The British Museum, London
Copyright © The Trustees of the British Museum
Culture: Byzantine (Thessalonike?)
Date: 12th or 13th century
Material: Gold, silver, silver gilt, enamel
Dimensions: diameter 3.8 cm, depth 1.1 cm
Inscribed: reverse: Ο • ΑΤΕΩΡ/ΤΗΟΣ (O St. George) Around the border: ΑΙΤΕΙΣΕ • ΘΕΡΜΟΝ • ΦΡΟΥΡΟΝ • ΕΝ • ΜΑΧΑΙΣ • ΕΧΕΙΝ (He supplicates you to be his fervent guardian in battles; around the sides: ΑΙΜΑΤΙ ΤΩ • ΣΩ • ΚΑΙ • ΜΥΡΩ • ΚΕΧΡΙΣΜΕΝΟΝ (Being anointed by your blood and your myrrh); on the upper ring, a mid-18th-century inscription in Georgian: (trans) St. Kethevan [the] Queen's relic: Cross: True
Provenance: Durlacher Bros, London; The British Museum, London, 1926, purchased with contributions from the Art Fund and O. M. Dalton
A handful of personal reliquaries of St. Demetrios have survived, each incorporating small interior shuttered compartments for relics and depictions of the saint. The relics of Demetrios were not his bones, but oil or myron collected from his tomb and blood-soaked earth taken from the site of his martyrdom. The owners of the reliquaries would have had to move through several layers, opening first the lid of the reliquary and then the shutters covering the interior compartments, before finally seeing the relics and the innermost depiction of the saint.
Two of these reliquaries are in the form of circular pendants, meant to be worn around the neck of the owner, with hinged lids allowing access to the reliquary compartments inside. The upper lid of the London reliquary was replaced with an open ring in the eighteenth century, but the inscription on the side of the reliquary refers to Demetrios, and the interior compartment is similar to those of other Demetrios reliquaries, so it is likely that Demetrios was depicted on its lost lid, in a manner similar to the representation on the Washington pendant (cat. no. 29). Demetrios was the patron saint of Thessalonike, and a large festival in his honor was held there every year in October, coinciding with his feast day (26 October). These reliquaries, like many objects associated with Demetrios, have been attributed to workshops in Thessalonike, but given the saint's popularity with members of the imperial family and the aristocracy, and scant evidence of any enamel workshops in Thessalonike, production in the Byzantine capital, Constantinople, should also be considered.
From the eleventh century onwards Demetrios became increasingly popular among the military classes in the Byzantine Empire, and he was often depicted as a soldier and paired with other military saints. St. George, another popular soldier saint, is depicted on the back of the London reliquary. André Grabar, following O.M. Dalton, suggested that the lamp suspended over the tomb of the saint in this reliquary was a reflection of Crusader influence. Similar iconography was used in certain Crusader contexts, but such lamps had long been associated with the tombs of a number of Byzantine saints, including, significantly, St. Theodora, another myron-producing saint of Thessalonike with whom Demetrios was often associated.
Demetrios (ca. 270–306), Greek martyr. One of the most popular saints of the Orthodox Church, Demetrios was allegedly executed at the order of Emperor Maximian in Thessalonike. While the burial place of Saint Demetrios remained obscure at first, the martyr's church at Thessalonike soon developed into the focal point of his cult. His relics are said to have oozed myrrh, which was then collected by pilgrims.
Excerpt from The Golden Legend
... It happed so that the emperor was gone to see a battle that should be done, for much he delighted him to see shedding of human blood. In the same battle was a man named Lineus, which because of the victories that he in his days had had, was much loved of the emperor, but as fortune change[s] oft[en], it happed that this Lineus was there wounded to death. And when the emperor was returned into his palace, sorrowful and angry at the death of the same Lineus, mention of [Demetrios] was made unto him. Then was the emperor sore moved against him, insomuch that in the same prison where he was, sore fettered and hard holden, he made him to be [stuck] through and through his body with sharp spears.
The which [St. Demetrios] thus ever witnessing the name of Jesus, consummated there his martyrdom. Many miracles were made by his merits and by his good virtues on all them that with good faith devoutly reclaimed him. A man that was called Lemicius, who heartily loved and served God, gave much of his goods to the house where the holy corpse of St. Demetrios was buried, and made the place greater than it was [be]fore, and [built] there an oratory or chapel in the honour of the said martyr [Demetrios].