Relics & Reliquaries

Reliquary Chasse with the Adoration of the Magi

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

Reliquary Chasse with the Adoration of the Magi

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The roof of this chasse's front shows the three Magi, bearded and crowned, riding on horseback toward Bethlehem. The holy star, clearly visible in the top right corner, resembles a flower. The main panel below shows the kings humbled before the newborn Christ, who, sitting on the Virgin's lap, raises his hand in a two-fingered blessing. An angel stands on the right, behind the scene, witnessing the blessing and gift-giving. The visitation of the Magi was often used on religious items for public display such as reliquaries. In addition to their role as historical witnesses to the Nativity, the three Magi are symbolically important to Christian doctrine: they are icons of true faith and belief in the divinity of Christ.

On either side of the reliquary is a saint within a mandorla. The bright blue background is typical of Limoges enamel of this time, as are the stylized rosettes in a rainbow of colors. While we do not know what relics this chasse originally contained, the 1855 catalogue of Bernal's auction of this casket states that the "celebrated reliquaire of the kings" once held "relics found in the Chartreuse [de Champmol], at Dijon."

Naomi C. Speakman