Reliquary (covered box)
Late 6th–7th century A.D.
Sculpture in Stone (MFA), no. 275; Sculpture in Stone and Bronze (MFA), p. 113 (additional published references).
Height x length: 17.5 x 14.2 cm (6 7/8 x 5 9/16 in.)
Medium or Technique
Not On View
The plain body was hollowed out, like a sarcophagus, for the relics it contained. The raised area of the bottom of the lid was given a corresponding flange to allow it to fit in the body. On the sides of the lid are visible a cross in a circle, flanked by stylized vine leaves and buds. On the ends there are crosses above ivy leaves.
The corners of the lid, notably the akroteria, and the body have been battered and somewhat worn. The surfaces have a grayish coloration. Reliquary caskets such as this, imitating Late Antique sarcophagi of Greek type, continued to be made in precious metals throughout the Byzantine period and into the Ottoman era of the Greek world. In marble they are associated with the century of transition from the old Roman Empire to the Byzantine imperium of the East. Their relationship to the giant sarcophagi used for the remains of Eastern Roman emperors testified to the saintly aura which surrounded Byzantine imperium in death as in life.
Filled with holy remains or with objects sanctified by contact with bodies of saints, the box would have been buried below the altar of a church.
Marble has been scientifically tested with X-Ray Diffraction and determined to be Calcitic.
Harvard Lab No. HI218: Isotope ratios - delta13C +2.35 / delta18O -1.78, Attribution - Paros 2, Prokonnesos, Thasos-Cape Phaneri & Thasos-Aliki, Usak, Denizli 1, Iasos, Mylasa, Justification - Coarse-grained marble.
By 1963: with George Zacos, 65 Engelgasse, Basel, Switzerland (said to come from Istanbul); purchased by MFA from George Zacos, May 13, 1964
William E. Nickerson Fund, No. 2