Relics & Reliquaries

Ostensorium with "Paten of St. Bernward"

The Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund with additional gift from Mrs. R. Henry Norweb

Ostensorium with Paten of St. Bernward

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This unusual ostensorium (from the Latin ostendere: to show) was made to facilitate the display and veneration of ten relics, most prominent among them an elaborate liturgical paten—a shallow plate for the elevation of the Eucharist during Mass—associated with St. Bernward of Hildesheim (d. 1022), and a relic of the True Cross. Eight more relics, wrapped in small silk pouches, are visible on the reliquary's reverse. They are identified as the remains of Sts. Godehard, Nicholas, Auctor, Silvester, Servatius, John Chrysostom, Alexis, and Lawrence by accompanying inscriptions on parchment.

The "Paten of St. Bernward" is presented vertically on a six-lobed foot and framed by buttresses with turrets and spires. Above it, a rock crystal oculus, set in an openwork gable, enshrines the "Wood of the Lord." The paten itself is richly decorated with a central image of Christ seated on a rainbow and displaying his stigmata. Surrounding him are the symbols of the four Evangelists and personifications of the four cardinal virtues. Two inscriptions in niello allude to the mystery of the Eucharist and Christ's sacrifice on the Cross.

While the paten's form and decoration support a date in the late twelfth century and thus contradict an association with St. Bernward, the object's inclusion in a fourteenth-century ostensorium attests to a strong tradition that linked the paten to Hildesheim and its famous bishop. Fragments of the True Cross may have been included to reinforce this association, as Bernward was known to have received a portion of this very relic from Emperor Otto III (r. 985–1002) as a gift. Interestingly, the reliquary is recorded in the first inventory of the Treasury of St. Blaise (1482) as "a large monstrance, containing the paten made by St. Godehard," Bernward's sainted successor as bishop of Hildesheim.

Holger A. Klein