Trsat reliquary

Type: Reliquaries
Date: ca. 1500, 1360
Location or Findspot (Modern-Day Country): Croatia
Medium: Gold, Silver, Gems, Pearl
Dimensions: 70 × 43 cm
Description: A monastery at Trsat, Croatia, houses a late fifteenth-century reliquary that combines many earlier small reliquaries and objects, most of which date between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries. (The supporting stand—everything below the large golden oval—is postmedieval.) Because the relics are attached on only one side and not covered by glass or crystal lids, they were available for kissing and touching by Eastern Orthodox Christians. A majority of the relics are body parts of Orthodox saints, although a few belong exclusively to the Roman-rite Church (e.g., Ursula, Clara).

Most of the inscriptions on the backs of the individual relic holders are in Slavonic, but a Greek inscription appears on the reverse of the three-pronged relic near the lower right. It identifies St. Theodore the Younger, who was born in 1344/45; forced to convert to Islam as an Ottoman captive, he renounced that faith and was martyred around 1360. This reliquary—which contains a thoracic vertebra—was probably made in Thessaloniki, and most of the relics were enclosed by artists trained in Byzantine goldsmithing traditions. Inscriptions on three of them indicate that the composite reliquary was once owned by Barbara Frankopan (d. 1508), the wife of the despot Vuk Grgurević Branković. For instance, the text on the back of the long oval on the reliquary's left edge says, "Relics of St. Thyrsus [a third-century martyr], this relic was framed by lady despotissa Barbara for the glory of God and the Immaculate [Virgin], may the holy relics have mercy on me and mediate for me against all evil, spiritual and physical, Amen." Vuk was a Serbian ruler, related to the Byzantine imperial family of Kantakouzenos, who had emigrated west after the Ottoman conquest of much of the Balkans. The collection of relics in the Trsat reliquary reinforced the owners' connections to Orthodox Christianity and Byzantium, already in Ottoman hands, and their desire to regain their Serbian homeland.
Relevant Textbook Chapter(s): 11, 10
Image Credits: Branislav Cvetković

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Trsat reliquary, front Trsat reliquary, back Trsat reliquary, detail of back