Thursday, December 19, 2019

Early Medieval Reliquaries in Switzerland

Our Ambrosian correspondent Nicola de’ Grandi recently visited a museum show in the town of Sion in Canton Valais, Switzerland, featuring a number of early medieval objects from that area, including some very beautiful reliquaries, as well as the oldest decorated crozier in the world.

A reliquary shaped like a Roman sarcophagus, known as the reliquary of Theoderic, made for the Abbey of St Maurice in the 7th century, in cloisonné enamel covered in a gold filigree net, with several precious stones and ancient cameos mounted onto it.
A crozier and pair of liturgical sandals, both traditionally said to have belong to St Germanus, the first abbot of Grandval in the canton of Bern. The crozier is the oldest decorated object of its kind in the world, dating to the 7th century; the sandals are now dated to the 12th.
An ivory pyx made in the eastern Mediterrean in the 6th century, later fitted with a metal lid and used as a reliquary; the scenes carved in the ivory represent the women, angel, and soldiers at Christ’s tomb.
A reliquary commissioned by Altheus, who was made bishop of Sion by Charlemagne, made near Salzburg at the end of the 8th century; the reverse shows the Virgin, to whom the cathedral of Sion is dedicated, and St John. The enamels are of the same age as the reliquary, which was heavily restored in 1673, but may not originally have been part of it.
Fragments of Byzantine samite, a very precious type of heavy silk, from the 5th or 6th century; originally used to wrap relics within their reliquaries.
A “missorium”, a dish or bowl used for the ceremonial washing of hands, of the Emperor Valentinian I (364-75) o II (375-92), discovered near Geneva in 1721. The emperor is shown with a halo, which in Roman art indicated that the person was important (not holy), holding a military standard, surrounded by his soldiers, and with the arms of his enemies at his feet. At the top is writted “Largitas Dn Valentiniani Augusti – a gift of the lord Emperor Valentinian.”
A 5th century ring with a XP inscription.
A silver pendant cross with the apotropaic inscription “abracadabra” written on it (or “abraxadabra”), abbreviated in various ways; from the cathedral of Lausanne, Switzerland, 6-7th century.
A bronze plaque used as a brooch, with the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the left, and the Sacrifice of Isaac on the right; ca. 550-650AD. Objects of this sort demonstrate the rapid diffusion of Christian iconography within the early barbarian kingdoms established within the former territories of the Roman Empire.
Another from the 6th or early 7th century, with the prophet Daniel in the Lions’ Den. The inscription reads “Nasualdus Nansa vivat, Deo utere felix Daninil (sic) – May Nasualdus Nansa live, may he enjoy God(’s presence), happy like Daniel”, who becomes a symbol of Christ’s Resurrection.
A brooch made of deer bone in the mid-7th century, with scenes of the Prophet Jonah.
A cloisonné brooch made in the mid-5th century.
A reliquary of the 8th century.
A copy of part of the ambo of the abbey of Romainmôtier, mostly liked datable to the 8th century, with the inscription “In Dei nomine Cudinus abbas iussit fieri. – In the name of God, the abbot Cudinus had this made.”
The grave marker of a monk named Godfrey, 6th century or beginning of the 7th.
A gilded bronze brooch of the 7th century, with a figure in the “orans” position, holding a crown, with a diadema, necklace and earrings.

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