Relics & Reliquaries

Broadside of Relics from Kloster Andechs

The British Museum, London
Copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum

Broadside of Relics from Kloster Andechs

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Printed from four separate woodblocks on a single sheet of paper, this relic-broadside, or Heiltumsbrief, shows the relics once owned by the Benedictine monastery at Andechs. Founded on 17 March 1455 by Duke Albrecht III of Bavaria (r. 1438–1460), the Andechs monastery occupies the site of an earlier chapel where a wondrous event reportedly took place in 1388. While celebrating Mass, a priest had a vision that beneath the altar there were a number of precious relics. Indeed, there were several relics related to the Passion of Christ as well as three hosts with wonder-working properties. Pictured in a monstrance at the center of the broadside, these hosts became an important political tool in the hands of the dukes of Bavaria, who had them transferred to Munich in 1389 in hopes of attracting more pilgrims to the city.

After the hosts were returned to Andechs in the early decades of the fifteenth century, the dukes continued to claim ownership of them, as can be seen by the inclusion of their coat of arms in the lower left-hand corner of the broadside. On the right, we find the coat of arms of the Andechs monastery alongside the abbot Johann Schattenbach (1492–1521), who kneels in adoration before a display of reliquaries. This display, however, does not offer the abbot direct access to these sacred objects, but instead mediates his relationship to them through another image, a relic-altarpiece. Such altarpieces offered the faithful a means of focusing their devotion during those parts of the year when the reliquaries themselves were stored in the church treasury. Painted two years before the publication of the broadside, the altarpiece at Andechs underscored the role of the saints as intercessors by placing representations of the reliquaries that contained their remains against a blue background symbolizing Heaven.

Gabriella Szalay