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[Tidbits] The Reliquary


The Reliquary

Gold…symbol of eternity and symbol of light in medieval times. So
then…what group was it that created the most beautiful gold and gem
artifacts across the spans of time? Was it the ancient Mayans? Was it
perhaps the Greeks? The Egyptians? Or was it perhaps an order…a
religious order…like the church for instance?

In medieval times gold had no material value…but it was elected as
the metal used to represent crowns and altars and bible covers and
reliquaries and monstrances. From Byzantine theologians to Irish
monks to German nuns…gold was the vehicle used to visually represent
their faith.

Decades were spent copying Bibles and painting illustrations on
materials made of gold. Bindings for religious tomes were made of gold
and inlaid with jewels. Gold was not only for Kings and Queens and the
royal courts. Nay nay…my friends. Gold was for the Church.

Every Monastery and every Cathedral had its trophy and relic in order
to ascertain the presence and mission of holiness. Gold and only gold
could represent as visible proof how deeply the Lord was adored and
revered. The practice of creating works in gold was instrumental in
establishing innumerable historical examples of Christian art.

The Reliquary of the Magi was created in Cologne, Germany…circa
1181. It was designed by one Nicholas of Verdun. It stands today as
the largest and most valuable piece of medieval goldsmithery in
existence. It is 220 cm. long, 153 cm. high, and 110 cm. wide. It is
made with well over 300 ancient gems and cameos, more than a thousand
precious stones, and an uncountable amount of pearls. Enamel adorns
the ornaments and figurines. The Reliquary houses the relics of the
three Magi, the remains of Gregory of Spoleto, and St. Nabor and St.

It is easily one of the most outstanding examples of the techniques of
gold smithery of the day. In modern time…with all our
sophistication, we do not approach the skills of artisans of the 12th
century. Not, my friends…because we don’t have the talent.
Rather…because financial strictures prevent the rewards required for
the investment in time an artist would have to give–speculatively–in
order to create a masterpiece such as the one I’ve scanned for you all
to see.

So…you know the old story. To my home page…down the table menu
…to Tidbit Graphics…and click on Reliquary. And there ya have it.
That’s it for this week folks. Catch you all next week. Benjamin Mark

All issues of Tidbits are copyrighted and available from our home page.
All rights reserved.


Dear Benjamin, A small tidbit in return for all the wonderful ones you
have given me. I was taking a class in Mokume using gold and silver
and had a small misshapen piece left over.The only thing I could think
it looked like a bone fragment. That of course led me to a reliquary
but whose bone? After a lot of searching found St. Dunstan the patron
saint of Goldsmiths an Englishman, circa790 or 970 who was fascinating
and powerful his time. So I constructed a 3 dimensional pendant that
looks like a cathedral window of reticulated silver with an open box
in the center with my gold fragment soldered in.I finished it off with
a chain of interlocking crosses.Even my wife won’t wear it but I had a
lot of fun. Regards, Bill from Long Island