Relic of the True Cross

Wood of the True Cross Reliquary

Wood of the True CrossEarlier this month I was in New York and one of my delights was to stroll along to the JP Morgan Library on 36th Street. You can pay for the tour of the galleries and the library (very worthwhile) or you can take a gentle lunch or coffee in the cafeteria. One of the more interesting items on display in the general area is the Stavelot Triptych, It is a Reliquary of the True Cross, comprising three triptychs. The main triptych dates from 1156-1158. Inside the triptych are two smaller ones which are Byzantine and date from the late 11th or early 12th century . The central panel – contains two Byzantine triptychs. The upper triptych depicts the Annunciation and the Crucifixion. The lower triptych depicts the four Evangelists, four Byzantine military saints, and Constantine and Helena flanking the relics of the True Cross. Wings – contain six enamel medallions (three in each wing) telling the legend of the True Cross. The upper Byzantine triptych depicts the Annunciation (outer wings) and Mary and John beside the Crucifixion (centre panel). The lower Byzantine triptych depicts the four Evangelists (outer wings), four Byzantine military saints (inner wings): George and Procopius on the left, Theodore and Demetrius on the right. In the centre, beneath busts of the Archangels Gabriel and Michael, and flanking the True Cross composed of the relic itself, are Emperor Constantine and his mother, Empress Helena. The triptychs were possibly made for Abbot Wibald, who headed the Benedictine Abbey of Stavelot (in present-day Belgium) from 1130 to 1158. The triptych was in the possession of the abbey’s last prince-abbot when he fled during the French Revolution in 1792. It was purchased by J. Pierpont Morgan in 1910 and bequeathed to the Library. Altogether a quite uplifting experience.

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