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The Włocławek reliquary (also known as the Kruszwica reliquary) was created in the 2nd quarter of the 12th century, supposedly in Swabia. It is linked to the Zwiefalten workshop. The exhibit is in the form of a rectangular low chest on four legs made of oak wood and covered with a copper sheet decorated with champlevé (blue, fair blue, white and green), engraved and gilded. 

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The Włocławek reliquary (also known as the Kruszwica reliquary) was created in the 2nd quarter of the 12th century, supposedly in Swabia. It is linked to the Zwiefalten workshop. The exhibit is in the form of a rectangular low chest on four legs made of oak wood and covered with a copper sheet decorated with champlevé (blue, fair blue, white and green), engraved and gilded. The lid of the reliquary is ornamented with the scene of the Ascension; it has two longer sides and one shorter, with the busts of ten Apostles in the arcades. The right side has a glaze through which relics put in a glass ampoule can be seen. According to an erroneous scientific hypothesis of the 19th century, it was to come from the Kruszwica cathedral. Until the mid-19th century the exhibit was kept in the cathedral treasure in Włocławek. The cathedral chapter donated the reliquary to Kazimierz Stronczyński, who passed it on to a well-known collector, Józef Rusiecki. The exhibit joined the National Museum in Kraków in 1909 as a donation from the collection of Stanisław Ursyn-Rusiecki, son of Józef. 

Elaborated by Alicja Kilijańska (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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What is sigillography and the secret language of stamps?

Kazimierz Stronczyński, who was for some time in possession of the valuable Włocławek reliquary (Kruszwica reliquary) presented on the website, was a distinguished cataloguer of historical items, a creator of numismatics and an inestimable expert and researcher of seals...

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Kazimierz Stronczyński, who was for some time in possession of the valuable Włocławek reliquary (Kruszwica reliquary) presented on the website, was a distinguished cataloguer of historical items, a creator of numismatics and an inestimable expert and researcher of seals.
Sigillography is the science focused on the history, meaning and secret language of stamps.
In the past, when paper correspondence was the main channel for transferring information, there was a whole language of signs.
Private letters were always sealed with white wax. The shades of white had their significance: snow white was reserved for the most distinguished figures, off-white was used to seal letters addressed to persons of a lower rank.
Red wax, which can also be bought today, was intended for postal correspondence.
Anyone who has contact with official documents knows how important it is to press the stamp of a person signing a document in a legible and straight way. Or is this approach just an indication of the care for details and respect for the addressee and nothing else?
Perhaps it was the trace of practice and custom of the times when correspondence was art (text written in calligraphy, properly selected paper, signature and stamp became the equivalent elements of a message).
In the world of these codes and symbols, a lopsided stamp was interpreted in a straightforward way of breaking all contacts with the addressee, even if the contents of the letter did not suggest such a decisive move...

Elaborated by Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See seals from the collection of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums:
Wax seal of the imperial and royal (C.K.) District Starost (head of district)
Stamp of the drapers’ guild
Seal of Koszyce

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Reliquary – the receptacle for holiness

The cult of saints caused reliquaries to be treated in a special way in the Middle Ages. They served as housing for objects of worship – the remains of saints and martyrs or objects which had come into contact with holiness, which is why considerable attention was paid to their construction using precious metals and beautifully decoration. They were often inlaid with expensive stones.

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The cult of saints caused reliquaries to be treated in a special way in the Middle Ages. They served as housing for objects of worship – the remains of saints and martyrs or objects which had come into contact with holiness, which is why considerable attention was paid to their construction using precious metals and beautifully decoration. They were often inlaid with expensive stones.
The enamelled decorations on the reliquary of Włocławek tell the story of the ascension of Christ. The heavenly blue skies surrounding the saviour, the white nimbus of apostolic sanctity, the gilding on the casing for a holy history – all these intricately inlaid details were supposed to be a worthy setting for relics probably coming from Jerusalem, perhaps the earth or pebbles from the Mount of Olives. The very theme of Christ’s ascension was rarely addressed on reliquaries, which testifies to the uniqueness of the object.
The reliquary of Włocławek (otherwise called the reliquary of Kruszwica) is the work of one medieval craftsman and was created in the 1st half of the 12th century. During its manufacture, strong colour contrasts of dark blue, light blue, white and green granular enamel were applied. The final trim was engraved and gilded.

How was the enamel applied? What kind of technique was used by the craftsman,  a master of decorative art, who achieved such an effect in concentration and candlelight in a medieval workshop?

What connects the reliquary with Kruszwica and Włocławek? According to one of the erroneous scientific hypotheses of the 19th century, it came from the cathedral in Kruszwica. In fact, until the middle of the 19th century, this valuable artefact was kept in the cathedral treasury in Włocławek, where it probably arrived at the time of creating the Kuyavian-Pomeranian diocese during the period between 1124 and 1140, thanks to Salomea von Berg (the second wife of the prince Bolesław Krzywousty [the Wrymouth]). Salomea’s family maintained a close relationship with the Benedictine monastery in Zwiefalten, because, among other reasons, her father, brother, sister and daughter took their monastic vows there. Numerous gifts flowed from this monastic centre in Swabia (amongst them probably the valuable reliquary).
What brought it from the sacrum to the collection of the museum? The reliquary became the personal property of professor Kazimierz Stronczyński, and then a well-known collector, Józef Rusiecki. His son, Stanisław Ursyn-Rusiecki, resolved that such a valuable artefact should be deposited at the National Museum in Kraków, and it is thanks to him that the object has been part of the museum’s collection for over a hundred years.
Although a century is only a moment in the historical perspective of such an object, thanks to the collector’s decision, the reliquary entered a new era – it remains in the museum cabinet safe, admired by all who visit the National Museum in Kraków.
Nothing can replace direct contact with the original. Thanks to the Małopolska’s Virtual Museums, you can feel the impact of this special subject while looking at the intricate decorations.

Do virtual gilding and traces of enamel shine just as vividly? We encourage you to confront your impressions in a virtual and real museum.

Elaborated by: Editorial team of Małopolskas Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See also: Włocławek reliquary (Kruszwica reliquary)

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History of enshrining relics

The history of medieval reliquaries begins with the 62nd decree of the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 where the issue of enshrining holy relics was raised. They were supposed to be enshrined and presented only in protective reliquaries. It was the reason why reliquaries took various forms throughout the centuries...

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The history of medieval reliquaries begins with the 62nd decree of the Fourth Council of the Lateran in 1215 where the issue of enshrining holy relics was raised. They were supposed to be enshrined and presented only in protective reliquaries. It was the reason why reliquaries took various forms throughout the centuries.
A reliquary cross made of precious metal and with precious stones inlaid became most popular. Architectural forms resembling richly decorated miniature cases, small houses, or shrines were also common.
Reliquaries also started to take on a more anthropomorphic form in the shape of human body parts as well as herms. The origin of herms is very interesting as their history dates back to ancient times. A herm – from Greek ἕρμα – initially referred to representations of a bust or the head of Hermes which crowned a quadrangular column, narrowed at the bottom. In Greece until the 5th century BC, there was also a representation of a phallus placed in a herm. Subsequent herms depicted also other gods and heroes. In the Roman Empire, sculptured or cast bronze heads and busts constituted a common item in the houses of the rich Patrician class as well as being carried in funeral processions. Busts were also placed along roads and at street corners.
In 14th century Cologne, the most popular medieval type of herm that was produced is known as Ursulabüste; it was made of wood in the form of a young womans bust, with an open-work oculus which made it possible for the faithful to see relics. Its name derives from Saint Ursula who, according to one of the medieval legends, was a Breton princess slain together with the Eleven Thousand Virgins by the Huns in Cologne. It was the turning point during the siege of the city, which survived thanks to their sacrifice. The Saint and the rest of the virgin martyrs were buried in Cologne from where her cult started to spread. The relics of Ursula and her partners began to be sold or sent to different religious centres in Europe, which increased the demand for reliquary herms.
According to 14th-century tradition, herms were located on altars. They could constitute the completion of predella retabulum, as separate forms or groups consisting of several representations. Very often special altarpieces were made which also performed the role of a shelter for reliquaries. In time this solution was recognised as canonical for all reliquaries placed in altarpieces. Reliquaries connected to altars were supposed to remind one about saint martyrs and also gave weight to the creation of the human body in His image, after His likeness as well as the emphasised faith in the resurrection of the body and everlasting life.
At first, herm reliquaries contained skull relics but later constituted a framing for various fragments of saints bodies. Nowadays, herms usually do not contain relics any more but are still part of the tradition of veneration of saints.

Elaborated by the Editorial team of Małopolska’s Virtual Museums,
Licencja Creative Commons

 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Poland License.

See:
Reliquary with St. Stanislaus’s hand

Gothic reliquary herm

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Włocławek reliquary (Kruszwica reliquary)

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