Pendant capsule in the form of a tau cross, with the Trinity and the Virgin and Child, ca. 1485
Made in England
Cast and engraved gold; Overall 1 3/8 x 1 1/8 x 1/8 in. (3.5 x 2.9 x 0.3 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1990 (1990.283a,b)
A depiction of the Trinity is delicately engraved on the front of this pendant cross, which is actually a shallow capsule. An image of the Virgin and Child decorates the back. The stems that extend from beneath the arms of the cross at an angle originally held pearls; at the bottom edge there is a hole that once held a bell.
The tau, or T-shaped, cross was associated with the Order of Saint Anthony. Named for the hermit Saint Anthony, who had to use a T-shaped crutch, the Order founded many so-called Antonine hospitals. The mission of these hospitals was the care of sufferers from St. Anthony's fire—a toxic condition caused by the consumption of spoiled rye. The capsule most likely contained herbal compounds used to ameliorate the burning heat that was the primary symptom of the disease.