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Reliquaries at Fort Saint-Jean in Marseille

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Chess-reliquary, France, nineteenth century, brass, glass, textile. VIRGINIE LOUIS / MUCEM

After the visit of Dubuffet, it is necessary to go up to fort Saint-Jean, old part of MuCEM. He exhibited the 70 best pieces of a collection of nearly 500 reliquaries acquired in 2002. Sorted in the order of an abé cédaire -serieux serious â € " "O as monstrance â €", sometimes whimsical â € "W like Walburge, saint of VIIIe a century old in Germany, though English – this anthology alternates between luxurious pieces and boxes of iron or gilded wood, the glass takes the place of crystal and the brass of gold . In the shape of a chess, arms, head, chapel or statue, they contain a piece of bone or fabric, a little of the earth of a sacred tomb, a spine of the Christ's crown or a nail of the Cross. Among the most esteemed are those that contain a crest, visible behind a glass or wrapped in a velvet or other price stuff. All are used in liturgies, where they are presented to the faithful. Above all, they are supposed to guarantee prosperity, good fortune or cure.

Read the review of the exhibition: Jean Dubuffet sanctified in Marseille

Those that are here united were produced between the XVIIe and the XIXe century, when their trade and their use began again, after the reform that proscribed them. The richest are not necessarily the most interesting. Poor in materials – papier mâché, gilded paper, metal wire, wax – small boxes for domestic use show the frequency and fervor of these practices, which are magic. The substance contained in the amulet or box would be capable of supernatural effects because of its nature, origin or form. A Roman monstrance of the second half of the XVIIIe century therefore operates as a reliquary fang of Gabon of the same time. The bones contained in one are reputed to be those of a saint or a martyr. The bones of the other would be those of a venerable ancestor. From these comparable origins, they hold their common magical power.

"The Reliquaries of A to Z", MuCEM, Fort Saint-Jean. Until September 2nd.

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