Ritual and Performance

Storing an arm or a leg of a saint beneath an altar is a longstanding Christian tradition. Based on a passage from the Book of Revelation, this practice became a vital part of Christian ritual in the eighth century, when the Seventh Ecumenical Council of Nicea determined that every altar should contain a relic. Churches in turn performed the function of a giant reliquary, built to house and protect the remains of holy men and women.

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Reliquary of St. Anastasios the Persian, detailArtophorion (Reliquary of St. Anastasios the Persian) At Aachen, this precious container never served as an Artophorion, but was used to enshrine the head of the Persian martyr, saint Anastasios.

ChrismatoryChrismatory The relationship between reliquaries and other sacred containers is vividly demonstrated by this intriguing chrismatory. In form and size, it resembles surviving house-shaped continental and Insular reliquaries.

Bell and Bell Shrine of St. CuileáinBell and Bell Shrine of St. Cuileáin The history of this famous shrine is shrouded in legend: St. Cuileáin, the patron saint of Glankeen in County Tipperary, is reputed to have made the bell himself.

Bell and Bell Shrine of St. Conall Cael, detailBell and Bell Shrine of St. Conall Cael This bell contained within a later shrine casing was reputed to have belonged to St. Conall Cael, the abbot of Inishkeel, County Donegal, in the sixth century.

The Franks Casket, detailThe Franks Casket The casket resembles some fourth- to fifth-century ivory boxes such as that from Brescia, northern Italy. It served as a reliquary but was probably made to hold a holy text such as a Gospel, or the Psalms, and this may have been the original purpose of the Franks Casket.

Reliquary, detailReliquary An expensive commodity, ivory was widely used in the Middle Ages for reliquaries and smaller sculptures. Its pure white color was an indication of the holy status of its contents.

Treasure Binding of a Gospel BookTreasure Binding of a Gospel Book This manuscript copy of the Gospels, probably made at Regensburg in the eleventh century, is covered with a treasure binding, the front cover of which includes silver, copper gilt, ivory, and rock crystal.

The Abdinghof Altar, detailThe Abdinghof Altar This is one of two portable altars attributed to the noted monk and artisan Roger of Helmarshausen.

Portable Altar, detailPortable Altar This altar contains the relics of forty saints whose names are inscribed on the reverse.

The Crippled and Sick Cured at the Tomb of St. Nicholas, detailThe Crippled and Sick Cured at the Tomb of St. Nicholas In this rendering of the tomb of St. Nicholas, Gentile da Fabriano imagines the tomb within a basilica-style church interior, complete with a raised presbytery, central and side chapels, and a small ambulatory.

Fragment of a Relic Shroud, detailFragment of a Relic Shroud When the main altar of the Benedictine abbey church of St. Peter in Salzburg was torn down in 1606, this fragment of a brocaded silk was among the precious textiles reportedly found in the or altar tomb of St. Amandus.

The Shrine of St. Amandus, detailThe Shrine of St. Amandus Before the end of the seventh century, Amandus was considered a saint and a pilgrimage cult developed at Elnon, eventually requiring that his bones be housed in a reliquary that could be shown to the faithful.

Panels from a Window Showing the Life and Martyrdom of St. Vincent of Saragossa, detailPanels from a Window Showing the Life and Martyrdom of St. Vincent of Saragossa When a new chapel at the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés was built in the 1240s, windows depicting the lives and relics of Sts. Vincent and Germain were installed.

Reliquary Pendant, detailReliquary Pendant The saints referred to in the abbreviated Latin inscription around its cover suggest that this reliquary is Scottish in origin.

Reliquary Pendant, detailReliquary Pendant The front of this double-sided gold pendant shows John the Baptist, with long hair and a beard, dressed in a short tunic and cloak.

Reliquary Pendant for the Holy Thorn, detailReliquary Pendant for the Holy Thorn The thorn in this reliquary may have come from the Crown of Thorns that was purchased by King Louis IX of France in 1238 from the Latin Emperor of the Kingdom of Jerusalem, Baldwin II.

Reliquary Pendant, detailReliquary Pendant This pendant reliquary, meant to be worn around the neck of its owner, is an excellent example of the continuing tradition of Byzantine art.