501 Treasures of Byzantium: No.51 Reliquary Cross of Justin II, Constantinople, 568-74, Treasury of St. Peter, Vatican City, Rome, Italy.

The majestic Reliquary Cross of Justin II is said to hold fragments of the true cross. It was given to Rome by emperor Justin II as a spiritual gift. Some historians believe that the cross was accompanied with supplies of grain and military support to Rome, when the Italian peninsula came under threat from Lombard invasions. The Latin inscription on the cross reads: “Justin and his consort give to Rome a glorious treasure in the wood by which Christ subdued the enemy of mankind”.

In 2009, this majestic reliquary cross was restored to what it might have looked like during the sixth century. It involved removing centuries of grime and replacing the brightly colored stones that were obviously added in the centuries since it was first gifted to Rome. In its place, imperfect pearls were reset that would have been more characteristic of the time. The most significant modification is a circle of 12 new pearls that now surrounds the relic.

On the reverse of the 40.7 x 31.5 cm relic (not pictured here), we have images of emperor Justin and Sophia on the ends of the two arms of the cross, with two portraits of Jesus on the top and bottom.

Photo credit: The restored image of the Cross of Justin II presumably belongs to The Associated Press and the pre restoration image status is unclear. I use both images of the cross of Justin II under the rationale of fair use for educational purposes and because no free alternative seems to exist.