Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Pendant

The Walters Art Museum, Baltimore

Reliquary Pendant

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The Byzantine Empire collapsed when the capital city, Constantinople, fell to the Ottomans in the spring of 1453. Byzantine artistic traditions, however, have continued to influence the production of Orthodox Christian art. This pendant reliquary, meant to be worn around the neck of its owner, is an excellent example of the continuing tradition of Byzantine art, and shares a number of features with earlier enkolpia, or reliquary pendants. The reliquary consists of a hinged outer case with a smaller reliquary inside. The central feature of the outer cover, an amethyst carved with a depiction of the Virgin and Child, has many parallels in the Byzantine world, building on a tradition that carried over from Antiquity; the carved gem may in fact be an earlier piece reset in a sixteenth-century reliquary. The outer cover opens to reveal a small reliquary cross, set into a compartment of the back cover, and flanked by six small compartments for other relics. Thus, while the gem-encrusted outer cover provided a suitably brilliant housing for the relics, the owner of this pendant could choose to reveal the relics themselves. A similar arrangement of layered access can be seen in two earlier reliquary pendants of St. Demetrios. Another feature shared with these two earlier pendants is the inclusion of an inscription. In the case of the Walters' pendant, the inscription names the original owner, Arsenios, metropolitan of Serres in northeastern Greece. Serres was a center of art production in the sixteenth century, so it is likely that the pendant was made there. A later inscription relates that Arsenios gave the pendant to the Monastery of the Holy Trinity on the island of Chalke (present-day Heybeliada), near Istanbul.

Kathryn B. Gerry