Wooden Pectoral Cross from a Burial at the Spassky Necropolis of the 18th Century in Irkutsk

Wooden Pectoral Cross from a Burial at the Spassky Necropolis of the 18th Century in Irkutsk

ARCHAEOLOGY, ETHNOLOGY & ANTHROPOLOGY OF EURASIA Archaeology Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 39/3 (2011) 113–119 E-mail: [email protected]

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ARCHAEOLOGY, ETHNOLOGY & ANTHROPOLOGY OF EURASIA Archaeology Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 39/3 (2011) 113–119 E-mail: [email protected]



I.M. Berdnikov Irkutsk State University, K. Marksa 1, Irkutsk, 664003, Russia E-mail: [email protected]


This article introduces a unique discovery for Siberia – a wooden pectoral cross from a burial at the Spassky necropolis in Irkutsk dated to 1710–1768. The object is described in detail and analyzed. The question of using wooden pectoral crosses in the burial practices of the Russian population of the 18th century is discussed. The cross is made of unique material (rosewood). The article presents some evidence of burials with wooden pectoral crosses in Siberia in the 18th century, but the question of the quantity of such wooden crosses still remains open. Keywords: Irkutsk, Spassky necropolis, 18th century, Orthodox funeral practice, staurography, wooden pectoral crosses.

Introduction The origin of staurography – the study of crosses – can be possibly dated to the ¿rst half of the 19th century (Gnutova, 2001: 3–12; Molodin, 2008: 3–7). The emergence of this field is associated with studies which appeared in the second half of the 19th century (Gnutova, 2001: 4–10). The number of works related to the study of crosses dramatically decreased in the post-revolutionary period in Russia, and the situation began to improve only in the 1960s (Gnutova, 2001: 12). The revival of staurography as an independent ¿eld began in the 1990s (Molodin, 2008: 8). Presently, staurographical studies have become even more relevant with an increase in the number of crosses *The study was conducted under the Federal Program: “Scienti¿c and Scienti¿c-Pedagogical Cadres of Innovational Russia,” 2009–2013 (State Contract No. P52).

from archaeological collections excavated in Russian urban and rural settlements, Siberian forts (ostrogs), and Orthodox cemeteries. Pectoral crosses are often found in the excavations of archaeological sites of the 17th– 19th centuries, predominantly in graves. In European Russia, during the excavations of the necropolis at the Moiseyevsky Convent at Manezhnaya Square in Moscow, crosses of metal, bone, and wood were discovered (Veksler, Berkovich, 1999). Pectoral crosses were found during the archaeological works in the territory of Tver (Novikov, 2001), Pskov (Kolpakova, 2007), and the Vyatka region (Makarov, 2003). In Yekaterinburg, during repairs at the Novo-Tikhvinsky Convent, a collection of crosses was gathered, including crosses of stone, mother of pearl, and wood (Pogorelov, 2005). In Chelyabinsk, at the ¿rst city cemetery, metal pectoral crosses were found in most of the burials (Samigulov, 2002, 2005). In Western Siberia, pectoral crosses are known from the

Copyright © 2011, Siberian Branch of Russian Academy of Sciences, Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Published by Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.aeae.2011.11.010


I.M. Berdnikov / Archaeology Ethnology & Anthropology of Eurasia 39/3 (2011) 113–119


5 cm

Wooden pectoral cross from the burial of the Spassky necropolis in Irkutsk.

excavations of Mangazeya (Belov, Ovsyannikov, Starkov, 1981; Vizgalov, Parkhimovich, 2008), Umreva Ostrog (Borodovsky, Gorokhov, 2009), Tobolsk (Balyunov, 2010; Danilov, 2007), and the cemetery of the village of Izyuk in the Omsk Province (Tataurova, 2010). Also of interest are the studies of the Tiskino burial site of the Selkups, where Orthodox pectoral crosses were found in the burials (Bobrova, 2007). Crosses were also found in large quantities in Eastern Siberia. This region is known by the excavations of an Orthodox necropolis and the structures of Ilimsky Ostrog, which were scheduled to be Àooded as part of the Àood zone of the hydroelectric power station (Molodin, 2007), as well as by the studies of Sayansky Ostrog where both ready crosses (Skobelev, 2005) and unfinished casting, apparently made in the Ostrog, were found (Skobelev, Churikov, 2009: 267). During repairs in Krasnoyarsk Ostrog, a large staurographical collection of the period which is of interest for us was gathered (Tarasov, 2000, 2002). In the Far East, pectoral crosses appear in the materials of excavations of Albazinsky Ostrog (Artemyev, 1999, 2005), as well as of Alazeisky and Stadukhinsky Ostrogs in Yakutia (Alekseyev, 1996). The development of an entire ¿eld of archeology, related to the study of culture as well as the daily and spiritual life of Russians, requires the use of methods from other sciences. Because of the numerous quantity of pectoral crosses from the cultural layers and burial sites of the Russian and indigenous populations, archaeologists increasingly frequently turn to staurographical methods of description and analysis. Pectoral crosses from archaeological excavations have become a separate research topic (Bobrova, 2004; Veksler, Berkovich, 2005; Molodin, 2002, 2005, 2007; Pogorelov, Popov, 2005). E.P. Vinokurova developed the typology for metal cast pectoral crosses of the 17th century (1993, 1999), which is based on the approach proposed by

A.K. Zhiznevsky (Molodin, 2007: 40). Subsequently, the typology suggested by V.I. Molodin which was developed for the collection of metal pectoral crosses from Ilimsky Ostrog and which was based on the classi¿cation by A.K. Zhiznevsky and E.P. Vinokurova, with some additions and changes, formed the basis for a unique work (Molodin, 2007). Today the works by E.P. Vinokurova and V.I. Molodin are essential for the classi¿cation of staurographical collections, and archaeologists and art historians should take their bearings from these studies. Another important study aimed at improving staurographical research with a constructive approach, sets out methods of description and analysis, clari¿es terminology, and proposes a program for measuring crosses (Pezhemsky, 2003, 2005). In 2007–2008, during the archaeological excavations at the Spassky necropolis in Irkutsk, which were conducted as a part of the program for conservation of an archaeological object of Federal signi¿cance, “The Irkutsk Ostrog,” 379 graves were investigated and 234 crosses were found (Berdnikov, 2009b; Berdnikova, Vorobyeva, 2007; Berdnikova, Vorobyeva, Berdnikov, 2008). These are mainly metal crosses of various alloys based on copper or silver. A well preserved massive wooden pectoral cross from burial No. 17 of the 19th picket stands out from the series (Figure). A deceased elderly man (senilis) was buried in a cof¿n of trapezoidal shape. The remains of a brick structure were discovered at the foot of the burial, which probably formed the base of the tombstone – a cross or a slab. The pectoral cross was located near the elbow of the left arm. Wooden pectoral crosses are known from the materials of excavations in the European part of Russia and in the Urals (Veksler, Berkovich, 1999: 204–206; Kolchin, Yanin, Yamshchikov, 1985: 112, ¿g. 210, b; Makarov, 2003: 211; Pogorelov, 2005: 210). In Siberia, an 18th century pectoral cross was discovered for the ¿rst time.

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Description of the cross The cross under study was made of burl wood of probably Indian rosewood (Dalbergia latifolia), also known as Indian (or East Indian) rosewood or sonokeling*. This species of tropical trees grows in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia. The object was in satisfactory condition**; most representations in flat relief and inscriptions are well seen. Some damage can be found at the end of the upper and lower arms and on a small part of the left arm of the cross. The cross is 4.8 cm long, 3.5 cm wide, and 1.1 cm thick. The width of the mast (the vertical part of the cross)*** is 1.4 cm. The width of the crossbar is 1.4 cm. The upper and the lower arms have a narrowing near the center of the cross, which results in the appearance of distinctive indentations. The width of the upper arm at the indentations is 1.3 cm; the width of the lower arm at the indentations is 1.2 cm. The hole for hanging was drilled in the side surface of the upper part of the mast. The diameter of the hole at the entrance is 0.5 cm. On the front side, probably around the whole perimeter (in some places, the edge of the cross is damaged), the object is contoured with thin relief roll. The same roll separates the upper arm of the crossbar from the crossbar near the center of the cross. A relief representation of the eight-pointed cross on Golgotha is located in the center with the schematically rendered head of Adam underneath. The spear is shown to the left of the eightpointed cross, and the reed with a sponge is shown to the right. The representation of the spear is depicted with a slight inclination to the left in relation to the vertical axis; the representation of the reed is rendered parallel to the vertical axis. The abbreviation “ɏɋɖ” – probably “ɏɋɔ” (Christ) or “ɏɋȻ” (Christ, the Son of God) is visible on the upper arm. The ¿rst option – “ɏɋɔ” – is more probable. Apparently, some inscription was located above, but it is not possible to read it. We can assume that there was an acronym, signifying the word “Jesus.” The inscriptions on the left and on the right arms of the cross were located in two rows. The upper inscription in the left arm is not legible; the bottom inscription – “ɄɈ” (short for “Spear”) – is clearly visible. The inscription “ɏɋ” is written on the upper part of the right arm; the inscription “ɌɊ” (short for “Reed”) is written on the lower part. There was an inscription at the tip of the lower arm under the head of Adam, but because of the considerable damage *Identi¿ed by V.I. Voronin from the Siberian Institute of Plant Physiology and Biochemistry of the SB RAS). **Cleaning and preservation was made by V.A. Khutoryansky, Senior Researcher of the Institute of Coal and Oil Organic Synthesis of Irkutsk State University. ***For the description of the cross, we use the terminology proposed by D.V. Pezhemsky (2003).

to the surface, it is impossible to identify it. The back of the cross and its side surfaces are smooth, with traces of polishing and a few cracks. Parallels and the problems of attribution An established classi¿cation of wooden pectoral crosses does not exist, although there were some attempts at creating such a classi¿cation (Shabalina, 2001). Speci¿c features of the cross from the burial of the Spassky necropolis are the shape of the mast with indentations near the center typical of wooden crosses, and the abbreviation on the upper arm which does not correspond to the traditional title, “The King of Glory.” Novgorod carved pectoral crosses of bone (Kolchin, Yanin, Yamshchikov, 1985: 93, ¿g. 176, a, b) and wood of the 15th century (Ibid.: 112, ¿g. 210, a, b), as well as carved crosses of bone from the Pereyaslavl Ryazansky, which are dated to the 15th–16th centuries (Baryshev, 2001) can be considered the closest parallels to our cross in terms of morphology. We should also mention the wooden cross of similar shape which was found in the necropolis of the Moiseyevsky Convent in Moscow (Veksler, Berkovich, 1999: 206, ¿g. 19, 1). It is dif¿cult to establish the time when this cross was made, but according to the experts, it looks similar to the wooden cross of the 16th century from the collection of the Zagorsk Museum (Ibid.: 205). A similar pectoral cross in a silver frame, dated to the 16th century is housed in the State Open-Air Museum “Rostov Kremlin” (Shabalina, 2005). This shape is typical of other crosses of this collection (Shabalina, 2002). The iconography of the cross under consideration is neither sophisticated nor re¿ned. The representation of the eight-pointed cross on Golgotha above the head of Adam with the instruments of Christ’s passion – the spear and the reed – is a common theme for the objects of small-scale plastic arts of the 18th century. The theme of Golgotha appears in the 14th century, and by the 16th century it already dominates the representations on “objects of personal devotion” (Kolpakova, 2007: 8–9). This symbolism was also used on state seals at the end of the 16th – the early 17th century (Avdeyev, 2005: 282). In the 17th century, this tradition expanded and became permanent in the iconography of baptismal, pectoral, and altar crosses, continuing to be a common tradition after the split of the Russian Orthodox Church until the 19th– 20th centuries. An important issue is the dating of the cross. The necropolis in the southeastern part where the cross was found, functioned over the period of 1739–1768 (Berdnikov, 2009a; Berdnikov, Berdnikova, 2008). If the upper chronological boundary seems to be suf¿ciently accurate, the lower chronological boundary is



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questionable, because burials at the walls of the Spasskaya church which functioned as a town church, were made after 1710 (the year when the main building of the church was completed). Therefore, the burial with the wooden cross with a certain degree of probability could be dated to the earlier period of around 1710. Wooden pectoral crosses in burial practice The question of how widely wooden pectoral crosses were used during funerals is debatable. T.D. Panova indicated that only a few pectoral crosses were discovered in urban burials in the 11th–15th centuries, and such ¿ndings mainly relate to the hoards from the habitable layers of Old Russian towns (Panova, 2004: 157). In the monuments of pre-Mongolian Russia, crosses are mainly found in the graves of the representatives of the feudal nobility and monastics, more among the latter (Ibid.: 160). The tradition of burying with a pectoral cross becomes increasingly manifest in the 16th century (up to one third of the burials are accompanied by crosses), and only in the 18th century, according to T.D. Panova, does it become well-established (Ibid.). L.D. Makarov, the researcher of the Vyatka region, notes a virtually complete absence of religious objects in the Old Russian burials of the region (Makarov, 2003: 211). According to L.D. Makarov, the custom of burying with small crosses was associated with the recent need to demonstrate the af¿liation with a particular trend of Orthodoxy and appeared in the 17th century after the reforms of Patriarch Nikon (Ibid.). Indeed, in the tombs of the 18th century, a signi¿cant amount of pectoral crosses were discovered. Among the 336 graves investigated in the necropolis of the Ilimsky Ostrog, 215 pectoral crosses were discovered (Molodin, 2007: 39), which represented 64 % of the total number of burials. In Irkutsk, during the excavation of the Spassky necropolis, crosses were found in 229 of 379 graves (60 % of all investigated burials). At the Vladimirsky necropolis (Berdnikova, Berdnikov, Batrakova, 2009), pectoral crosses were found in 31 (62 %) of 46 burials. Two hundred seven copper pectoral crosses were found in 261 burials of the cemetery of the 18th–19th centuries in the village of Izyuk (Tataurova, 2010: 100), which represented 79 % of the total number of burials. As can be seen from the data, from 20 to 30 % of the burials do not contain crosses. We should try to interpret this fact, considering that the view of T.D. Panova on the spread and establishment of the tradition to bury with crosses in the 18th century is correct. One of the explanations is the suggestion of S.N. Pogorelov and V.N. Svyatov that the Orthodox cemeteries of the 17th–early 19th centuries in Kamensk-Uralsky and Verkhoturye contained pagan burials; pectoral crosses were not found in most of the

investigated burials (Pogorelov, Svyatov, 2002: 121). However, according to G.Kh Samigulov, the lack of crosses in a large part of the burials should be considered as a reflection of the medieval practice that began to change in the 16th century (Samigulov, 2005: 162). G.Kh. Samigulov noted that in the 18th century, the tradition of burying without crosses did not die out, and burials without crosses were common. However, it is unlikely that all the deceased, falling within those 20– 30 %, were buried without crosses. At this time in Russia, it was common to have metal or wooden pectoral crosses which were produced in large quantities in the workshops of Central Russia and the Russian North starting at the end of the 17th century. Moreover, most of the pectoral crosses of the 18th century (as opposed to the same crosses of the 11th–15th centuries) were discovered during the excavations of cemeteries, and not of urban layers. This may be an indirect con¿rmation of the fact that most of the crosses appeared in the graves together with the deceased people. The ¿nd from the burial at the Spassky necropolis in Irkutsk, which was described above, is evidence that in the 18th century wooden pectoral crosses became a part of the burial ritual of Russians not only in European Russia, but also in Siberia. It was cheap to produce wooden pectoral crosses of soft wood, and they could be widely used in funerary practices for the poor population. The existence of the Orthodox tradition of burying with wooden pectoral crosses is con¿rmed by ethnographic materials. For example, according to the beliefs of the Komi Old Believers, one should not be buried with a metal pectoral cross. Among the Vychegda and the Pechora Komi, the burial of a man with a silver or copper cross on the chest was considered a grave sin: the soul of the deceased might remain restless forever (Sharapov, 2001: 300). The Pechora Komi made burial wooden pectoral crosses (pu perna) of soft wood of bird cherry or aspen (Ibid.: 301) which were prone to easy decay. For obvious reasons, such crosses are rarely preserved as opposed to crosses made of hardwood. Some metal pectoral crosses were also easily destroyed in the aggressive soil environment. During the excavation of the Spassky necropolis, the traces of completely destroyed crosses of tin-lead alloys were discovered, while the remaining specimens were beyond restoration. V.I. Molodin suggested that metal crosses made of tin and lead were destroyed in the aggressive soil environment (Molodin, 2007: 86). He drew attention to the fact that people would rarely make crosses of tin: according to popular beliefs, copper was the metal which provided power to the crosses (Ibid.). However, copper crosses as well do not always survive in graves. During the excavation of the necropolis at the Moiseyevsky Convent in Moscow, traces of copper oxides were discovered in several burials, which probably were the remains of pectoral crosses (Veksler, Berkovich,

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1999: 191, 192). These facts may also explain the lack of pectoral crosses in a signi¿cant part of burials of the 18th century. Conclusions The wooden pectoral cross from the burial of the Spassky necropolis is certainly a unique discovery. First of all, this is the ¿rst object of small-scale plastic arts of the kind found in a burial of the 18th century in Siberia. Due to the good state of preservation it has special value as an object of study. The hypotheses about the practice of using wood pectoral crosses in the funeral rites of the Russians in Siberia are now con¿rmed. Secondly, the cross was made of a rare species of wood – rosewood burl. It is believed that the wood of cypress was often used for the production of small-scale carved sculpture, including baptismal, pectoral, and altar crosses. For example, cypress wood was used for the crosses carved in the workshop of the Solovetsky monastery (Kondratiev, 2006). The collection of the Museum, “Rostov Kremlin” also contains cypress crosses (Shabalina, 2002). Among archaeological ¿ndings, we can mention cypress crosses found in the burials of the Vyatka priests of the 17th–18th centuries (Makarov, 2003: 211). Today, the burl of Indian rosewood is a fairly expensive material; it is used for making exclusive elements of interior design, furniture, and musical instruments. In the 18th century, the cross of rosewood was also likely to have had a considerable value and might have been made to order. Thirdly, the cross has an archaic shape typical of crosses of the 15th– 16th centuries. Thus, we can assume that it was not made in the 18th century, but much earlier. Valuable “objects of personal devotion” among the Orthodox were often handed down as family heirlooms. It is also possible that the cross was made in a workshop where the old traditions were preserved. In the 17th–18th centuries, carving centers operated in European Russia and in the Russian North: in Vologda, Veliky Ustyug, Kholmogory, and Rostov Veliky (Shabalin, 2002), in the Spaso-Prilutsky and the KirilloBelozersky monasteries (Maltsev, 1995: 21), and in the Solovetsky monastery (Kondratiev, 2006; Maltsev, 1995). In Siberia, such workshops are not known. However, it is not possible to connect the origin of our cross with a particular center due to the fact that the methodology for attribution of such objects has not yet been developed. Unfortunately, the search for parallels among the objects of small-scale plastic arts of the 15th–18th centuries has not clari¿ed the situation. It should be noted that many burials where wooden crosses were found, were the graves of clergymen. However, the grave with the wooden cross at the Spassky necropolis that was described above does not belong to this category, at least, according to the external features.


Despite the fact that today wooden pectoral crosses are more often found in Russian burials, the problem of the breadth of their use in the burial practices of the 18th century still remains open. The fragility of such material as wood and the lack of information concerning this element of the funeral ritual from written sources complicate the situation. For resolving this problem, there is a need for bringing in more reliably dated materials from archaeological excavations and museum collections.

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Received July 9, 2010.