Chrismatory

Date: ca. 1200–1220

Geography: Made in Limoges, France

Culture: French

Medium: Copper: engraved, chased, and gilt; champlevé enamel: lapis and lavender blue, turquoise, light and dark green, red, and white

Dimensions: Overall: 3 7/8 x 5 9/16 x 3 3/4 in. (9.9 x 14.2 x 9.6 cm)
Overall (without feet): 3 3/8 x 5 9/16 x 3 3/4 in. (8.6 x 14.2 x 9.6 cm)

Classification: Enamels-Champlevé

Credit Line: Gift of J. Pierpont Morgan, 1917

Accession Number: 17.190.853

Description

This small enamel box ornamented with busts of angels was probably once used to hold small receptacles of chrism (consecrated oil), oil for catechumens, and oil for exorcists. Annointing with holy oils during baptism is mentioned by the first Christian writers, notably Tertullian and Hippolytus of Rome. Blessed by the bishop on Holy Thursday, the oils were also used for other sacraments during the Middle Ages—chiefly the confirmation and ordination of priests, as well as the consecration of churches. It seems that for a long time, holy oils were kept in separate vials (known in Latin as ampullae, phyala, or vasa), usually made of silver. However, few individual vials or boxes to contain them have come down to us.

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