Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Hand Reliquary



For many reasons, I was probably not destined for the religious life. Not the least of these is that on hearing of the passing of a pious and respected elder, my first response isn’t ‘Where did I put that saw?’ However, there is a long tradition in Christianity of chopping off bits of departed clerics to preserve as relics. And when it comes to reliquaries, you’ve just got to hand it to this example!


The saintly bits and bobs are long gone, but the reliquary itself survives in amazing condition, even if it was originally intended to be a full arm, rather than just the hand. It was made in the second half of the 13th century, possibly in Belgium. The relics would have been visible through the little ‘windows’ on the fingers. Initially, I thought that these were intended to simulate large, ornamental bezels and stones of finger rings, but their hoops are not continued on the palm side of the hand. This is in contrast to the delicate ring encircling the ring finger at the first knuckle.


Every time I’ve visited this piece I’ve been fascinated with the quality of its manufacture. However, it has only recently struck me that – quite apart from its initial role as an object of devotion – the original form of the piece (possibly with a further window to observe the radius and ulna) would have doubled as and effective memento mori, reminding the faithful that no matter how beautiful and adorned the exterior, death comes for us all. By the same token, I find it interesting that the sanctified contents are now long gone, but we still preserve and revere the gorgeous casing … and maybe there is an insight into our true natures in that observation too …

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Three Saints




This portion of a relief depicts Saints Philip, Jude, and Bartholomew. It was made around 1150 to adorn the western face of the Cathedral of St Peter in Vic, in Catalonia. The first number of times I saw this piece, I merely noted three identical individuals – barefooted, big-handed, and haloed. It was only after some closer attention I realised that each of the three are subtly different, with individualised hair, beards, and clothing. So the viewer (and presumably the apostles themselves) can tell them apart, their names are visible on the books they hold.

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Co Donegal: Archaeological Objects at The British Museum

The British Museum holds 18 items identified as coming from Co Donegal, along with one further item identified as coming from either Antrim or Donegal. The majority of these (6) are assigned to the Neolithic/Bronze Age, followed by the Early Medieval (5), and Bronze Age (4) periods. The most common object types are axes, bell-shrines, knives, knives(?)/blades(?), and pins (2 each). Only two material types are represented in this assemblage: Metal (12) and Stone (7).


Neolithic/Bronze Age: Stone items
Donegal
axe
18900215.100
Polished stone axe, large

Letterkenny
axe
19890301.143
Polished stone axe with slightly damaged rounded butt.

Glenhead
knife (?); blade (?)
19641206.217
Flint knife or backed blade.

Glenhead
knife (?); blade (?)
19641206.216
Flint knife or backed blade.

Glenhead
knife
19641206.215
Flint knife.

Aileach
knife
18900215.200
Flint knife.


Bronze Age: Metal items
Donegal
socketed axe
19641201.750
Copper alloy socketed axe; cast

Ballyshannon
pin
19211206.340
Copper alloy sunflower headed pin.

Raphoe (near)
spear-head
WG.1611
Copper alloy spear-head.


Middle Bronze Age/Iron Age: Metal items
Inishowen (Inishowen Hoard)
torc (?)
WG.4
Beaten fragment of twisted gold alloy, probably from a ribbon torc
1400BC-1100BC/300BC-100BC

Inishowen (Inishowen Hoard)
torc
WG.2
Gold alloy ribbon torc.
1400BC-1100BC/300BC-100BC


Late Bronze Age: Metal item
Pollen Shore, Presumably the beach at Pollen Bay
penannular bracelet
WG.10
Gold penannular bracelet with solid body of rounded cross-section. The expanded terminals are solid and conical shaped.


Early Medieval: Metal items
Donegal
ringed pin
18980618.900
Copper alloy crutch-headed ringed pin; ring has raised inner rim, outer edge diagonally hatched and bears traces of enamel.
9thC-10thC (?)

Donegal
pseudo-penannular brooch
18930618.250
Silver pseudo-penannular brooch; plain hoop; expanded terminals linked by a bar, collared setting on each; animals back and front.
9thC

Inishkeel
bell
18890902.220
Iron bell of Conall Cael, Abbot of Inishkeel; pyramidal; traces of bronze sheeting; T-shaped bronze mount at top on one side (22A).
7thC-9thC

Inishkeel
bell-shrine
18890902.22.a
Bronze plate, T-shaped, on side of bell no.22; central incised cross, square at crossing; interlace animals & ring-chain in fields.
10thC(late)-11thC

Aran Island
pin
18540714.149
Gun metal pin with brambled, mushroom-shaped head and square-sectioned shank.
5thC-11thC


Late Medieval: Metal item
Inishkeel
bell-shrine
18890902.230
Bell-shrine; bronze and silver parcel-gilt; made for the bell of St Conall Cael; decorated with silver plates
15thC


The following item is listed in the museum catalogue as coming from either Donegal or Antrim:
Bronze Age: Stone item
Donegal, Glenhead (?); Glenhead, near Bathynure (?)
wrist-guard
19641201.137
Schistose stone bracer: polished, with four perforations, two at wide end across long axis and two at opposite narrower end obliquely set, irregularly pentagonal in shape; grey/brown in colour.