The Cloisters Cross

Date: ca. 1150–60

Culture: British

Medium: Walrus ivory

Dimensions: Overall: 22 5/8 x 14 1/4in. (57.5 x 36.2cm)
shaft: 12 3/8 x 1 11/16in. (31.4 x 4.3cm)
shaft-thickness: 1 1/4in. (3.2cm)
top piece: 8 1/8in. (20.6cm)
Cross piece: 9 3/4in. (24.8cm)
Central medallion: 2 5/8in. (6.7cm)
Terminal plaque: Mark: 2 1/4 x 2 5/16in. (5.7 x 5.9cm)
Terminal plaque: Luke: 2 5/16 x 2 1/8in. (5.9 x 5.4cm)
Terminal plaque: John: 2 5/16 x 2 1/4in. (5.9 x 5.7cm)
Thickness, each: 1 1/2in. (3.8cm)
to: 1 5/8in. (4.1cm)

Classification: Ivories

Credit Line: The Cloisters Collection, 1963

Accession Number: 63.12


This cross has traditionally been attributed to the Abbey of Bury Saint Edmunds in eastern England in the middle of the twelfth century. Five pieces of walrus tusk, or "morse ivory", are ingeniously fitted together to form the whole. Some ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions present a complex theological program, the sort one might find on the facade of a cathedral, though here it appears on an object one can literally hold in the hand.

Prominent among the inscriptions are several strong invectives against Jews. Though it is impossible to know precisely who commissioned this piece and with what aims, the cross certainly offers some indication of the anti-Jewish sentiment prevalent in England at this time. Indeed, by the end of the thirteenth century, Jews were expelled from the country.