Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Chasse with the Adoration of the Magi

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Reliquary Chasse with the Adoration of the Magi

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The journey of the Magi is shown on the roof of this casket; on the front panel the three Wise Men present their gifts to the Christ Child, held in his mother's arms. The relics originally contained in this casket are lost, and the identities of the saints in question are not known. Depictions of the three Wise Men are found on a number of Limoges caskets, ranking with St. Thomas Becket and St. Valerie among the most popular subjects.

In viewing Christ, acknowledging him as the Messiah, and presenting gifts to him, the three Magi provided a model of behavior for faithful Christians. The gifts carried by the Magi would have reminded viewers of the sacred vessels used in the Mass, and the appearance of these crowned kings, mounted on horses, might also have resonated with members of the nobility. As with many other reliquaries of this type, the standing figures on the end panels are not identified as particular individuals, and should perhaps be understood as generic saints. Many enameled caskets from Limoges have small doors that give access to the relics contained within, sometimes placed on the end panels, underneath the casket, or, as here, on the back panel. In this example, the door is complete with lock and key. The visibility of the door conveyed to pilgrims and other viewers that there was something inside worth protecting. Many medieval reliquaries have undergone significant repairs and refurbishments over the centuries, but this example appears to be unusually close to its original state, with only minor repairs made to the structural elements of the roof.

Kathryn B. Gerry