The Reliquary Triptych, the Arms of Christ, and the Visual Language of the Relic Thesaurus ca. 1160–By Julia Oswald

Interiority has served as the dominant art historical lens for approaching reliquaries (precious vessels that housed relics, the venerated remains of a holy person) and especially reliquary triptychs, whose moveable wings allowed for further layers of enclosure for the relic. This essay identifies a set of twelfth-century reliquary triptychs that, in addition to being among the earliest western examples of the triptych format, also carry the earliest pictorial representations of the arma Christi [arms of Christ] in western European art. The arms of Christ refer to the weapons of Christ’s martyrdom—the nails, the lance, the cross itself, and the other objects that touched Christ during the events surrounding the Crucifixion. While the iconography of the arma Christi took a variety of forms in western medieval art, its character as an imagined treasury of relic-objects—a collection that is imagined in its coherence—will be emphasized here and interpreted as part of a wider, conceptually rich visual rhetoric of the treasury (Latin: thesaurus) at work in these examples of twelfth-century reliquary arts.[1] Engaging the theme of this issue, I argue that this visual language of the thesaurus is a productive counterpart to the nested interiority of the reliquary that has been more fully developed in the scholarship.

Three surviving reliquaries made in the diocese of Liège between 1150 and 1175 today represent what was probably once a much more substantial corpus.[2] The Sainte-Croix staurotheca (figs. 1–4; Liège, Grand Curtius Museum) and the so-called “Large” (fig. 5) and “Small” (fig. 6) Dutuit staurothecae (Paris, Petit Palais)—named for their nineteenth-century owner—each take the form of a triptych with a rounded central panel and a pair of moveable wings.[3] All three associate a relic of the True Cross, prominently displayed when the wings of the triptych are opened, with themes of Resurrection and/or Judgment.[4] Mediating this association, and framing the portion of the cross at the center of each of the triptychs, are numerous saints and apostles as well as a pair of angels who directly flank and hold, present, or guard the physical relic around which the compositions pivot. The arma Christi are treated variously across the three reliquaries, in repoussé and engraving, yet in each case given conspicuous placement within the central dynamic between relic, figure, and the event of the resurrectio sanctorum.

These early instances of the arma Christi appear on precious vessels created to house and frame newly “imported” pieces of the True Cross around 1170 along the Meuse River, which roughly marked the border between the German Empire and the kingdom of France at that time.[5] This was a moment of transition and growth for the western medieval church treasury, which had first materialized as a corollary to the immaterial thesaurus of the biblical and patristic traditions under Charlemagne.[6] Leading up to and following the 1204 sack of Constantinople, Latin occupation in the Eastern Mediterranean facilitated the westward transfer of ancient and precious relics, many of which were associated directly with Christ. Scholars have consistently acknowledged both the importance and the difficulty of establishing how, if at all, the development of the arma Christi iconography related to this influx of physical Passion relics into the West during the High Middle Ages.[7] The True Cross reliquaries featuring the arma Christi have gone unnoticed as valuable sources that allow scholars to probe this question.

While the impact of Byzantine stylistic modes on western and especially Rhenish art of this period is generally accepted, better-studied contemporary reliquaries such as the Stavelot and Guennol triptychs have been treated from a patronage studies approach as inventive, singular works of art—evidence of a self-conscious attempt on the part of the artist to adapt and even exceed the Greek models at hand.[8] Conversely, the Sainte-Croix and Dutuit reliquaries have more often been catalogued as copies within a series stemming from the Stavelot Triptych and its Byzantine sources.[9] However, the Sainte-Croix and Dutuit staurothecae establish an explicit interconnection among the iconography of the arma Christi, the very origins of the western triptych format, and the semi-scenic figural presentation of the Passion relic—a constellation that is neither explicable by reference to the Stavelot Triptych nor to Eastern models.[10]

Taking the staurothecae as conceptually rich works rather than passive copies and addressing these overlooked interconnections, I use spatial and sign theories to contrast the rhetoric of the thesaurus (the medieval Latin term that referred both to the chamber or container where the treasuries of western medieval churches were housed, as well as to the treasury of objects itself) with that of interiority. Such a reading revises not only our understanding of these specific twelfth-century objects but also of the arma Christi and the thesaurus more broadly. Following Robert Suckale’s influential essay, the arma Christi have been approached largely as a case study for the devotional image [Andachtsbild].[11] Defining the iconography through its use in devotional practice, Suckale describes the arma Christi as a disordered “heaping up” of indexes of Christ, a characterization that resonates with descriptions of the medieval treasury in collection studies as a disordered accumulation, a foil to the systematic modern collection. My reading of the staurothecae recognizes how the thesaurus functioned as a thoughtful representational mode as well as how the arma Christi participated in and derived meaning from this mode. Pointing to the relationship between the origins of the triptych format and that of the arma Christi in reliquary arts of this period, I also gesture beyond the Andachtsbild to a different set of problems that would continue to be explicated through the arma Christi in later western artistic practice—the relationship between the pictorial representation of relic treasury and the physical presentation of relics; and the character of the multipart work as both an image and a container for relics.

The present study focuses on the Sainte-Croix Triptych, an exceptionally valuable source because it suffered few restorations in the modern period.[12] First, the case of the contemporary reliquary at Tongeren, likewise produced in Liège around 1170, is discussed by way of demonstrating the paradigm of the Holy of Holies that is common to Mosan reliquary triptychs of this period. I then describe the Sainte-Croix Triptych and argue that in contrast with such models of interiority, it instead deploys the rhetoric of the thesaurus. The arma Christi is shown to partake of and derive meaning from the representational mode of the thesaurus. Thirdly, Susan Stewart’s differentiation of the souvenir from the collection is used to lend further context to the motif of the lignum vitae [Tree of Life] as well as to flesh out how the Sainte-Croix staurotheca both physically embodies and rhetorically articulates relationships between real and imagined objects of the thesaurus.

The Space of the Reliquary: The Holy of Holies

Reliquaries have traditionally been approached as microcosms of the Holy of Holies, the hallowed space of the Old Testament into which the Ark of the Covenant was set after being moved from the desert tabernacle. So emphatic is this trope, that one scholar remarked, “all reliquaries in some sense seek to reconstruct a form of sacred space that originates in a typologically conceived relationship to the Ark of the Covenant and the sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem.”[13] With evidence pointing to the use of their wings as removable covering veils, Mosan reliquary triptychs were often geared towards programs of this sort. For example, the Tongeren staurotheca, produced in Liège around 1170 and therefore overlapping squarely in time and space with the Sainte-Croix example, demonstrates a complex use of the trope of the Holy of Holies, with the nested interiorities of the winged reliquary enacting a progressive movement into typological fulfillment and divine presence. In turn, the case of the reliquary at Tongeren underscores by comparison the different spatial and iconographic workings of the Sainte-Croix Triptych.

The common Byzantine staurotheca took the shape of a flat box with a relic encased in the back plate and covered by a lid sliding into grooves cut in the forepart of the frame, a device that at once protected and, as was prescribed liturgically, allowed physical access to the cross.[14] The formal similarity between such panel reliquaries and the painted icons venerated in Greek Christianity explains why Byzantine staurothecae were sometimes entered in medieval inventories and texts under the Latin word icona.[15] The reliquary of the True Cross gifted by Liège to Tongeren exemplifies a fusion of the two forms (figs. 8–9).[16] In its closed state, the reliquary appears as a tabula (fig. 9). Attenuated angels, engraved in a dynamic style on the shutters, wield censers in veneration of the still concealed relic of the True Cross. This recessed central plaque, on which the angels are depicted, is framed by alternating engraved oblong fields and champlevé enameled squares portraying, respectively, motifs of the Old Testament and the Legend of the Cross alongside bust portraits of ten regional bishops.[17] An inscription alludes to Liège’s gifting of the relic within the political and martial climate that would ultimately lead to the destruction of Tongeren in 1181: “Liège gives you, Tongeren, this wood, a pledge of the Savior’s love, a sign venerable for all” (inner inscription); “Noble Tongeren was worthy to have these bishops until the race of the Huns was able to abolish her” (outer inscription).[18] The triptych thus calls on the imperial-turned-liturgical motif of the cross as the vexillum of victory in battle.[19]

When the shutters of the reliquary are opened, the relic appears, set in the center of a triptych, the wings of which show scenes from the discovery and retrieval of the True Cross (fig. 8). The whereabouts of the cross are revealed to the elderly and enthroned Helena, the empress-saint and mother of Constantine. She directs Judas Quiriacus to unearth the precious relic.[20] On the right-hand edge of the outer frame, Constantine’s pre-battle dream of the cross is fused with the Discovery of the Cross [inventio crucis] legend that is expanded upon within. The victorious Christ crowns the interior composition, rendered en buste above the relic. On either side of the cross are the witnesses to the Passion, Mary (inscribed, SCA MARIA) and John (JOHANNES). Flanking the enshrined relic from below are Ecclesia with her labarum and chalice, at left, and, on the opposite side, the blindfolded Synagoga with her attributes toppling. The four evangelists, in the form of their inscribed symbols, occupy the corners of the inner panel.

Through interrelations between the object’s physical format and its iconography, the artist of the Tongeren staurotheca produces a programmatic message of revelation, drawing on the trope of the Holy of Holies as a space of nested interiorities en route to presence. The Old Testament scenes prefigure the coming of the Messiah, with the brazen serpent, for example, thought to be a figure of the cross as crucifix. The personifications of the synagogue and the church speak to a messianic way of thinking about time, as the fulfillment of the Old Order in the New. The inclusion of Mary and John, unusual for a staurotheca, not only underscores the full imbrication of the Christ’s death and victory through the vehicle of the cross, but also points towards acts of first-person witnessing.[21] The emphasis on the discovery and unearthing of the True Cross (which would not have been an assumed element in staurothecae at this time but is likewise featured slightly earlier in the case at Stavelot) extends the theme of uncovering something previously hidden.[22] The related iconography of the conversion of Constantine through a divinely-inspired dream is also shared among the programs of the Tongeren and Stavelot triptychs.[23] Reinforcing the language of a temporal supersession made manifest, when the wings of the Tongeren staurotheca are opened fully, the interior scenes of the inventio crucis physically conceal portions of the outer iconography, namely, the engraved plaques of the frame displaying the Old Testament prefigurations of the Crucifixion.

The censers invoke liturgical practice and point to interior and exterior areas within sacred space as well as the ritual practices that centered around these spaces as spheres of performative veiling and unveiling. Rendered on the outer part of the wings, the angels in the Tongeren example stand outside of the hallowed space within, the Holy of Holies, articulating a spatial logic of interiority to the reliquary in this case. Other examples, as at Stavelot, drew directly from descriptions of the Ark of the Covenant in Exodus.[24] Given its clear invocation of liturgical practice, the shutters of the Tongeren staurotheca may well have served the same function as covering veils.[25] Documents attest to a procession in 1141 of a comparable object containing a fragment of the True Cross, the Liège Cathedral’s shrine of St. Lambert;[26] the same shrine was carried in the region of Ardenne in 1151.[27] Processions like these would likely have culminated in the placement of the reliquary on the altar, the threshold to the tabernacle.[28] Given the geopolitical conditions of the Tongeren reliquary’s creation, it was likely processed in this manner prior to battle.[29] With this liturgical use of the object in mind, the maker of the reliquary employs the trope of the Holy of Holies to invoke a progression through different spaces, epochal temporalities, and levels of reality and sacral presence. The relic of the cross housed inside the reliquary is thus equated to the authentic, unmediated experience of the holy.

The Sainte-Croix Staurotheca and the Paradigm of the Thesaurus

With the arma Christi framing the presentation of Christological and saintly relics in the format of the triptych, the Sainte-Croix Triptych likewise demonstrates a spatial logic; however, one directed towards the presentation of the thesaurus. The altar was not the sole area of church architecture where concealment and display were set into a complex dialogue; the treasury could be itself a region of such negotiations. In one early instance, the treasury of the Kornelimünster Abbey, in Aachen, was renovated during the twelfth or thirteenth century to include a Weisungs– or Zeigefenster [display window] that facilitated the protection of the objects housed inside without concealing them wholesale.[30] In the twelfth-century Latin lexicon, thesaurus had a twofold meaning, referring both to the chamber or vault where precious objects were housed and to the group of precious objects itself.[31] This conceptual lack of distinction between the collection and its container entails a significant reorientation from the rhetoric of interiority that structured certain other Mosan reliquaries of this period. Considering the Sainte-Croix Triptych as a treasury in the dual sense of a repository and a collection sheds light on how this example of reliquary arts is structured to complexly enact exchanges among both real and imagined objects of the thesaurus.

The staurotheca of the collegiate church of Sainte-Croix in Liège takes the form of a winged triptych with a semi-circular section at the top that remains visible when the wings are closed (fig. 1). The back of the triptych has lost any original ornamentation, but retains deposits of varnish and dark red paint—typical of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries—that today only partially conceal the wooden core of the object.[32] Made of lead and copper gilt attached to an oak base, the triptych measures 55 x 52 cm. in its opened state.[33] The central section of the open triptych, where the relics are either physically housed or pictorially represented, comprises the focal point of the composition (fig. 2). The relic of the wood of the cross is presented in a rectangular gold case, a physical, tenth-century cross relic that may have been a gift to the collegiate church of Sainte-Croix upon its consecration in 986,[34] or, following a longer-standing theory, gifted to Bishop Notger of Liège by Henry II in 1006.[35] This box is supported on either side by a repoussé standing angel holding a staff topped with a golden ball. Adorned with palmette-patterned haloes—created through email-brun, a resin technique resembling enamel—the angels are identified by the vertical inscriptions as VERITAS [Truth] on the left and IVDICIVM [Judgment] on the right. Directly above the enshrined relic, where the semi-circular arches of the inner frame meet to form a trapezoidal plaque, a third angel is represented en buste in champlevé enamel and identified by an inscription as MISERICORDIA [Mercy]. Directly beneath the relic of the cross is a cabochon surrounded by pearled wire and a titulus reading: VICENT MART ET DE CAPITE S IOIS BAP [Vincent the Martyr and Part of the Head of St. John the Baptist]. The inscription refers to the relics of the tooth of St. Vincent and a piece of the skull of John the Baptist, enclosed together underneath the crystal.[36] On either side of the cabochon are representations in repoussé of the arma Christi—the vase of vinegar and gall (at left) and the crown of thorns and the four nails of the Crucifixion (at right).

The form of the cross carried or flanked by angels can be traced back to antique and early Christian prototypes.[37] Within this long tradition, these figures tended to oscillate among different functions of guarding, holding, and/or presenting the holy object to the viewer.[38] The arma Christi is also tied to this convention; as Rudolf Berliner stressed in his influential study of the iconography, the figural bearer played an important role as the arma Christi shifted among its various capacities as attribute, collection, arms in both the martial and heraldic senses, and a more independent motif.[39] Because each of these applications of the arma Christi entails a different relationship to the figural bearer, the figural element of the Sainte-Croix staurotheca comes to bear significantly on the deployment of the reliquary as a thesaurus.

The two monumental angels are depicted in an almost fully three-dimensional manner, with the smooth and rounded forms characteristic of much of twelfth-century Mosan metalwork.[40] Drawing attention to the micro-architectural quality of the Sainte-Croix reliquary triptych, they project out from the ground in a manner more like the sculpture of a cathedral façade than relief figures of repoussé gilt copper.[41] The drapery bolsters this sense of plasticity, hugging the bodies to reveal the shape and position of the legs underneath.[42] Their feet perch on a semi-circular plaque occupying the bottom portion of the panel, wherein five bust-length figures are depicted and labeled RESVRRECTIO SANCTORVM [Resurrection of the Saints] (fig. 4). Turned inward towards the lignum vitae, the angels partake of the two timeless events of the Adoration of the Cross and the Last Judgment.[43] If the figures on the Tongeren reliquary invoked the tabernacle by wielding censers at the threshold to an interior, hallowed space, in the Sainte-Croix case the figures structure a microcosmic, architectural domain more akin to the sort of cosmic order seen on tympana and in diagrams of this period.[44]

A contemporary example of the latter, a miniature from a manuscript of the Dialogus de laudibus sanctae crucis (Dialogus) [Dialogue concerning the praise of the holy cross] produced at Regensburg-Prüfening around 1170, demonstrates the use of the True Cross and the arma Christi as attributes of the triumphant Christ within a microcosmic program (fig. 10).[45] The Dialogus, probably intended for teaching purposes, features a treatment of the cross that is unparalleled in its extent and can only be broached here as a point of comparison.[46] Despite being a somewhat unique object, the composition of the Dialogus draws upon the common hierarchical arrangement of Last Judgment imagery and demonstrates a typical use of the arma Christi. Christ is shown seated in majesty atop a schema of paradise. Flanking him on either side is the full array of instruments of the Passion—at his right, the True Cross itself, carried by its discoverer, Helena; at his left, the vinegar and gall, the nails, the crown of thorns, and the lance. Christ appears in another guise at the center of the cosmos, the sacrificial lamb from which the universe emanates. Radiating out from this core image are the symbols of the evangelists alongside the personified cardinal virtues. Along the diagonal axes appear the four rivers of paradise, each personified and bearing a portrait of one of the church fathers. The illustrator of the Regensburg Dialogus visually distinguishes the arma Christi, as attributes of Christ and the emblems of his second coming, from the discrete—and here, textually oriented—schema beneath.

The presence of Christ himself is comparably circumscribed in the Sainte-Croix Triptych. The tall and narrow central panel of the triptych is topped with a double-arch into which the rounded wings fit when closed.[47] Atop this double-arched section, a thick band of semi-precious stones separates a prominent semi-circular plaque, extending up out of the very top of the central panel, from the rest of the triptych (fig. 3). Within this plaque, the risen Christ is portrayed en buste, his hands held out to display his wounds. He is identified by the inscribed Christogram IHS XPS [Jesus Christus] and by the cruciform halo of email-brun behind his head. Distinguishing it further from the central panel beneath, the semi-circular section containing the depiction of Christ is contained within beaded wire and a border of palmettes, different from either of the borders of the central panel.[48]

If the composition of the triptych gestures forward to the events of the resurrection of the saints and to the Last Judgment, it does not construe the arma Christi as straightforward attributes of Christ in the manner typical of hierarchical compositions, such as that of Dialogus. Drawn into juxtaposition with the presentation of physical relics in the central panel, the depiction of the arma Christi at different degrees of physicality and reality marshals the figures of the angel to bridge the arma Christi in their various applications. The staffs held by the angels, for example, are nineteenth-century in date; these would have originally been topped by the lance and the sponge of the Crucifixion, thus incorporating them into the program of the arma Christi elaborated upon in this central portion of the triptych.[49] Like the figures themselves, the staffs are rendered in an almost fully three-dimensional relief. Insisting on their status as physical objects, these instruments project over the front of the body and terminate out in front of the foliated frame to the central panel. Each of the figures supports the enshrined lignum vitae with the opposite hand, tinging the staffs with the military and protective quality that was central to the arma Christi as weaponry, while in turn pointing to the function of the cross as the vexillum of victory in battle.[50] Wielding the arma Christi, the angels keep guard over the relic of the True Cross, the focal point for the composition.

In the negative space between the bodies of the angels, their extended arms that support the cross on either side, the bottom of the staffs that they hold, and the central cabochon containing the relics of Vincent and the Baptist, the arma Christi appear in yet another guise. Pressing against the ground, the vinegar and gall, the crown of thorns, and the four nails—themselves unidentified by inscription—meld in their repoussé treatment with the inscriptions naming the angels as personifications. The vinegar and gall mingle with the letters spelling out VERITAS [Truth], and the nails and crown with those of IVDICIVM [Judgment].[51] Like the characters that comprise these tituli, the repoussé treatment of the arma Christi in the gilt copper ground of the central panel is somewhat irregularly arrayed, approximating the look of pictograms or signs most often associated with the arma Christi.[52] Indeed, the technique of repoussé—hammered into relief on the reverse side of the metal surface—is literally indexical in character. However, far from a strewn accumulation, the use of the arma Christi on the Sainte-Croix Triptych demonstrates a distillation of relationality and indexicality through the representational mode of the thesaurus.

Through its presentational use of metal, the Sainte-Croix staurotheca not only acts as a vessel for, but itself embodies, the collective range of objects of the treasury. The overall use of gold punctuated by polished stones and pearls puts a strong emphasis on precious materials that correlate to the different sorts of objects found in a church treasury. Colorful enameling was a popular medium for Mosan staurothecae of this period, as in the rich programs of the Stavelot and Guennol triptychs. In these instances, scholars have stressed the otherworldly effect of enameling on reliquaries, with the alchemical technique and the resulting luminous look of enamel drawing attention, respectively, to the process of transcendence and the appearance of the heavenly Jerusalem.[53] The contrasting flagrant presentation of precious metal on the Sainte-Croix staurotheca, what Joseph Ackley has called a presentational rather than representational use of gold, demonstrates a lesser interest in the sublimation of raw materials.[54] The thesaurus in its twofold sense as both container and collection points to how a treasury object such as the Sainte-Croix staurotheca both physically embodies and rhetorically articulates relationships between real and imagined objects of the thesaurus.

The Lignum Vitae and the Collection

The ampullae from the early period of Christian pilgrimage in Jerusalem in the sixth and seventh centuries lend further insight into how the interrelation among iconography, relic, and reliquary is working in the Sainte-Croix case (fig. 7). In each instance, the well-established motif of the Tree of Life supported by angels is employed; however, at Sainte-Croix the lignum vitae is geared towards the production of a thesaurus through its identity as a repurposed treasury object and its rhetorical incorporation into a collection that is imagined in its coherence and completeness. Like the later Mosan triptychs, the ampullae are image-bearing vessels for relics of the Passion acquired from the Holy Land then transferred into another context. They in fact comprised the contents of some of the earliest Christian relic collections, parallel to those being built up rapidly in the milieu of the Mosan staurothecae.[55] Yet, the function of an ampulla of this type is more expressly that of a souvenir, and studies of the early collections of the ampullae have drawn upon Susan Stewart’s concept of the souvenir to account for this corpus.[56] To flesh out the paradigm of the thesaurus, I extend this framework to encompass the distinction that Stewart goes on to make between the souvenir and the collection, as two different modes of mediating objects in time and space. Specifically, Stewart’s conceptualization of the collection as a narrative of the object and therefore as synchronous and self-enclosed productively informs an analysis of the visual logic of the thesaurus at work in the Sainte-Croix staurotheca.

The lignum vitae is a reference to the tree of life in paradise, the source of everlasting life created by the Lord in the Garden of Eden at the same time as the tree of knowledge of good and evil; it would come to be associated with both the cross itself and with the person of Christ as the Redeemer.[57] Labeled no. 1 by André Grabar in his catalogue of the Bobbio corpus,[58] an example shows the cross at its center made up of a series of overlapping palm branches, a motif conventionally called the scaled cross [crux squamata] (fig. 7).[59] The rest of the object is badly damaged, but still conspicuous is the placement of the cross within a mandorla (an almond-shaped frame for a holy figure) that is flanked on either side by a winged angel and supported above by a second pair of angels. Christ is seated at the top of this cosmic, oblong form, from the base of which emanates a radiant fluid—the oil exuded by the Tree of Life, according to the inscription around the edge of the ampulla.[60] The cross of palm branches, surrounded by stars, is, in Grabar’s analysis, a symbol of the celestial Tree of Life.[61] Here, it is the source of the literal substance of eternal salvation. The function of the angels bolsters this salvific message, with the figure of Christ being presented by the upper angels and adored by the kneeling angels below.[62]

The adoration of the cross by prostrate figures is common in the corpus of ampullae in general.[63] In some cases, such figures have been identified as pilgrims, pointing to the larger context of the ampullae within early Christian pilgrimage in the Holy Land and specifically Jerusalem. Pilgrims traveling abroad documented their experiences by retrieving material fragments from holy places associated with Christ. The circular inscription on another ampulla, Monza no. 1 in Grabar, reads “the oil of the wood of life from the holy places of Christ,” suggesting how the decoration of these objects was geared towards this practice of gathering traces from important sites.[64] Pilgrimage journals from this period describe the manifold benefits of any relic—even simply dust from the soil—from a place where an important episode of sacred history took place.[65] In one account of the public veneration of the True Cross at the Basilica of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, a pilgrim describes how the oil inside the ampulla was transformed into a powerful material vestige:

From Golgotha it is fifty paces to the place where the cross was discovered, which is in the Basilica of Constantine, which adjoins the Tomb and Golgotha (…) At the moment when the cross is brought out of this small room for veneration, and arrives in the court to be venerated, a star appears in the sky, and comes over the place where they lay the cross. It stays overhead whilst they are venerating the cross, and they offer oil to be venerated in little flasks. When the mouth of one of the little flasks touches the Wood of the cross, the oil instantly bubbles over, and unless it is closed very quickly it all spills out. When the cross is taken back to its place, the star also vanishes, and appears no more once the cross has been put away.[66]

The pilgrim’s description stresses the status of the ampulla as a souvenir. Readymade and distributed in numbers to pilgrims, the vessel contains an everyday oil that is transformed through contact with the charged Christological relic that is the cross. What is most striking in the account is not the miraculous power attributed to the wood of the cross but rather its fleeting appearance and disappearance, which creates the need to hold onto a physical trace of the object and the pilgrim’s momentary experience of it. 

The oil represented on the exterior of Bobbio ampulla no. 1 emanates eternally from the celestial Tree of Life, and correlates in an arbitrated way to the oil inside the ampulla. Fulfilling the function of a souvenir, the ampulla acquired its value by means of its relation to a specific, significant location where an event—in this instance, the display of the True Cross—took place. As Jas Elsner has pointed out in his study of early Christian collecting practices, the ampulla demonstrates what Stewart calls “the transference of origin to trace, moving from event to memory and desire.”[67] Once relocated to the foreign context of Bobbio, the ampulla is supplemented with a narrative discourse that, on the one hand, articulates a play of desire and, on the other, attests to the origin and authenticity of the souvenir. For Stewart, the narrative of the souvenir is also one of interiority.[68] The pilgrim’s witnessing of the transformation of the oil serves as the connective tissue between the related, eternal, celestial event depicted on the vessel and the substance housed within it. This witnessing also serves as a testament to the reality and power of the oil at hand as a material vestige of the wood of the True Cross.

Against the precedent of the lignum vitae represented by Bobbio ampulla no. 1, the cross at the center of the Sainte-Croix Triptych is marked as a constituent of the thesaurus. From an iconographic standpoint, this cross represents an emphatic blending of the Tree of Life and the Jeweled Cross types.[69] The wood is set into gold and bordered by pearled wire, with small pearls marking each end of the cross. A single semi-precious stone, surrounded also by pearls, marks the transept of the cross. Attached to the top of the cross is a small loop, slightly later in date than the materials used to embellish the cross.[70] Made up of two distinct shards of wood, crossed one over the other, the relic takes the form of a small cross inscribed: LIGNV VITE [Tree of Life].

At Sainte-Croix, the relic of the lignum vitae has an autonomous presence. The relic, set into a rectangular case that measures 6.3 x 4.7 cm., differs in date from the rest of the triptych. Dating to the tenth century, the cross was set into the triptych when the latter was produced ca. 1160.[71] The presence of filigree ornamentation on the reverse of the cross, discovered in 1972, has led Hiltrud Westermann-Angerhausen and others to conclude that, rather than being previously set into a larger cross, this small cross probably originated as the removable relic of a staurotheca.[72] It has been speculated that it was produced for an Ottonian ruler such as Theophanu (d. 991), the Byzantine princess and wife of Otto II.[73] 

The independent physical presence of this smaller, Byzantine staurotheca is emphatic. Breaking from the gilt repoussé ground of the central panel, the oblong form of the staurotheca projects visibly outwards. The symbolic support lent to the mandorla by the Bobbio angels contrasts to the physical support and the semi-scenic presentation of this protruding, independent staurotheca in the Sainte-Croix Triptych. The exposed nature of the relic itself further distinguishes it in appearance from its larger framework and points to a Byzantine influence, since in Greek Christianity the cross itself was touched and kissed as part of liturgical practice.[74]

The lignum vitae at Sainte-Croix exceeds the category of trace upon which the ampulla, as souvenir, is based. Visible in its entirety through a piece of rock crystal, the two shards of wood are crossed one over the other to produce the symbolic form of the Latin Cross, prompting a chain of associations within convention.[75] Sign theory has consistently been applied in studies of the arma Christi, however, the role of that semiotic function in creating the fundamental interpretative flexibility of the arma Christi has only recently and cursorily been noted.[76] Medieval theology and devotional practice situated the arma Christi precisely within this sphere of ambivalent signification.[77] The use of various precious materials at Sainte-Croix, embodying the collective array of objects of the treasury, bolsters this interpretive flexibility. With regard to a later reliquary vessel for a piece of Christ’s mantel, also among the arma Christi, Beate Fricke has demonstrated how precious materials such as mother-of-pearl, together with an already ambivalent iconographic subject matter, could signify in a multivalent way.[78] While the flexibility of meaning in allegoresis is not the same thing as the flexibility of presence in the thesaurus, Fricke’s discussion of how precious materials can be used to represent “timeless” and complex theological subject matters demonstrates how an object can become the core of interrelated spheres of meaning.[79]

Although technically an autonomous object, the relic of the cross housed in the central panel of the Sainte-Croix Triptych fluctuates between singularity and totality because of its proximity to different physical and pictorial objects of the thesaurus. While the titulus points to the rich tradition of the lignum vitae, the flanking of the cross with the arma Christi simultaneously cues the cross as symbolic of the person of Christ himself, conventionally flanked by these attributes. The presence of the arma Christi in the space surrounding the relic of the True Cross additionally signals the status of the cross as one of the instruments of the Passion. Together with the vinegar and gall, the crown of thorns, and the nails, the relics of St. John the Baptist and St. Vincent sit at the base of the True Cross as lignum vitae, the source from which the thesaurus visibly emanates. The grouping and play of these treasured objects inscribes the staurotheca as a synchronous and self-contained collection.


The paradigm of the thesaurus in its dual sense as the collection itself and the spatial repository for that collection offers an alternative to the nested interiorities of the Holy of Holies through which reliquaries and especially reliquary triptychs have most often been approached. The Sainte-Croix Triptych, marginalized as derivative in comparison with contemporary works like the Stavelot Triptych, offers an opportunity to interrogate the interconnections among the enshrined Christological relic, the pictorial representation of the arma Christi, and the origins of the triptych format in the West, and insight into how that interconnection was explicated in twelfth-century art.

Using spatial and sign theories to reapproach the staurotheca as a thoughtful work rather than a passive copy and to address these overlooked interconnections reveals a rhetoric of the thesaurus that contrasts in productive ways with that of interiority. The case of the contemporary reliquary at Tongeren, likewise produced in Liège around 1170, demonstrates the paradigm of the Holy of Holies that is common to Mosan reliquary triptychs of this period and that has generally been developed more fully in the study of reliquary arts. The thesaurus in its twofold sense as both container and collection points to how a treasury object such as the Sainte-Croix staurotheca both physically embodies and rhetorically articulates relationships between real and imagined objects of the thesaurus. Susan Stewart’s differentiation of the souvenir from the collection, emphasizing the synchronicity and self-enclosure of the collection, is useful for getting at how the motif of the lignum vitae works within the broader visual rhetoric of the thesaurus in the Sainte-Croix Triptych.

Reapproaching the Sainte-Croix staurotheca as evidence of how the thesaurus functioned as a thoughtful representational mode as well as how the arma Christi participated in and derived meaning from this mode also pays off by allowing us to move beyond the tendency to approach the iconography of the arma Christi purely as a case study for the Andachtsbild. The framework of the thesaurus cues a separate set of problems that would be explicated in an ongoing way through the arma Christi across medieval and early modern art—namely, the relationship between the pictorial representation of relic treasury and the physical presentation of relics; and the character of the multipart work as both an image and a container for relics.

Julia Oswald, Northwestern University

Julia Oswald (PhD Candidate, Art History, Northwestern University) studies medieval and early modern art. She is especially interested in devotional imagery and the relationship between pictorial media and the cult of relics. Her dissertation examines the growing range of iconographies developed to depict the relics of the Passion 1100–1600.


This paper is a working portion of my dissertation project. I am exceedingly grateful to Philippe Cordez, Richard Kieckhefer, the editors and peer-reviewers of Hortulus and, above all, to my dissertation adviser Christina Normore for critical readings of versions of this text.

[1] At once emblem, attribute, collection, and arms in both the martial and heraldic senses, the arma Christi took many forms in western visual culture and extend into a range of art historical subfields. A motif in apocalyptic imagery as early as the end of the first millennium, the arma Christi were construed as both the attributes of the triumphant Christ and the ethereal “sign of the Son of Man” mentioned in Matthew 24:30 as a herald of Christ’s second coming. For the various, even paradoxical, valences of the arma Christi and a useful overview of exegesis of the Matthew passage by both pre- and post-Reformation theologians, see Rudolf Berliner, “Arma Christi,” Münchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst (Munich: Zentralinstitut für Kunstgeschichte, 1955): 35–36. For an example of apocalyptic imagery in which the arma Christi serve as attributes of Christ, see Nicholas of Verdun, Judge of the World, Klosterneuburg Altar, 1181, Monastery of Klosterneuburg. For case studies that speak to different aspects of the iconography during the medieval and early modern periods, see Lisa Cooper and Andrea Denny-Brown, eds., The Arma Christi in Medieval and Early Modern Material Culture (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014). In the later Middle Ages, the iconography would be expanded beyond the core group of passional instruments, as well as incorporated as a stock element in the widely copied and varied Man of Sorrows and Mass of St. Gregory image-types. See Esther Meier, Die Gregorsmesse: Funktionen eines spätmittelalterlichen Bildtypus (Köln; Weimar; Wien: Böhlau, 2006); Andreas Gormans and Thomas Lentes, eds., Das Bild der Erscheinung: die Gregorsmesse im Mittelalter, Kultbild 3 (Berlin: Reimer, 2007).

[2] On dating: Philippe Verdier persuasively dates the Sainte-Croix Triptych to 1150–1160, in “Les staurothèques mosanes et leur iconographie du Jugement dernier,” Cahiers de civilisation médiévale (Université de Poitiers: Centre d’études supérieures de civilisation médiévale (1973): 109 and “The Twelfth-Century Chasse of St. Ode from Amay,” Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 42 (1981): 25. Others make a case for the following decade (ca. 1170), positioning the Stavelot as the first in a series. See Marcel Durliat, “Mélanges: Rhin-Meuse ou Rhin et Meuse?” Bulletin Monumental 131, no. 2 (1973): 149;  Kelly M. Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs and the Cult of the True Cross in the Twelfth Century,” PhD dissertation (New Haven: Yale University, 1995), 77; Dietrich Kötzsche, “Zum Stand der Forschung der Goldschmiedekunst im Rhein-Maas-Gebiet,” in Rhein und Maas: Kunst und Kultur, 800–1400, vol. 2 (Cologne: Schnütgen Museum, 1972), 243; Renate Kroos, Der Schrein des Heiligen Servatius in Maastricht (Munich: Deutscher Kunstverlag, 1985), 100; Albert Lemeunier, Trésors du Musée d’Arts Religieux et Mosan de Liège (Paris: Musée du Petit Palais de la Ville de Paris, 1982), 22; Jacques Stiennon, “La personalité de Wibald de Stavelot et de Corvey. Une problématique,” in Wibald. Abbé de Stabelot-Malmedy et de Corvey, 1130–1158 (Stavelot: J. Chauveheid, 1982), 244; Hanns Swarzenski, Monuments of Romanesque Art (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 69–70; William M. Voelkle, The Stavelot Triptych. Mosan Art and the Legend of the True Cross (New York, 1980), 27. On the extent of the original corpus: see Frolow, La relique, 394–414.

[3] The Latin term staurotheca (plural: staurothecae) is drawn from the Greek meaning “cross container” and is commonly used in the literature to describe cross reliquaries of this period, especially those that have traditionally been understood in relation to Byzantine prototypes.

[4] Holbert examines this relationship specifically, in “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs.” See also Ernst Gunther Grimme, Goldschmiedekunst im Mittelalter: Form und Bedeutung des Reliquiars von 800 bis 1500 (Cologne; Leipzig: E.A. Seemann, 1972), 47–48; Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 97–121.

[5] Anton Frolow has written two thorough monographs on the cult and reliquaries of the True Cross. See La relique de la Vraie Croix. Recherches sur le développement d’un culte (Paris: Institut français d’études byzantines, 1961) and Les reliquaires de la Vraie Croix (Paris: Institut français d’études byzantines, 1965).

[6] It was also under the Carolingians that church treasuries were first bureaucratically inventoried, providing a template for later medieval practices. See Joseph Salvatore Ackley, “Re-approaching the Western Medieval Church Treasury Inventory, c. 800–1250,” Journal of Art Historiography 11 (December 2014): 1–37; Melanie Holcomb, “The Function and Status of Carved Ivory in Carolingian Culture,” PhD dissertation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, 1999), 31–77. Philippe Cordez elaborates on the Carolingian treasury, following the trajectory of the thesaurus with emphasis on its dual imaginative and material character and on the construction of imperial memory through treasure, in Schatz, Gedächtnis, Wunder: Die Objekte der Kirchen im Mittelalter (Regensburg: Schnell & Steiner, 2015).

[7] This is observed across the literature on the arma Christi. See Berliner, 37–39; Hartmut Kühne, Ostensio Reliquiarum: Untersuchungen über Entstehung, Ausbreitung, Gestalt und Funktion der Heiltumsweisungen im Römisch-Deutschen Regnum (Berlin; New York: W. de Gruyter, 2000), 891; Heather Madar, “Iconography of a Sign: A Semiotic Reading of the Arma Christi,” in ReVisioning: Critical Methods of Seeing Christianity in the History of Art, eds. James Romaine and Linda Stratford (Cambridge, UK: The Lutterworth Press, 2014), 115–32; Robert Suckale, “arma Christi: Überlegungen zur Zeichenhaftigkeit mittelalterlicher Andachtsbilder,” Städel-Jahrbuch 6 (1977): 183.

[8] Scholarship on the Stavlot Triptych has been paradigmatic of this methodology. See especially Susanne Wittekind, Altar – Reliquiar – Retabel: Kunst und Liturgie bei Wibald von Stablo (Cologne: Böhlau, 2004).

[9] For cataloguing, see Joseph Braun, Die Reliquiare des christlichen Kultes und ihre Entwicklung (Osnabrück: O. Zeller, 1940); Jean Ebersolt, Orient et Occident: Recherches sur les influences byzantines et orientales en France avant et pendant les Croisades, vol. 2 (Paris: Boccard, 1928–29), 28–31; Frolow, Les reliquaires; Grimme, 32–55. For the general trend, see Hans Belting, “Die Reaktion der Kunst des 13. Jahrhunderts auf den Import von Reliquien und Ikonen,” in Ornamenta Ecclesiae, vol. 3 (Cologne: Schnütgen Museum, 1985), 173–183. For more in-depth study attempting to consider these both individually and as a coherent group, see Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs.” Holger Klein and Gia Toussaint also offer nuanced discussions of twelfth- and thirteenth-century western reliquaries. See Klein, Byzanz, der Westen, und das “wahre Kreuz”: Die Geschichte einer Reliquie und ihrer künsterlischen Fassung in Byzanz und im Abendland (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 2004), esp. 162–174 and Toussaint, Kreuz und Knochen: Reliquien zur Zeit der Kreuzzüge (Berlin: Dietrich Reimer, 2011), esp. 97–114.  Klein is revising Frolow, who argues that the direct influence of Byzantine modes can be seen on western reliquaries as early as the ninth century and that the Mosan reliquary retains a somewhat consistent character through practices of copying from around 1000 well into the thirteenth century. See Frolow, La relique, esp. 143.

[10] Holbert notes the lack of documentation on this corpus, in “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 6. Focusing her analysis on the conjoining of the triptych form and the iconography of the True Cross, Holbert is on all iconographic fronts rather thorough except with regard to the arma Christi, which she only broaches. I am nevertheless much indebted here to her thorough study.

[11] See Suckale, “arma Christi,” 194–6. An important part of Suckale’s thesis is that we cannot approach the arma Christi through the lens of Renaissance pictorial aesthetics.

[12] The Dutuit pair of reliquaries came into the possession of a Parisian collector during the turbulent years surrounding 1848. Among other modifications, the treatments of the True Cross and the arma Christi, especially on the “Small” Triptych, were substantially altered. Holbert cites what we know of the provenance of the Dutuit reliquaries and provides a good overview, in “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 115–139. While the Sainte-Croix Triptych was undergoing examination and upkeep in preparation for the Rhein und Maas exhibition, held at the Schnütgen Museum in Cologne in 1973, partial modifications to several areas of the triptych became apparent. The restorations include the hinges, the figures of Christ and the resurrected saints, several sections of the patterned borders, and the staffs of the standing angels. Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 75; Kötzsche, Rhein und Maas, 241 and “Goldschmiedkunst,” in Die Zeit der Staufer. Geschichte-Kunst-Kultur, ed. Reiner Haussherr, vol. 1 (Stuttgart: Württemburgisches Landesmuseum: 1977), 399–400; Kroos, 99.

[13] Cynthia Hahn, Strange Beauty: Issues in the Making and Meaning of Reliquaries, 400–1204 (University Park: Pennsylvania State University, 2013), 8. This thesis is developed throughout the book. For a ninth-century precedent that highlights some of the pertinent issues here, see David F. Appleby, “Rudolf, Abbot Hrabanus and the Ark of the Covenant Reliquary,” The American Benedictine Review 46, no. 4 (1995): 419–443.

[14] Ebersolt, 28–29; Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 75; Klein, 104; Rainert Rückert, “Zur Form des Byzantinischen Reliquiare,” Münchner Jahrbuch der bildeden Kunst 8 (1937), 1–36 at 7–10; Verdier, “A Thirteenth-Century Reliquary of the True Cross,” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum (1982): 100.

[15] Rückert, 22; Verdier, “A Thirteenth-Century Reliquary of the True Cross,” 100.

[16] Verdier discusses this as a blending of tabula and triptych, in “A Thirteenth-century Reliquary of the True Cross,” 106. For a further discussion of the object’s adaptation of Byzantine models, see Klein, 224–226. Following Lemeunier, Baert advocates for a date closer to the turn of the thirteenth century. See Baert, A Heritage of Holy Wood: The Legend of the True Cross in Text and Image (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004), 111–119 and Lemeunier, “La staurothèque mosane de Tongeren. Aspects décoratifs,” Revue des historiens de l’art, des archéologues, des musicologues et des orientalistes de l’Université de Liège 15 (1996): 49–52.

[17] For thorough discussion of the iconographic program here, see The Year 1200, ed. Konrad Hoffmann (New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1970), no. 178; Art Mosan aux XIe et XIIe siècles, ed. Collon-Gevaert et al (Brussels: Arcade, 1961), no. 49, 248; Baert, 111–119; Kötzsche, Staufer, vol. 1, 213; Lemeunier, “La staurothèque mosane de Tongeren,” 49–52; G. Malherbe, “Étude sur les reliques et les reliquaires de la vraie croix,” Het Gildeboek: Tijdschrift voor kerkelijke kunst en oudheidkunde 19 (1936): 83; Swarzenski, nos. 424–425.

[18] Inside: HOC SALVATORIS TIBI TONGRIS PIGNUS AMORIS/LEGIA DAT LIGNVM CVNCTIS VENERABILE SIGNVM. Outside: PONTIFICES MERVIT HOS INCLITA TONGRIS HABERE/DONEC EAM POTVIT HVNNORUM GENS ABOLERE. I am very grateful to Professors Richard Kieckhefer and Barbara Newman for their suggestions on this translation. The Latin inscription is transcribed in Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 56 and Klein, 225. On the gifting of the relic see, Holbert, ibid., no. 77 with reference to Paquay 1904, 128.

[19] Baert, 114; Kroos, 256–296.

[20] For an overview of the legend in all its varieties, see Baert’s monograph. For a shorter but still thorough overview, see Kelly M. Holbert, “Relics and Reliquaries of the True Cross,” Art and Architecture of Late Medieval Pilgrimage in Northern Europe and the British Isles, eds. Sarah Blick and Rita Tekippe (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2005): 337–341.

[21] Baert notes the unusual use of Mary and John, in Heritage, 119.

[22] For the prevalence of the Finding of the Cross iconography on staurothecae generally, see ibid. For Stavelot as perhaps the oldest example, see ibid., 82 and Voelkle, 11. For the relation between the Tongeren and the Stavelot examples, see Baert, 77–83 and Klein, 225–226.

[23] See the discussion of Constantine’s dream and the motif of the cross as banner in Holbert, “Relics and Reliquaries of the True Cross,” 340–344.

[24] For example, it is often noted that on the Stavelot Triptych the columns supporting the Ark of the Covenant are depicted following the description in Exodus 26:31–33. See Baert, 79; Klein, 229.

[25] Holbert argues for this, in “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 222.

[26] Holbert notes that the object was processed in Bouillon in the hopes of toppling the usurper Count Renaud of Bar, who had unlawfully seized the castle belonging to the bishops of Liège. Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 212 with reference to MGH SS 20, 497–511.

[27] Albert Lemeunier, “Échanges artistiques et religieux dans le sillage des premières croisades,” in Le temps des Croisades (Brussels: 1996), 101.

[28] Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 212; Lemeunier, “Échanges,” 101.

[29] This is speculative. See Baert, 114; Kroos, 256–296.

[30] Several comparable renovations were instituted in the region at a later date. A famous case is the St. Matthias Abbey in Trier, where the three-story thesaurus, originally constructed in 1148, was renovated over the course of 1512–1514 into a two-story chamber with a prominent Zeigefenster. Franz Ronig, “Die Schatz- und Heiltumskammern,” in Rhein und Maas, 134–135. Ronig’s study stems from Günter Bandmann, “Über Pastophorien und verwandte Nebenräume im mittelalterlichen Kirchenbau,” in Kunstgeschichteliche Studien für Hans Kauffmann, ed. Wolfgang Braunfels (Berlin: Mann, 1956), 19–58. More recently, see Andreas Bräm, “Schatzräume: Sakristeien und Schatzkammern gotischer Kathedralen Frankreichs,” Thesis. Cahier d’histoire des collections et de muséologie 8 (2006): 9–60.

[31] This meaning developed by the end of the first millennium. Joseph Salvatore Ackley, “‘Offer Him Gold; That Is True Love’: Ottonian Gold Repoussé and the Western Medieval Church Treasury,” PhD dissertation (New York: The Institute of Fine Arts, 2014), 38; Lucas Burkart, Das Blut der Märtyrer: Genese, Bedeutung, und Funktion mittelalterlicher Schätze (Cologne: Böhlau, 2009), 44; Cordez, 13; Ronig, 134. On the limitations of etymology, see Burkart, 74–77.

[32]As noted in a letter by Gilberte Dewanckel of 30 September 1994, cited in Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 75.

[33] Lemeunier, Trésors, no. 9, 22–24.

[34] Westermann-Angerhausen, “Das ottonische Kreuzreliquiar im Reliquientriptychon von Ste. Croix in Lüttich,” Wallraf-Richartz-Jahrbuch 36 (1974): 18.

[35] MGH, Diplomatum regum et imperatorum Germaniae 3, no. 93, 117–118 cited in Poncelet, Inventaire analytique des chartes de la collégiale Sainte-Croix à Liège, vol. 2 (Brussels: Commission Royale d’Histoire, 1911–1922), VII. Since all source material regarding the development of Sainte-Croix after 1005 was lost during the French Revolution and there are no inventories or liturgical manuscripts earlier in date than the fourteenth century, the exact circumstances surrounding the creation of the Sainte-Croix Triptych cannot be established. Holbert notes this lack of documentation and speculates that the triptych may have been produced in relation to the ratification in 1150 of an ordinance in which the chapter of Sainte-Croix received permission from the Bishop of Liège to celebrate the feast of St. Vincent with nine lessons. If true, this may therefore place the creation of the triptych back to this event (ca. 1150), a date supported by some scholars on a stylistic basis. The church must have had a special devotion to St. Vincent in order to lodge an appeal to expand the lessons of his feast. See Ibid., XXXIII; Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 88.

[36] Collon-Gevaert et al, 198, no. 22; Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 94.

[37] Grimme, 47; Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 102.

[38] Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 99–103 and 112–114.

[39] The role of the figure is very important for Berliner in attempting to trace the iconography. See “Arma Christi,” esp. 56–61.

[40] Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 77.

[41] Kroos, 110; Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 108.

[42] Verdier, ibid.; Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 77.

[43] Holbert notes the two timeless events conjoined here, see ibid., 101.

[44] Since Panofsky, the scholastic theology that rose to prominence in the cathedral schools of this period has been aligned on the stylistic plane with the Gothic’s concern with luminous presentation and logical ordering, both of which are at work in some measure in the Sainte-Croix case. See Panofsky, Gothic Art and Scholasticism (Latrobe, PA: Archabbey Press, 1951).

[45] Dialogus de laudibus sanctae crucis, Bavarian State Library (BSB), Munich Ms. Clm 14159, fol. 5v.

[46] Such an extensive treatment of the cross from both a visual and conceptual point of view is not known in any other source, and the Dialogus has therefore been contextualized within the milieu of late-twelfth-century scholastic theology. See Wolfgang Hartl, Text und Miniaturen der Handschrift Dialogus de laudibus sanctae crucis: ein monastischer Dialog und sein Bilderzyklus. Schriften zur Kunstgeschichte 16 (Hamburg: Verlag Dr. Kovac, 2007); Regensburger Buchmalerei von frühkarolingischer Zeit bis zum Ausgang des Mittelalters, eds. Florentine Mütherich and Karl Dachs (Munich: 1987), no. 38. For further discussion of the manuscript’s pictorial program, see Die Zeit der Romanik, 52; Elisabeth Klemm, Die romanischen Handschriften der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München (Wiesbaden: Reichert, 1980), no. 35; Ingeborg Neske, Katalog der lateinischen Handschriften der Bayerischen Staatsbibliothek München: Die Handschriften aus St. Emmeram in Regensburg, vol. 2 (Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2005), 75–77; Schiller, Ikonographie der christlichen Kunst, vol. 2 (Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus Gerd Mohn, 1968), 201; Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 205; Wittekind, Wibald, 326.

[47] See the discussion of the tablets of the Law in the context of comparable later objects, in Sarah M. Guérin, “Meaningful Spectacles: Gothic Ivories Staging the Divine,” Art Bulletin 95, no. 1 (March 2013): 53–77.

[48] Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 77.

[49] Holbert, ibid.; Kötzsche, Staufer, 399.

[50] Berliner discusses the special apotropaic properties that came to be associated with the arma Christi in part because of their identity as weapons, in “Arma Christi,” 49.

[51] For a discussion of how the cross is cast as a physical object even in comparable pictorial media, see Beatrice Kitzinger, “Recasting Hrabanus: Romanesque Praise for the Holy Cross,” in Romanesque and the Past: Retrospection in the Art and Architecture of Romanesque Europe, eds. John McNeill and Richard Plant (Leeds: Maney Publishing for the British Archaeological Association, 2013), 221–41; “The Liturgical Cross and the Space of the Passion: The Diptych of Angers MS 24,” in Envisioning Christ on the Cross: Ireland and the Early Medieval West, ed. Juliet Mullins et al (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2013), 141–59; “The Instrumental Cross and the Use of the Gospel Book Troyes, Bibliothèque Municipale MS 960,” Different Visions: A Journal of New Perspectives on Medieval Art 4 (2014): 1–33.

[52] Suckale, esp. 183–185. See also Madar, 115–32.

[53] See Cynthia Hahn’s discussion of Aaron’s breastplate in “Portable Altars (and the Rationale): Liturgical Objects, Relics, and Personal Devotion,” in Image and Altar 800-1300, ed. Poul Grinder-Hansen (Odense: University Press of Southern Denmark, 2014), 45–64. Herbert Kessler also argues that, made from base substances under intense heat, vitreous arts like enamel and glass not only evoke the appearance of the heavenly city but, by drawing attention to the very process of metamorphosis, also transform the literal Jewish accounts rendered in these materials into an evocative Christian interpretation. Herbert L. Kessler, “‘They Preach Not by Speaking out Loud but by Signifying’: Vitreous Arts as Typology,” Gesta 51, no. 1 (2012): 55–70.

[54] See Ackley, “Ottonian Gold Repoussé,” esp. 262–311.

[55] Jas Elsner draws a parallel between the amassing of ampullae and later, secular collecting practices, in “Replicating Palestine and Reversing the Reformation: Pilgrimage and Collecting at Bobbio, Monza and Walsingham,” Journal of the History of Collections 9, no. 1 (1997): 117–30. See also Alžběta Filipová, “The Memory of Monza’s Holy Land Ampullae; from Reliquary to Relic, or There and Back Again,” in Objects of Memory, Memory of Objects. The Artworks as a Vehicle of the Past in the Middle Ages (Brno: Masarykova Univerzita, 2014), esp. 18–20.

[56] See Elsner, 117–130 and Susan Stewart, On Longing. Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Baltimore; London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1984), esp. 132–51.

[57] Genesis 3:9. Rupert of Deutz discusses the Tree of Life as Christ himself. See Dufour-Kowalski, 56; Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 100.

[58] Grabar, 1958, no. 1, p. 33 and pl. XXXII.

[59] Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 103 and 210.

[60] Ibid., 103; Grabar, 33.

[61] Grabar, 57. Other iconographies further developed the generative properties of the cross, even casting it as alive or anthropomorphizing it. See Robert L. Füglister, Das lebende Kreuz. Ikonographisch-ikonologische Untersuchung der Herkunft und Entwicklung einer spätmittelalterlichen Bildidee und ihrer Verwurzelung im Wort (Zürich; Cologne: Benziger, 1964).

[62] Grabar, 57; Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 103.

[63] Monza nos. 2 and 5–16; Bobbio nos. 3–6 and 18. See Filipová, 15.

[64] Grabar, no. 1, p. 57 and pl. LI; inscription transcribed in Elsner, 118.

[65] Filipová, 12.

[66] Itinerarium quoted in John Wilkinson, Jerusalem Pilgrims before the Crusades (Warminster: Liverpool University Press, 2002), 139.

[67] Stewart, 134 quoted in Elsner, 121.

[68] Stewart, 136.

[69] Holbert persuasively demonstrates that the Sainte-Croix Triptych does not fit into one single category or group but represents a blending of a variety of iconographic traditions. See “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” esp. 104–114.

[70] Ibid., 75.

[71] Grimme, 47; Westermann-Angerhausen, 8; Kötzsche, Staufer, vol. 1, 400.

[72] Collon-Gavaert, et al, 198; Verdier, “Les staurothèques mosanes,” 105; Westermann-Angerhausen, 9.

[73] Holbert, “Mosan Reliquary Triptychs,” 76; Westermann-Angerhausen, 10–12, 15, 18.

[74] Westermann-Angerhausen, 15.

[75] For the application of semiotics to medieval art, see Michael Camille, “The Book of Signs: Writing and Visual Difference in Gothic Manuscript Illumination,” Word and Image 1 (1985): 133–48.

[76] For the former, see Suckale, 177–208, although Suckale does note the wide variety of applications of the arma Christi, at 181. For the latter, see Madar’s short but great discussion of the arma Christi as “flexible signs,” 115–32. Madar points out that it was precisely the ambiguous nature of the arma Christi as signs that allowed for their exceptional versatility and, subsequently, their success as devotional images, at 117. The discrepancies between contemporary meditative practices and the application of the arma Christi further suggests that devotional practices alone do not suffice as a basis for this image-type. Berliner pointed out that meditation on the Passion objects themselves remained, in devotional practice, something very separate from meditation on their power or potency, in “Arma Christi,” 45.

[77] For an overview of the theological debates here, see Berliner, esp. 46–48.

[78] Beate Fricke, “Matter and Meaning of Mother-of-Pearl: The Origins of Allegory in the Spheres of Things,” Gesta 51, no. 1 (2012): 35–53.

[79] Ibid., 45–49.


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Figure 1Sainte-Croix cross reliquary, Liège, ca. 1160. Treasury of the Church of the Holy Cross, Grand Curtius Museum, Liège. Photo courtesy of Grand Curtius Museum, Liège.

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Fig. 2Detail of Sainte-Croix cross reliquary, Liège, ca. 1160. Treasury of the Church of the Holy Cross, Grand Curtius Museum, Liège. Photo courtesy of Grand Curtius Museum, Liège. 

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Fig. 3Detail of Sainte-Croix cross reliquary, Liège, ca. 1160. Treasury of the Church of the Holy Cross, Grand Curtius Museum, Liège. Photo courtesy of Grand Curtius Museum, Liège. 

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Fig. 4: Detail of Sainte-Croix cross reliquary, Liège, ca. 1160. Treasury of the Church of the Holy Cross, Grand Curtius Museum, Liège. Photo courtesy of the author. 

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Fig. 5: “Large” Dutuit Reliquary, Mosan, ca. 1170. Paris, Petit Palais. Photo courtesy of Petit Palais, City of Paris Museum of Fine Arts. 

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Fig. 6: “Small” Dutuit Reliquary, Mosan, ca. 1170. Paris, Petit Palais. Photo courtesy of the author. 

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Fig. 7: Holy Land ampulla, 6th century. Treasury of the Abbey of San Columbano, Bobbio. Image source: Grabar 1958, no. 1, p. 33 and pl. 32. 

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Fig. 8: Staurotheca, opened state, Liège, ca. 1170. Vrouwebasiliek Tongeren. Photo courtesy of the author. 

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Fig. 9: Staurotheca, closed state, Liège, ca. 1170. Vrouwebasiliek Tongeren. Image source: Klein 2004, pl. 98a. 

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Fig. 10Dialogus de laudibus sanctae crucis, Regensburg-Prüfening, 1170-1180. Bavarian State Library (BSB), Munich Ms. Clm 14159, fol. 5v. Image source: Münchener Digitalisierungszentrum(MDZ).