Reliquaries were prized not for the opulence that you see, but for the items that they held. They enshrined items associated with saints, like a piece of clothing they wore or a small portion of their remains. In this case, an arm bone is encased within.
Taking the form of a clothed lower arm with an outstretched hand, this reliquary from the Guelph Treasure appropriately enshrines a piece of an unidentified saint’s arm bone. Arm reliquaries like this one served as liturgical props; during religious services and processions, the clergy used them to bless and touch the faithful, thus making the presence of the saint more palpable and immediate. The apostle busts that decorate this arm reliquary seem to indicate that the relic it contains is that of an apostle. Duke Henry the Lion, a major patron of the church of Saint Blaise, is known to have received such relics from the Byzantine emperor Manuel I (1143-1180) upon his return from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
Arm Reliquary of the Apostles
Germany, Lower Saxony, Hildesheim, Romanesque period, late 12th century
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