‘And so we afterwards took up his bones which are more valuable than precious stones and finer than refined gold ...’ Account of the martyrdom of Polycarp, c. AD 156.
From the earliest period of Christian worship striking comparisons were drawn between sacred matter and precious materials. The association was given its most literal manifestation in the painstaking creation of sumptuous reliquaries of gold and silver, encrusted with precious stones, made to contain relics of Christ and the saints – their body parts and items owned or touched by them.
Focusing on the British Museum’s outstanding collection of reliquaries, Finer than Gold offers a concise introduction to the practice of relic veneration in the Middle Ages. It includes treasures such as the celebrated St Eustace reliquary head from Basle, the stirring St Oda reliquary studded with the relics of female saints and the uniquely luxurious Holy Thorn reliquary commissioned by the princely Jean duc de Berry in fourteenth-century Paris.
Pilgrimage, patronage, private devotion and crusade are just some of the compelling themes explored in this richly illustrated book.
The author James Robinson is curator of the medieval collections at the British Museum.