Trier Cathedral Treasury
Housed in a small room built onto the south side of Trier Cathedral, the Cathedral Treasury (Schatzkammer) displays some of Europe's greatest relics along with important examples of religious art from a variety of periods.
Relics (bodily remains or objects of a saint) played a central role in Christian religion and in state ceremony from Late Antiquity through the Middle Ages. As such, they were enshrined in magnificent reliquaries covered in gold and decorated with precious stones. Under Archbishop Egbert (died 993), several artists’ workshops were established in Trier and reliquaries, manuscripts and other great works of great art were produced.
Around 1200, a treasury room was built on the north side of Trier Cathedral to keep the relics safe from theft and fire. The present treasury was built in 1480 on the south side of the cathedral, above the cathedral archives. It was carefully guarded throughout many wars until, tragically, in 1792, a total of 399 kilograms (880 lbs) of precious metal were sent to the Electoral mint in Koblenz and melted down into coins to finance the war against French Revolutinary troops. Only 12 pieces of art survived.
Since then, the collection of the Trier Treasury has expanded again through various donations, loans and purchases. It now contains important artworks from nearly every era of Christian history, from Late Antiquity to the 20th century.
What to See
Trier's treasury is relatively small but contains some very important relics, reliquaries and other works of religious art from various periods. The collection centers on the other relics (besides the Holy Robe enshrined in the cathedral and the body of St. Matthias in his abbey) said to have been brought to Trier from the Holy Land by Empress St. Helena: the Holy Nail, the sandal of St. Andrew, and a tooth of St. Peter. Below are some of the most interesting and important artifacts displayed in the Treasury.
This unusual reliquary altar enshrines a sole of St. Andrew the Apostle's sandal. This relic is one of those said to have been brought from the Holy Land to Trier by Empress Helena in the 4th century. The splendid reliquary was commissioned by Archbishop Egbert (977-93), who had a special devotion to Saint Andrew. He also had a chapel dedicated to Andrew, in which he wished to be buried, built on the north side of the cathedral.
The portable altar consists of an oak box covered in gold and ivory and topped with a gilded model of the saint's foot, complete with bejeweled sandal strap. It has a sliding lid so that the relics inside could be shown and touched. The long sides are fixed with smooth ivory plates affixed with gold lions and enamel medallions of the Four Evangelists. The plates are surrounded by bands of enamel platelets, gemstones, and pearls. One of the short ends has two Saint Andrew’s crosses made of pearls; the other end has a gold coin with the portrait of Emperor Justinian I surrounded by pearls and red garnet.
The reliquary was made to be portable, so that it could be carried by kings and bishops when they traveled and used for Mass when they were at home. There are rings on the lion-shaped feet and on the top, allowing the portable altar to be hung or carried in processions.
Trier, c.980 AD, 21.4 cm / 8.5 in. long. Like St. Andrew's Altar, this reliquary was made under Archbishop Egbert (977-93) to enshrine a relic brought to Trier by St. Helena. The iron spike, said to be one of the four with which Christ was nailed to the cross, was a highly important relic in medieval Trier. It was carried in processions, used for swearing oaths, and is reported to have healed several blind people during one of its exhibitions. It was stored in St. Andrew's Altar and is displayed alongside it in the Treasury.
Like St. Andrew's Altar, the reliquary made for the Holy Nail is a "speaking reliquary" because it is in the shape of the relic inside. The irregular shape of the nail would have provided a special challenge for the goldsmith but he did a magnificent job. He fashioned a square, tapering shaft decorated on each side with four gems and three enamel bands. The nail head is hinged so that the relic could be displayed and is also decorated with precious gemstones and enamel platelets. Some of the decorations have been lost over the centuries.
5th century, Byzantine, probably Constantinople; 13 x 26 cm (5.11 x 10.23 in). Depicting a procession of a relic shrine into a city with crowds of spectators looking on, this magnificent panel is filled with action and detail. It is an artifact of great importance, not only for its age and artistic qualities but also for what it tells us about the veneration of relics and court ceremony in Late Antiquity. The minute detail with which it is carved allows historians to observe even the garments and gestures of the Byzantine empire.
This large relief panel probably decorated the side of a reliquary. It shows a relic shrine accompanied by two priests sitting in an ornate four-wheeled wagon drawn by mules. In front are men carrying candles, who are being received by the Empress, who holds a wooden cross. Behind her stands a church where the relic will be enshrined, which was not quite finished in time: workers are still laying tiles on the roof. In the background, men look out of windows while singing hymns and swinging censers.
c.1260, Limoges; 28 cm (11 in) long. This crozier (bishop's staff) was found in 1851 in the grave of Archbishop Henry of Finstingen (1260-86) in Trier Cathedral. Also buried with him were the other signs of his ecclesiastical authority: his mitre, ring, seal, and pectoral cross. The symbolism of bishops' croziers derives from the scepters of ancient emperors but also the staffs of shepherds. A third association is a judge's rod, representing the bishop's jurisdictional authority.
This crozier is made of bronze ornamented with Limoges enamel and gold leaf. The crook is shaped like the coiling tail of a dragon ornamented with tendrils. The dragon's head appears in the center with his tongue out. At the base of the crook is a crowned winged figure holding a book, with small drops of blue enamel imitating precious stones in his crown. Below this is an open-work pommel composed of winding monsters with long tails and flowery tendrils. All the dragons and the winged figure probably served to ward off evil.
c.1100, Trier; 21.5cm (8.5 in) high This intricately crafted bronze censer was found in the parish church of Buchholz in 1846. It is not known for which church it was originally made, but it must have been a grand one. It was probably produced in Trier around 1100.
The censer stands represents the Heavenly Jerusalem. It is shaped like a building with a cross-shaped plan, four apses, and 100 windows. On the four sides of the lower part are four busts: Moses with his staff, Aaron with a censer, and the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah. Atop the gables stand four full-length figures: Abel with a lamb; Melchizedek with bread and chalice (seen here), Abraham about to sacrifice his son, and Isaac blessing Jacob instead fo Esau. All eight figures represent Old Testament prophets and events that prefigure the Eucharist.
At the top is Solomon on his throne, with a fleur-de-lis crown, sceptre and imperial orb. Fourteen seated lions surround the base of the throne. Numerous Latin inscriptions explain the story of salvation, and one memorializes the bronze caster: "You who reads this, whoever you are, pray that Gozbertus may live!" The matching chain holder has four medallions of the apostles Peter, Paul, James and John, with dragons between them. In the center is Christ on his throne.
c.1100, Trier(?). This ivory relief panel depicts (top) the presentation of Christ in the temple, with the Virgin Mary handing the Child to St. Simeon, and (bottom) the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist. Both scenes are captioned with Latin inscriptions around the border. This panel decorates the cover of the Simeons-Kodex manuscript, which dates from the 9th century and probably comes from Sinai.
This reliquary enshrines two chain links of St. Peter, with which he was held prisoner in Jerusalem until an angel freed him. The links are the original relics that were venerated throughout the Middle Ages in Trier, but the original reliquary was melted down to fund the war against French Revolutionary troops. In 1895, goldsmith Josef Brems-Varain donated a new reliquary for the chain to the treasury. The design is based on the 14th-century St. Anne reliquary in the Cathedral Treasury.
Quick Facts on Trier Cathedral Treasury
|Names:||Cathedral Treasury; Domschatzkammer; Schatzkammer; Trier Cathedral Treasury; Trier Treasury|
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|Coordinates:||49.755982° N, 6.643901° E (view on Google Maps)|
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Map of Trier Cathedral Treasury
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- Personal visits (December 26, 2005 and January 2, 2008).
- Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schmid, "Trierer Dom - Cathedral Treasury" (official website).
- Trier Cathedral Treasury - Go Historic
- Photos of Trier Cathedral Treasury - here on Sacred Destinations
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