What Is a Relic and What Are the Main Types of Reliquaries

What Is a Relic, and What Are the Main Types of Reliquaries?

“What is a relic?” To answer the question, it is necessary to understand the context. A generalized concept of a relic means a certain object or artifact, which is meaningful for a group of people. However, the concept of relics can concern a historical or iconic artifact, family stuff, or even a technical device. In every field, a relic has its own specificity.

What is a relic in Christianity? 

What is a relic for a Christian person? Relics in Christianity, as a general rule, are divided into two categories: remnants of saints and objects they touched, the so-called brandea. The main part of Christian relics is connected with the life of Jesus Christ. Notable among them are relics of the Passion of Christ.

Relics of the local revered saints can be found in small temples. Relics, which are significant to the whole Christian world, are usually kept in large and famous cathedrals, attracting pilgrims from around the world. Imperishable relics and brandeas are considered to cure illnesses and perform a miracle.

What are the main types of reliquaries?

“What is a relic?” is not the only question to answer. It’s also important to know the different types of reliquaries, special homes for relics and religious artifacts.

At first, relics were stored in closed boxes. Later, churches began to place them into clear and often precious boxes to make them accessible to parishioners.

In the 10-12th century, reliquaries in the shape of temples appeared. They were richly decorated with gold and precious stones and had detailed architectural elements and sculptures on their facades. The Shrine of the Three Kings in Cologne Cathedral is the biggest reliquary of this shape in Western Europe. It is a perfect example of the art of Lorraine. In an age of gothic style, the shape of the temple remained the same, but the type of architectural details was changed. At the same time, Orthodox temples of the period mainly used pectoral crosses Engolpions.

Another type of reliquary, which looks quite unusual, is a curly one, echoing the shape of part of the body inside. The most popular are hand- and foot-shaped reliquaries.

There is also an especially beautiful type of Catholic reliquary called a monstrance or ostensorium. It is portable and looks like a star or sun with rays. Relics in a monstrance are stored between two glasses in the round space of a star.

A relic is a little tidbit for each temple. It raises the status of a monastery or cathedral it is stored in. The acquisition of a significant relic also reflects political success. The loss of it, in its turn, is considered an appreciable defeat. Reliquaries are used to emphasize the status of both the relic and the temple itself.