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Gable-shaped end plaque from a reliquary

Relics of saints and martyrs housed in splendid reliquaries to protect and honour them, played an important role in medieval religious life, serving as a focus for prayer and as a goal for pilgrims. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries the most common type, known as a chasse, was shaped like a small church with gables, and a pointed roof. This plaque probably formed the gable end of such a reliquary, and is likely to have come from the same one as a matching plaque now in the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto (Thomson Collection). They were made in Limoges, which was the most important centre for the manufacture of champlevé enamels between the early 12th and the 14th century. The scrolling foliage reserved in a blue ground, and the elegance of the finely engraved figures are characteristic of Gothic style Limoges enamels at the beginning of the 13th century.

The two crowned figures holding palms of martyrdom probably represent two of the Four Crowned Martyrs seated above their open sarcophagi, accompanied by a Latin inscription EXVLTABVNT: DÑO OSSA: HVMILIATA (The humiliated bones shall rejoice in the Lord) from Psalm 50.10. There are several differing legends about these Christian martyrs. According to one tradition, which seems appropriate for this plaque, a group of stonemasons in Pannonia refused to make a statue of Aesculapius as an idol, and, on the orders of the Emperor Diocletian (AD 284-205) were enclosed alive in lead coffins and drowned in the sea. They were later adopted as the patron saints of sculptors and stonemasons.