Holy Thorn Reliquary

The Holy Thorn Reliquary was commissioned by Louis IX of France, for Jean, Duke of Berry, the brother of Charles V of France, sometime before 1397. The reliquary holds a thorn from the Crown of Thorns placed on Jesus’s head before the Crucifixion.

The scale and intricacy of the piece shows its personal nature. The small size is perfect for the personal devotion it was intended for, and the detail in the gold engraving and the alternating rubies and pearls show the wealth of the owner, and two large sapphires are placed near the top. There is an inscription, which reads 'Ista est una spinea corone / Domine nostri ihesu christi,’ or 'This is a thorn from the crown of Our Lord Jesus Christ.'

A dramatic scene of the Last Judgement surrounds the relic, with the Virgin Mary, Saint John the Baptist, and Christ at center. The Twelve Apostles surround them, with God at the top. Four angels with trumpets are at the base, with the dead emerging from their tombs. On the back, there is the Holy Face in a sunburst, and gold doors with Saints Christopher and Michael on engraved. The gold conveys the heavenly martyrdom of Christ, and rubies and sapphires are mentioned more in the Bible than diamonds.

The gold in this piece was made with great skill and intricate detail. The gold is pure, with no silver-gilt or brass involved. The pureness of the materials used in a piece that portrays God, Christ, Mary, and the Apostles highlights their importance and power.


"The Holy Thorn Reliquary." British Museum. Accessed March 31, 2018.



Holy Thorn Reliquary