Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Chasse with St. Valerie

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

Reliquary Chasse with St. Valerie

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The scenes on the front and lid of this chasse are episodes from the martyrdom of St. Valerie, the patron saint of Limoges. When Valerie, the daughter of the Roman governor of Aquitaine, was executed, her head fell into her lap; miraculously, she presented it to St. Martial (who had previously converted her to Christianity). On the left, the proconsul Junius Silanus condemns Valerie to death as Hortarius the executioner holds the saint by the arm. Her execution takes place on the right, witnessed by a group of spectators clustered in a doorway. On the lid above, the decapitated saint walks, aided by an angel; kneeling at the altar, she offers St. Martial her head. Each of the side panels depicts a brightly enameled angel, hovering above the ground while holding a censer. The back and corresponding roof panels show birds, lions, and human-headed beasts within medallions.

It is possible that this casket is linked with the Plantagenets, who were devotees of the saint. In 1172 Richard the Lionheart is known to have worn a ring of St. Valerie at his installation as duke of Aquitaine. The prominence of St. Valerie in the decoration suggests that the chasse might originally have contained her remains, although reliquaries with representations of St. Valerie often contained relics of other saints.

Naomi C. Speakman