbora Thabbora

Cult Activities - Protagonists in Cult and Narratives


Cult Activities - Relics

Reliquary – privately owned

Cult Activities - Cult Related Objects



Mouterde suggested that the inscriptions from the horizontal arms of the cross refer respectively to: Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, credited with the recovery of relics of the True Cross, here depicted on the left-hand arm; Nicholas of Myra, shown on the right-hand arm; and Stephen the First Martyr, whose image (as the inscription says) was situated in the middle section of the cross. The bust appearing above Stephen can be that of Christ, which according to Mouterde, reflects the vision of Christ in Majesty by Stephen during his martyrdom (see: Acts 7:56). As the identification of the middle figure as Stephen seems undisputed, one can hypothesise that people shown on the horizontal arms are not these famous characters but rather owners of the reliquary. The size of this reliquary cross suggests that it was a personal item.


Edition: Jalabert, L., Mouterde, R., Mondésert, C., Les inscriptions grecques et latines de la Syrie, vol. 5: Émésène (BAH 66, Paris: P. Guethner, 1959), no. 2476.

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