Thursday, July 27, 2023

The Treasury Museum of Genoa Cathedral (Part 1)

Thanks once again to our Ambrosian writer Nicola de’ Grandi for sharing with us another splendid collection of photos, this time from the treasury of the cathedral of St Lawrence in Genoa, which has a number of really remarkable artistic treasures. 

This chalcedony dish, which is indeed a piece of Roman work made in the first century, is traditionally said to be the very one on which the head of St John the Baptist was presented to Salome, as read in Mark 6. The metalwork with the head of the Baptist was added in the 15th century.

Various stories recount that the bones of St John the Baptist were burnt at some point, either by “infidels” when they occupied the city where he was buried, or by the faithful, so they could be more easily concealed from either infidels or iconoclasts. (This story is included in the Golden Legend by Jacopo da Voragine, who was archbishop of Genoa, and repeated by his contemporary William Durandus.) Either way, the cathedral possesses a portion of the ashes; this processional ark was made for them in 1438-45.
The ark is decorated with these highly detailed reliefs of the major episodes of John the Baptist’s life: the Annunciation to his father Zachariah, and the Visitation,
his birth and naming,
an angel (sometime said to be the mysterious fourth archangel Uriel) leads him out into the desert as a youth (a popular but apocryphal story), 
his preaching in the desert, and the Baptism of the Lord,
his imprisonment and decapitation
and the entombment of his body.
At the corners, St George, who is honored as one of the protectors of the city of Genoa, 
St Lawrence, the titular Saint of the cathedral,
and the Evangelists St John
and Matthew.
This dish is traditionally said to be the one used by the Lord when He washed the feet of the disciples at the Last Supper. It was long thought to be an emerald, but is actually a piece of colored glass, but it was really made in Syria in the 1st century A.D. It used to be the custom of the cathedral to expose it for the veneration of the faithful once a year, on the first Sunday of Lent.     
A processional cross made in the 13th century in the Byzantine Empire, of gilded silver and several kinds of precious stone.

These pectoral crosses and episcopal rings all belonged to His Eminence Giuseppe Cardinal Siri, a native of Genoa who was appointed auxiliary bishop of the city in 1944, and then served as archbishop of Genoa from 1946-87.
An altar frontal for Marian feasts, made in 1771.
A processional statue with relic of St Lawrence, made in 1828.
The oldest surviving reliquary made to hold the ashes of the Baptist, in the 2nd half of the twelfth century.

More recent articles:

For more articles, see the NLM archives: