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Bible Encyclopedias

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature


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a vessel for holding relics, and enclosilg, in the 13th century, three grains of incense in honor of the Holy Trinity. It usually took the form of the building in which it was kept, as at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and Nivelles at the end of that century. In the 14th century cathedrals adopted for their reliquaries the form of a church, while in chapels and parish churches preference was given to images of gold and silver. Sometimes they take the shape of a coffer, or a transparent bier carried by ecclesiastics; a case-like cruet, a rose, a quatrefoil, a canister in an angel's hand; horns, as at Canterbury; a triptych, like the triple entrance of a church; a lantern tower and spire, etc. In some cases the church bearing the name of a saint has his monument, but in other cases the relics only were preserved in portable shrines. Sometimes the reliquary took the form of some popular saint, a chest, or an altar. At Chichester the relic-chest of St. Richard is of oak, contains a door which was opened when the relics were exposed, and a slit for the reception of offerings in the cross-bar below it. At first the reliquaries were portable, to form accessories of a procession. In 745, relics and the cross were carried in the Rogation processions in England. At Rome the "three relics" are exhibited on Good-Friday-the portion of the true cross, the blade of the spear that pierced the Redeemer's side, and the veronica (q.v.). About the beginning of the 13th century the reliquaries upon the altar took the form of the limb or bust, called a corset (or corselet). They were arranged on great festivals on the rood-beam or retable above the high-altar.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Reliquary'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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