The Joy of Museums

Finding Meaning in a Museum

Monymusk Reliquary

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The Monymusk Reliquary is a Scottish reliquary made of wood and plated with silver and bronze, it was created in the 750’s. It features Insular art, also known as Hiberno-Saxon art which is the style of art produced in the post-Roman history of Ireland and Britain.

The art of this Reliquary is a fusion of Gaelic and Pictish design and Anglo-Saxon metalworking, probably by Ionan monks from Iona a small island in the Inner Hebrides on the western coast of Scotland. It was a centre of Gaelic monasticism for four centuries. The intertwining beasts in the art design of the Monymusk Reliquary are closely related in style to decorations in the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Very few Insular reliquaries survive, although many are mentioned in historical records. It is an early example of the church or house-shaped reliquary, that became popular across Europe in the Middle Ages, perhaps influenced by examples such as this one.

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The Monymusk Reliquary is now empty; however it was said to have contained the Holy relics of St. Columba, the most popular saint in mediaeval Scotland. The reliquary would have been used for saintly assistance by the Scots in battle. It was carried by the Scottish army who were victorious against the army of king Edward II of England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. It is one of the most important pieces in the Museum’s entire collection.

Essential Facts:

  • Title:                   Monymusk Reliquary
  • Year:                   c. 750
  • Place Created:  Iona
  • Material:            Wood and metal
  • Dimensions       W 112mm x D 51mm x H 89mm
  • Museum:           National Museum of Scotland

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“A good tale never tires in the telling.” Scottish Proverbs

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Photo Credit:  By Johnbod (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Johnbod (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons