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Châsses, Feretories, Bourses, Caskets, and Coffrets

(386 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
Casket, or box-shaped, reliquaries were the oldest form of Christian reliquary and the most prevalent until c. 1200. They could be placed in or upon altars, incorporated into shrines, and carried in processions. Usually made of metalwork, they ranged from palm-sized to coffin-sized. Four different medieval shapes existed. Flat caskets were small, four-sided or oval boxes with flat lids, for example the St Andrew reliquary from Siegburg. 'Truhen' caskets such as the Pelagius reliquary in León, Sp…


(415 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The medieval statue reliquary, sometimes referred to as an imago, could be displayed on a church altar, carried in processions, used in religious services, liturgical dramas, or secular civic ceremonies, and taken to church councils (as were other portable reliquary forms). In early centuries it typically had a wooden core decorated with precious metals and gems, and a hieratic style. One early type, of which Conques's St Foy is an extant example (see St Foy, Statue of), represented a particular saint, a…

Reliquary of St Martial

(869 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Saint Martial châsse is a Limoges-enamel shrine-shaped casket reliquary made around 1170 and found today in the Louvre in Paris. It is the only extant Limoges casket to display scenes from Martial's life and it provides one of the oldest narratives about the saint. The casket is also noteworthy for its high quality craftsmanship -- particularly its gold vermiculé background -- and its good condition. It demonstrates the Limoges predilection for depicting figures with dynamic gestures, in brilliant colors, and with stylized lines. Martial was a third-century saint famous for…

Ambazac Châsse

(617 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The casket reliquary, or châsse, of Ambazac was created between 1180 and 1190 for the abbey of Grandmont in the Limousin region of France. Although it is known that the relics of Saint Macarius were added to this reliquary in 1269, the original relics for which it was made are unknown. It is one of seven reliquaries that were located on the high altar in the Middle Ages, and it is the only extant, intact reliquary from Grandmont. Its form resembles a two-story church with stained-glass windows, …

Casket of the True Cross

(602 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The casket reliquary of the True Cross at Saint-Sernin, Toulouse, was made in the last quarter of the twelfth century to house a relic of the True Cross. It is sometimes referred to as a staurotheke (staurotheque). A high-quality champlevé enamelwork, it is covered with rich narrative images and inscriptions, which explain Saint-Sernin's acquisition of the relic from the Holy Land. The reliquary is shrine-shaped and sits on feet added in the Renaissance. Its lid depicts Christological scenes while the sides of the body of the casket display the story of t…

St Aemilian

(938 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Saint Aemilian reliquary was created in the last half of the eleventh century to house the saint's remains at the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla near the city of Logroño in northern Spain. As the earliest extant example of a reliquary decorated with a hagiographic cycle, it is based on and directly cites the Vita Sancti Aemiliani by Saint Braulio, the seventh-century bishop of Saragossa. The reliquary was meant to promote Aemilian's cult, with recent scholarship arguing that it focused mainly on local pilgrims rather than those traveling to S…

Limoges Enamels

(634 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Limousin region of south-central France with the capital city Limoges was famous for high quality champlevé-enameled, gilt copper objects created in urban workshops and used for sacred and lay purposes. The creation of Limoges enamels -- referred to as opus lemovicense -- flowered between the twelfth and thirteenth centuries and gradually declined in the fourteenth. Objects created included altar retables and frontals, chrismatories, censers, crosses, pyxes, tabernacles, eucharistic doves, ciboria, tombs, storage boxes (often calle…


(901 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Saint Felix reliquary was made probably around 1090 when the relics of Felix of Bilibium were translated to the monastery of San Millán de la Cogolla. This reliquary, similar to the Saint Aemilian reliquary located at the same monastery, was most likely a silver gilt casket with narrative ivory plaques. It is no longer intact but remnants of six ivory plaques survive. Prudencio de Sandoval described the Felix reliquary in 1601, but it was a reconstruction of the eleventh-century one and date…

Casket of Stephen

(614 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The shrine-shaped casket reliquary, or châsse, of Saint Stephen was made around 1165 for the church of Saint-Étienne in Braguse in the Limousin region of France. It features scenes from the life of the church's patron Saint Stephen. It is one of the oldest extant Limoges works with a vermiculé background and displays finely-detailed craftsmanship, particularly in the dynamic range of its blues. Its style reflects the influence of early twelfth-century illuminators and features a dramatic narrati…

Isidore of León

(928 words)

Author(s): Melanie Hanan
The Isidore reliquary at the Real Colegiata de San Isidoro in León, Spain, was probably created in 1063 to contain the relics of Saint Isidore of Seville (d. 636). In 1063 Ferdinand I, king of León and Castile, received Isidore's remains as tribute from the Muslim city of Seville. Ferdinand and his wife Sancha consecrated the newly rebuilt church of Saint John the Baptist and Saint Pelagius on December 21,1063, in honor of the arrival of Isidore's remains. Isidore's translation in the new reliquary occurred the following day and the church was renamed in honor of the saint. Isidore, archbish…