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The Reliquary Shrine

The Reliquary Shrine is a triptych altarpiece made between 1325 - 1350. The closed shrine mimics the look of a miniature church with stained glass windows, gothic architectural details decorated with gold finishes and relics. The shrine tells the story of the Virgin Mary and the christ child's with each scene from the painted stain glass retelling the story of both Mary's and Jesus's life. The shrine, when closed, measures 10" × 6" 9/16" × 3 5/8" and when open, measures 10"× 16 "× 3 5/8". Created by artist Jean de Touyl, The shrine is made of Gilded silver, translucent enamel, paint and was made in Paris, France. It was said this peice was commissioned for Queen Elizabeth of Hungary( The Met Museum)

I came across the Reliquary Shrine when researching Jan Van Eyck Ghent Altarpiece. I was struck by the works' similarities as far as altarpieces were considered, but they were vastly different in the subject matter. In the Reliquary Shrine, we see the Virgin Mary seated in the centre, attempting to breastfeed the christ child. On either side of Mary, there are two angels holding boxes that hold relics of the saints.

The shrine functions in sacramental materiality as a symbol of faith and devotion. The symbol of faith being the shrine is shapes as a chapel and mimics a holy house of worship and veneration. The stain glass windows and steeple of the church is identical to many gothic churches of the time. The artist utilized many symbology to show closeness to god. They consisted of the arches as of the church coming to a point. Three arches when the triptych is closed as well as Mary seated in the middle of the work flanked by two angels. Show the divine trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

( Michigan State University)

A reliquary such as this would be used by missionaries to preach the gospel of christ to villagers and to those far away from the city. This gives the shrine it's functions in the sacramental world view, One did not have to be scholarly to understand the teachings and symbology brought forth by presenting a scaled-down version of a chapel.



The Metropolitan Museum Of Art.


Michigan State University,


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