France, Limousin, Church of Saint–Yrieix–la–Perche
Gilded silver, rock crystal, gems, glass, originally over walnut core with silver leaf and gesso on interior; Reliquary: 15 x 9 3/16 x 10 1/4 in. (38.1 x 23.4 x 26.1 cm); wooden core: 14 7/16 x 8 7/8 x 9 13/16 in. (36.6 x 22.5 x 24.9 cm)
Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917 (17.190.352a,b)
Saint Yrieix, whose skull was once contained in this reliquary, was the sixth-century founder of a monastery south of Limoges that still bears his name. A special veneration of reliquaries in the form of the heads of local saints developed in the Limousin region during the Middle Ages and continues to the present. On feast days, the image would have been carried in procession through the streets and then placed on the altar for the veneration of the faithful. Although carefully carved, the wooden core was not intended to be seen but to provide support for the precious silver sheathing.