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Joy of Museums

Museums, Art Galleries and Historical Sites

Monymusk Reliquary – Used by the Scots against the English

Monymusk Reliquary

Monymusk Reliquary – Veneration of Scottish Relics

The Monymusk Reliquary is a 750s Scottish Reliquary. It is made of wood and plated with silver and bronze. 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.

This reliquary was used for divine 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.

The 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 center 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. This is an early example of the church or house-shaped reliquary, that became popular across Europe in the Middle Ages, perhaps influenced by models such as this one.

Monymusk Reliquary

The Monymusk Reliquary is now empty; however, it was said to have contained the Holy relics of St. Columba, the most popular saint in medieval Scotland.

Reliquary

A reliquary is a container for relics. These may be the purported or actual physical remains of religious figures. These may include bones, clothing, or objects associated with saints. The authenticity of any given relic is often a matter of debate.

Relics have long been important to Buddhists, Christians, Hindus, and other religions. In these cultures, reliquaries are often presented in shrines, churches, or temples to which the faithful make pilgrimages to gain blessings.

The term is also used loosely of containers for the body parts of non-religious figures. The Kings of France often specified that their hearts and sometimes other organs be buried in a different location from their primary burial.

Christian Reliquary

The use of reliquaries became an essential part of Christian practices from the 4th century. The tradition started in the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which adopted the method of moving and dividing the bodies of saints much earlier than the West.

Reliquaries provide a means of protecting and displaying relics. While frequently taking the form of caskets, they range in size from simple pendants or rings to very elaborate ossuaries.

Buddhist Reliquary

In Buddhism, stupas are an essential form of the reliquary and may be included in a more massive complex. In China and throughout East and Southeast Asia. these take the form of a pagoda.

In Theravada Buddhism, one of the most significant is the relic of the tooth of the Buddha in Sri Lanka. In Japan, Buddhist relics and are often stored in a relic hall.

Chaitya

A chaitya refers to a shrine, sanctuary, temple or prayer hall in Indian religions. The term is most common in Buddhism, where it relates to space with a stupa and a rounded apse at the end opposite the entrance, and a high roof with a rounded profile.

Outside India, the term is used by Buddhists for local styles of small stupa-like monuments in Nepal, Cambodia, Indonesia and elsewhere. In the historical texts of Jainism and Hinduism, including those relating to architecture, chaitya refers to a temple, sanctuary or any sacred monument.

Most early examples of chaitya that survive are Indian rock-cut architecture.

Monymusk Reliquary

  • 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

Explore the 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)], via Wikimedia Commons 2) By Johnbod (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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