Reliquary casket ("Emly Shrine")

Early medieval
late 7th–early 8th century

Place of Manufacture: Ireland


9.2 x 4.1 x 10.5 cm (3 5/8 x 1 5/8 x 4 1/8 in.)

Accession Number


Medium or Technique

Champlevé enamel on bronze over yew wood; gilt bronze moldings, inlay of lead-tin alloy

On View

I. W. Colburn Chapel Gallery (Gallery 254A)





Carved from a single block of wood, the body and lid have bronze moldings applied with small nails on the edges. Attached to the ridgepole of the sloped roof are bird’s-head terminals in green, yellow and red (now brown) enamel and a central boss-repeating the shape of the shrine- with a grid of yellow and green enamel. Only the front is decorated with thin strips of a lead-tin alloy hammered into a repetitive step pattern around central crosses engraved in the wood and with three medallions with yellow and green enamel arranged in a geometric pattern of concentric circles. There are two hinges on the back and an interior clasp on the front.

Made to hold the sacred relics of a saint (often parts of the saint’s body), Irish house-shaped reliquaries have been discovered as far away as Norway and Italy—carried there by Irish pilgrims or Viking raiders. This one, however, was found in Ireland and is named for its nineteenth century owner, Lord Emly of Limerick. It is quite tiny and was probably hung from the neck or shoulder of its owner as a source of protection and spiritual strength.


By 1853, William Monsell (b. 1812 - d. 1894), 1st Baron Emly of Tervoe, Limerick County, Ireland [see note 1]; until 1952, by descent within the family; 1952, sold by Lord Emly (probably Edmond Alan Tremeur de Poher de la Poer-Monsell) to the MFA for $22,874. (Accession Date: October 9, 1952)

[1] It was in his possession by 1853, when he lent it to the Royal Irish Academy, Dublin.

Credit Line

Theodora Wilbour Fund in memory of Charlotte Beebe Wilbour