Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Gregory's reliquary

Pope Gregory I, otherwise known as Pope Saint Gregory the Great, is without a doubt one of the most influential popes in the history of the Catholic Church (not to be confused with Pope Gregory XIII, who's name is forever associated with the Gregorian Calendar), but is most widely known to modern society for Gregorian Chants. So it's no surprise that there were a number of displays related to him at the Saint Peter and the Vatican show. But this one really stood out:

I had no idea what it was when I first happened upon it. It looked like a model of an extravagant funeral procession. Then I read the description, and realized that it was a reliquary. One of the oddest quirks of the church is the fixation on relics of saints--preserved fragments of the body, usually a piece of bone or somesuch. This ancient practice goes a long way toward explaining the Kutna Hora Ossuary. The bone fragment resting within the reliquary on a velvet bed is a skull fragment. The hand of the king at the far left of the image is curled, as if to hold a staff or a sword, but whatever he once held has been lost and the catalog makes no mention of the absent piece. Of particular interest, however, is the fact that the reliquary is composed of colored stones, glass and gilded metal. Despite its treasure-trove appearance, its physical value--as opposed to its historical value--is actually quite modest. I found this more than a little surprising, considering all the solid gold and silver on display elsewhere. Particularly in relation to a saint so revered. Can you tell I find this stuff fascinating?

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