Worshiping in Place through Art: The Hidden Gems of the Portable Altar of Countess Gertrude | by Cleveland Museum of Art | CMA Thinker | Jul, 2020

Worshiping in Place through Art: The Hidden Gems of the Portable Altar of Countess Gertrude | by Cleveland Museum of Art | CMA Thinker | Jul, 2020

A- “Saint Hermetis” — A fragment of a long bone from an arm or a leg (such as a humerus, femur, or fibula); exact identification is not possible using only X-ray.B- “Saint Adelaide” — A fragment thought to belong to a finger (metacarpal) bone, but the bone’s curve is too prominent for a human; it is wrapped in silk, so visual examination cannot be conducted.C- “Saint Vincent” — A portion of the occipital bone, where the spinal cord connects to the brain.D- “Saint Gertrude” — An X-ray revealed no solid material wrapped in the Byzantine textile.E- “Saint Marcian” — An X-ray revealed no solid material wrapped in the Byzantine textile.F- 10 Saints (Stephen, Sophie, Perpetua, Paul, Barnaba, Philip, Simon, Thaddeus, John the Apostle, and James) — An X-ray revealed only small specks of solid material.G- Stone — The accompanying parchment identifies the piece of limestone as a portion of the block used to support the Holy Cross on Mount Golgotha.H- “Saint Gregory” — A fragment of the proximal tibia or the portion of the shinbone near the top that widens to form the knee joint.I- “Saint Januarius” — A nearly complete ankle joint (talus).J- “Saint Bartholomew” — Mummified flesh or tissue, which was originally housed in a silk bag decorated with lions, made in the 1300s in Spain.Recently our textile conservator, Robin Hanson, created new housing for each of the 10 relics so they are safer and more secure inside the altar. Using only material approved to be in contact with the fragile relics for long-term storage, the new boxes fit perfectly in the reliquary’s cavity without putting pressure on the others. The process of inserting the relics back into the altar was put on hold by the COVID-19 crisis. When the museum reopens, the project will be completed, and the altar will return to the gallery with its invisible treasures on display only in photographs online.The new protective housing fabricated by the CMA’s conservation department provides better protection of the relics. Image courtesy Robin Hanson for the Cleveland Museum of Art.During this time of upheaval, technology has created a lifeline to encourage interaction with the sacred world in new ways, whether by livestreaming Mass at home, by attending a virtual prayer group, or by practicing guided meditation. Sacred art has played a vital role in the church since the beginning of Christianity. Through the museum’s Collection Online, we can now interact with sacred art even when we are at home.


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