Saints Christopher, Eustace, and Erasmus (Three Helper Saints), ca. 1500–1505
Tilman Riemenschneider (German, 1460–1531)
Made in Würzburg, Germany
Limewood; Overall 21 x 13 x 4 3/4 in. (53.3 x 33 x 12.1 cm)
The Cloisters Collection, 1961 (61.86)
The figures in this relief represent three of the fourteen Helper Saints, who have been venerated as a group since the early 1300s and became particularly popular in the south of Germany after 1446, when they appeared in a vision to a shepherd in Upper Franconia. They were often carved over the doors of hospitals. Represented is Saint Christopher carrying the Christ Child; Saint Eustace, a general in Trajan's army who converted to Christianity; and Saint Erasmus, a Syrian bishop in episcopal regalia. Saint Erasmus was the patron saint of sailors, but his symbol, a windlass, seems to have been misinterpreted as the spindle around which his entrails were wound during his grisly martyrdom! Because of the means of his martyrdom, he was invoked for help with intestinal disease and childhood colic.