Reliquary in the Shape of a Sarcophagus

Date: 400–600

Culture: Byzantine

Medium: Marble

Dimensions: 5 5/8 x 5 1/2 x 8 1/2 in. (14.3 x 14.0 x 21.6 cm)

Classification: Sculpture-Stone

Credit Line: Gift of Miriam N. Rosen, 2002

Accession Number: 2002.483.3a, b


The Greek inscription on this reliquary, "In fulfillment of a vow of John the Bishop," suggests that it was given to a church or shrine in memory of a miracle, likely a cure, or in anticipation of a request made to the saint whose remains were kept in the box.

The gabled stone sarcophagi used for Christian burial were the model for miniature copies, like those seen here, that served as containers for relics, the remains of a holy person, or objects made holy by physical contact with them. Beginning in the fourth century, the bodies of martyrs and saints were exhumed, divided, and moved to local churches, where they were placed in reliquaries that were enclosed within altars or buried under them or displayed in chapels dedicated to the saint.