From the Treasury of Basel - The Reliquary of St. Dorothy

The graceful late Gothic Reliquary of St. Dorothy is part of a collection of liturgical implements known as The Treasury of Basel Cathedral which has come down to our time from the 15th century almost entirely intact – a rare and fortuitous occurrence.

The reliquary is composed of several parts and they were all probably crafted at different times – as the function of the reliquary shifted from a more intimate, personal object of devotion to a more public, liturgical in the Cathedral setting.

The relics themselves were almost certainly obtained in Jerusalem during a diplomatic visit by a wealthy apothecary Henman Offenburg. The trip took place in 1437.

The lovely capsule for the thecas was made after the relics arrived in Basel – that is, around 1450. The stem, node, and the octafoil foot predate the capsule by at least fifty years and we don’t have any documentation explaining their purpose prior to their being used to create the reliquary. The finial and the crockets were added at a later date, possibly around 1459. It is possible that the foot and the stem were in the Cathedral safekeeping – dormant, and the arrival of the relics was an opportunity to at last put them to use.

The capsule features a gilded image of St. Dorothy with a martyr’s palm holding a hand of Child Jesus who carries a basket of flowers, an iconographic attribute of St. Dorothy. The capsule is almond shaped – like a mandorla, quite suitable since the Christ Child is featured next to the Saint. The figures are surrounded by a frame of prominent precious stones and a cameo, which are meant to accentuate allusions to the glorious vision of this charming pair. According to the Legend of St. Dorothy, before her martyrdom she was taunted to ‘send back flowers.’Soon after her death a little boy showed up with a basket of fruit and flowers and handed it to the man who mocked Dorothy. As a result, the cruel jester soon become a Christian.

This lovely reliquary is 55 cm / 21.5” tall and was venerated being displayed to the faithful on the high altar of the Basel Cathedral during appropriate liturgical feast days. The metalwork is attributed to an Upper Rhineland workshop and is currently on display in the Historisches Museum Basel.

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