Relics & Reliquaries

Plaque from a Reliquary Chasse

The Cleveland Museum of Art, purchase from the J. H. Wade Fund

Plaque from a Reliquary Chasse

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This fine enamel plaque once formed the principal face of a chasse. It is decorated with two narrative scenes depicting Christ's Crucifixion on the left and the martyrdom of Thomas Becket on the right. While both scenes follow standard iconographic formulas, their pairing on this plaque is a rare occurrence that equates the martyrdom of Thomas Becket with the Passion of Christ.

While chasses decorated with scenes of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket are likely to have contained relics of the saint, their actual relic content rarely survives. Apart from the blood of the martyr, which the monks of Christ Church had carefully gathered after the archbishop's murder, and parts of his skull, which became one of Canterbury's proudest possessions, both primary and secondary (textile) relics were distributed throughout England and Europe, as church inventories and surviving artifacts attest.

Holger A. Klein