Subscribe      List an Event or Business      Invite a Writer      Write for WN      Writers      Other Locations

Heavenly Treasures at the British Museum

Home > London > Exhibitions | Museums
by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Event: -
Statue reliquary of St Baudime in the church of St Nectair, Auvergne, France
Statue reliquary of St Baudime in the church of St Nectair, Auvergne, France

If you were born in the middle ages, pre museums, newspapers, radio, TV and the internet, then some of the most wonderful things you could hope to see in your life would be religious relics. Items that once belonged to, or were parts of, the saints and martyrs. These items were cherished and prized, and presented in churches alongside truly game changing works of religious art. Game changing because these were some of the grandest things your humble eyes would probably ever see, and there's a good chance that these treasures would help convince you of the wonders of the kingdom of heaven.

I'm not a religious person, but I find the care and love poured into the creation of religious art and architecture truly awe inspiring. Which is largely what this exhibition, Heavenly Treasures at the British Museum celebrates.

Reliquary bust of an unknown female saint, probably a companion of St Ursula. South Netherlandish, c. 1520–1530. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Reliquary bust of an unknown female saint, probably a companion of St Ursula. South Netherlandish, c. 1520–1530. © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
There's been lots of talk from pundits about the authenticity of the relics. Are the three thorns on display here really from the crown of thorns worn by Jesus on the cross? Could this really be the breast milk of the Virgin Mary? And is this really the foot of St Blaise? It's doubtful, but if you get bogged down by this then you'll be missing the point, which is more about the delicacy in the craftsmanship of the hand made receptacles they've been preserved in, and the beauty of the art that's been composed in their honour. These containers, called reliquaries, are some of the most impressive items of the age, both for the rarity and value of their components – think precious stones and metals, and for their artistic value.

To be honest the earliest items date from the late Roman period, so while not everything's been carbon dated, there are some relics here that can't possibly be what they're claimed to be. Most of the collection dates from between the 4th Century, when the cult of the saints really began, to the peak of relic veneration in late medieval Europe. This sort of a collection hasn't been seen in the UK since the Reformation in the 16th Century, which is when most of the relics currently residing in the UK were destroyed along with the shrines they were preserved with. The pieces in this collection have been borrowed from 40 different institutions, including The Vatican and several important European church treasuries. So see them while you can. Otherwise you may have to take quite a pilgrimage, like your middle ages counterpart.
Help us improve  Click here if you liked this article  10
Share: email  facebook  twitter
Why? People love Jesus
When: Open daily 10.00–17.30 Open late on Fridays until 20.30
Where: British Museum, Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, nearest station Holborn
Cost: £12 for adults, free for members
Comments
No comments yet :(
Articles from other cities
Top Events
Popular Articles
Categories
Lists
Questions