Baltimore—Walters Art Museum visitors can discover how the shrine of Saint Amandus has evolved from creation to present day in the focus show The Special Dead: A Medieval Reliquary Revealed, from Aug. 2, 2008 to Jan. 18, 2009. The shrine, a box-shaped reliquary decorated like a church, once contained the remains of Saint Amandus, who is credited with converting pagan inhabitants of Flanders, or present-day Belgium and northern France, to Christianity.
The Walters holds a considerable collection of medieval reliquaries, including the shrine of Saint Amandus, the only reliquary of its kind in the country. This object is encased in gilt metal, and its interior was hollowed out from a single piece of oak using hand tools.
“Focusing on a single artwork from the collection, The Special Dead offers an intimate look at how medieval artists approached the challenge of enshrining venerated remains,” said Walters’ Director of the Curatorial Division and Curator of Medieval Art Griffith Mann. “We are also using this opportunity to solicit visitor feedback on an exhibition topic still in its planning stages for spring 2011.”
The Special Dead will highlight conservators’ and art historians’ recent research on the shrine. The technical research, such as CT scanning and tree-ring dating, will help answer how it was made, where, when and how later changes affected its original appearance.
In Romanesque Europe (11th–12th century A.D.), it was common to remove saints’ remains from their original burial sites and deposit them in containers called reliquaries, which could be carried in religious festival processions or times of need. Reliquaries offered Christian believers the experience of divine power on earth, and their material preciousness signaled the special status of the remains they contained.
“Over centuries, changes, additions and repairs often modified the reliquaries’ original appearance for various reasons,” said Associate Curator of Manuscripts and Rare Books Martina Bagnoli. “During the Middle Ages, relics were used frequently as diplomatic gifts, in which case they often were re-housed in newer containers, whereas in the 19th century, it was common for dealers to “restore” damaged reliquaries to their original splendor.”
Saint Amandus was born in France at the end of the sixth century. He was consecrated bishop of the City of Maastricht, Belgium, but soon left his position to evangelize the Basque country of northern Spain. During his life, Amandus helped establish different religious monasteries, including Elnon, where he retired, died and was buried. This monastery became a pilgrimage site where believers hoped to be touched by God or cured of physical or spiritual ailments.
Admission and Hours
Admission to The Special Dead: A Medieval Reliquary Revealed is free. The Walters has changed its museum hours to 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday, eliminating Friday evening hours. The museum is closed on Mondays, Tuesdays, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
The Walters Art Museum
The Walters Art Museum is located in Baltimore’s historic Mount Vernon Cultural District at North Charles and Centre streets. Its permanent collection includes ancient art, medieval art and manuscripts, decorative objects, Asian art, and Old Master and 19th-century paintings. Peabody Court is the official hotel of the Walters Art Museum. For hotel reservations, call 1-800-292-5500.