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Reliquary

  • Place of origin:

    Italy (North, made)

  • Date:

    ca. 1470-1480 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Unknown

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Copper gilt, set with painted enamels on copper

  • Credit Line:

    Salting Bequest

  • Museum number:

    M.583-1910

  • Gallery location:

    Medieval & Renaissance, Room 10, case 16

In the form of a footed and pinnacled shrine, this reliquary once contained relics of St. Catherine of Alexandria. The six letters aroud the middle stand for the Latin for 'Saint Catherine pray for us'. Catherine was venerated throughout Europe, and she was seen as patron and protectress of students, philosophers and the clergy, of the dying, of nurses, and of craftsmen whose work was based on the wheel, like wheelwrights.

The bones associated with the saints and the possessions associated with Christ are known as relics which were kept in containers called reliquaries. In the Middle Ages they were generally believed to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated. Reliquaries took many forms. Some were shaped to represent the saint or various parts of the body such as an arm, head, leg, foot or finger (so-called 'speaking image' reliquaries). Others were designed as a monstrance, which placed the relic on view inside a glass cylinder (monstrare= to show). Another style of reliquary followed an architectural design, often in the Gothic style. This object is an example of a such a reliquary.

Physical description

Copper-gilt, engraved and set with painted enamel on copper. In the form of a pinnacled shrine supported on a stem and six-pointed foot. The base is set with two enamel roundels at front and back, one depicting a bishop, the other a heraldic symbol, much damaged. On the knop, are six circular bosses upon which six letters are painted in gold on a black ground: 's[ancta] c[atharina] or[a] p[ro] n[obis]'. The reliquary is engraved with a chequered design. There are two hinged panels at front and back which provide access to the cavity (now empty).On the front panel, St Catherine kneels before Emperor Maxentius, her hands held in prayer. On the back panel, St Catherine converses with the philosophers.

Place of Origin

Italy (North, made)

Date

ca. 1470-1480 (made)

Artist/maker

Unknown

Materials and Techniques

Copper gilt, set with painted enamels on copper

Marks and inscriptions

's[ancta] c[atharina] or[a] p[ro] n[obis]'
Saint Catherine pray for us

Dimensions

Height: 26 cm, Width: 14.5 cm, Depth: 11.4 cm, Weight: 0.68 kg

Object history note

Salting Bequest

Historical significance: St Catherine of Alexandria was known for protesting against Christian persecution to the Emperor Maxentius (306-12AD). She successfully debated with the philosophers sent by the Emperor to silence her and converted many of them. Maxentius ordered her to be tortured on a wheel, but the machine broke at Saint Catherine's touch and she was beheaded.

Reliquaries had complex functions. They were believed to be imbued with the holiness of the relic they preserved. The faithful believed that by touching a reliquary, they would receive some of this holy quality. Relics attracted pilgrims to the churches in which they were held, hoping for relief from illness or misfortune, and many made gifts and monetary donations to the church. Local people also gave in honour of their saint and to gain protection for themselves and families, and for their town. Thus relics could often give a sense of identity to a community. Some reliquaries were used in religious processions or festivals, on holy days and the feast day of the saint.

Historical context note

The bones associated with the saints and the possessions associated with Christ are known as relics. In the Middle Ages they were generally believed to have miraculous powers and were greatly venerated.

Relics were kept in containers called reliquaries. Reliquaries took many forms. Some were shaped to represent the saint or various parts of the body such as an arm or finger (so-called 'speaking image' reliquaries). Others were designed as a monstrance, which placed the relic on view inside a glass cylinder (monstrare= to show). Another style of reliquary followed an architectural design, often in the Gothic style. This object is an example of a such a reliquary.

Descriptive line

Reliquary, copper gilt, set with painted enamels, Northern Italy, ca. 1470-80

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Josef Braun, Die Reliquiare des christlichen Kultes und ihre Entwicklung , Freiburg, 1940

Labels and date

RELIQUARY
Copper-gilt, with painted enamel plaques of St. Catherine converting the philosophers, and kneeling before the emperor. On the knop, S (ancta) C (atharina) OR (a) P (ro) N (obis) (St. Catherine, pray for us).
North Italian; 15th century
Salting Bequest []

Materials

Copper gilt; Enamel; Copper

Techniques

Enamelled; Gilded

Subjects depicted

Heraldry; Saints; Worship; Emperors; Bishop; Philosophers

Categories

Ph_survey; Religion; Christianity; Metalwork; Enamels

Collection

Metalwork Collection

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