A crucifix once belonging to an emperor finds its home in Galveston
Artifacts in a museum are there because of their historical or artistic significance. What often makes them more interesting are their colorful history and stories.
Thus, an ebony, ivory and gold crucifix, given to Austrian Prince Ferdinand Maximilian in 1860 as a gift from Pope Pius IX during a visit to Rome is on display at The Bryan Museum in Galveston. This 15-inch cross, still in its original satin-lined box, is a rare and beautiful item.
According to a letter written in Waco, Texas, in April 1960 by an heir to the owner of the piece, the crucifix was given by Pope Pius IX to Maximilian and his wife Carlota, who were on their way to Mexico for him to become the Imperial Majesty, the emperor of Mexico in 1864.
Margaret Jordan Ellis, who wrote the letter in 1960, explained that her great-uncle, Don Mariano Degollado, was Lord Chamberlain to Maximilian; his wife, Otelia Jordan, was the First Lady-in-Waiting to Empress Carlota.
When Maximilian was sentenced to be executed by a firing squad of Mexican Army riflemen in June 1867, he held this crucifix in his hand with instructions to give it to his friend, Degollado, according to reports.
Margaret Jordan Ellis’ family sold it in 1960 to Gaines De Graffenried, a Chilton, Texas, collector of guns and other items, who later sold it to Houstonian Bud Adams, owner of the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans. Oilman and historian J.P. Bryan, who also founded The Bryan Museum, purchased it at an estate auction after Adams’ death in 2013.
“It was beautiful, historical and a most interesting feature in Western history,” Bryan said.
The flawlessly carved Christ was created by an unknown artist. It’s attached to an ebony cross with the gold emblem of Maximilian below his feet. A second papal emblem was below that, but was removed and lost. The crucifix is nestled in its original blue satin-lined wood box.
The crucifix will become part of the museum’s permanent exhibit. It had never been publicly displayed until now.