Monday, October 6, 2014

The Prester John Cross - a monument to a mythical King-priest

The story of Prester John is a mysterious one.  In some circles he was believed to be a descendant of the Three Wise Men, some believed he was a crusader-era Christian king based in Ethiopia or possibly a high-born Mongol from the time of Genghis Khan.  Then there were those who said that he watched over Holy Grail, never growing old but wiser and wiser as the years went by.  Whoever this mythical king-priest Prester John was, it was the quest of the Portuguese explorers not just to find a sea route around Africa to the East, but to also find and make contact with Prester John as a Christian ally. 
Over the years word have come via the overland caravans of a land with many riches and wild and wonderful animals ruled by a king as rich and wise as King Solomon of the Bible and the Portuguese started their quest to make contact.  Although the king was never found by the Portungese, you can find what is thought to be the only monument in the world to Prester John right here in Port Elizabeth.  The monument, situated between the City Hall, Feather Market Centre and the Old Post Office building, is in the form of a large Coptic cross.  In the centre of the cross sits the two figures of Prester John and a Portuguese explorer. Symbolic devices on the cross depicts the Portuguese royal coat-of-arms, a Portuguese sailing ship, navigational sailing instruments of the time, the Coptic cross motif itself, the Lions of Judah and the elephants and rhinos representing the fabulous kingdom itself. A local philanthropist paid for the monument which was unveiled by the Portuguese Ambassador to South Africa in 1986.

1 comment:

  1. interesting snippet of history, and rather a beautiful monument.
    Is the Portugues explorer turning his back to us?
    May we see the Other Side?