Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Pendant

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

Reliquary Pendant

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The front of this double-sided gold pendant shows John the Baptist, with long hair and a beard, dressed in a short tunic and cloak. Standing on a hillock and flanked by two flowers in white enamel, he holds the Lamb of God, gesturing toward it with his other hand. The reverse shows a bishop, set in a similar background, who holds a long cross in one hand and raises the other in a two-fingered blessing. The bishop is unnamed; commentators have suggested that he may be St. Thomas Becket or St. Germanus.

Much of the enamel that decorated this piece is now lost; traces can be seen in white on the flowers, and in black on the costumes and etching detail. The pendant is hinged to allow items to be stored within; we do not know what relics it once held. There has been speculation that, based on the iconography of St. John, rather than holding a relic, the pendant was an Agnus Dei container. A loop on the top suggests that it was originally hung from a chain. The pendant might have been used by the owner as a talisman against ill. The hidden relics and the inscription beneath John the Baptist show this to be a personal object. Etched tears, surrounding the sides of the pendant, might relate to the somber sentiment of the inscription.

Naomi C. Speakman