&Images of Medieval Art and Architecture

The Treasure of Saint Denis

Bust Reliquary of Saint Benedict


Adapted from Félibien, Plate IV, Item A

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Bust of gold vermeil representing Saint Benedict, Patriarch of the monks of the West. The mitre is covered with small agate medallions, and decorated with pearls and other precious stones, as are the two pendants of the mitre. On the orfrey which is around the neck of the figure, is a medallion of agate on which is represented the Emperor Domitian. This reliquary is marked with the coat-of-arms of Jean, Duc du Berry, who presented it to Saint-Denis in the year 1401. It contains part of the skull of Saint Benedict, and a bone from the arm of the same saint. which can be seen through a crystal, with this inscription Icy est le bras de monseigner S. Benoist.

Félibien, pages 542. Translated by Jane Vadnal.

Donation by Jean, Duc du Berry

The Duc de Berry had taken a large piece of the skull of Saint Hilaire from Saint-Denis several years previously, in order to put it in the collegiate church in Poitiers which bore his name. He compensated for this with part of the skull and an arm of Saint Benedict, as he had promised. This is what he did in that year [1401], says our author, with no less piety than magnificence. He had made a bust of of 250 marks of silver, holding the arm of the same saint coated with a gold ? and enriched with precious stones, to hold the relic. And, finally, to give his gift with the most solemnity, he chose the day of the feast of Saint Benedict - the 21th of March- and invited the King and the entire Royal family to the double ceremony. The abbot and the monks dressed in copes appropriate to this august company, came in a procession to raise the precious relics which had been placed the previous day in the court house near the abbey. Two of the clergy raised it on their shoulders and carried it into the church, where they presented it between the two altars (in the crossing) in order to expose it to the view of the public.The service was held, it was celebrated there. Afterwards, the Duke of Berry had the abbot and the monastic community assembled. He told them about the effort he had had in obtaining the sacred relics of Saint Benedict. Abbot Phillip thanked him for it, and promised him that in remembrance, to take the sacraments from the priests and the devotion of the brothers. He added that in the future, the feast of Saint Benedict would be celebrated with the greatest solemnity and with the richest ornaments of the Church. This reliquary is one of the most precious ornaments of all the treasure. Besides the value of the material, the mitre that is on the head of the figure is great number of expensive cameos.

Félibien, pages 318. Translated by Jane Vadnal.

Related Material

Other bust reliquaries in the Treasure of Saint Denis.


Félibien, pages 318 and 542.

Gaborit-Chopin (1987), pp 114-5.

Louvre, no. 66, pages 293-305.

Montesquiou-Fezensac,I and II, no 20.; III, pp. 7,11,13,34-9,102,103.

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Last updated by:JV Date: November 28, 2006