Relics and Reliquaries at the British Museum

A major exhibition focusing on the spiritual and artistic significance of Christian relics and reliquaries in medieval Europe will open at the British Museum on 23 June and run until 9 October.

Sacred items related to Christ or the saints were first used during the early medieval period as a focus for prayer and veneration by Christians throughout Europe. Relics were usually human body parts, or material items sanctified through their contact with holy persons or places. This exhibition will feature a very broad range of the kinds of relics which were venerated, including three thorns thought to be from the crown of thorns, the breast milk of the Virgin Mary, and the Mandylion of Edessa – one of the earliest known likenesses of Jesus.

A number of medieval stained glass windows showed shrines and relics. Examples include the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, which included windows that depicted the purchase of the crown of thorns and other relics and their arrival in the French capital, and a window in Chartres Cathedral showing Charlemagne acquiring the garment worn by the Virgin Mary during pregnancy and labour, the Sancta Camisa.

For more information about Treasures of Heaven: saints, relic and devotion in medieval Europe, including opening times and admission charges, visit

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