“Have you thought about what it means to be a god?” asked the man. He had a beard and a baseball cap. “It means you give up your mortal existence to become a meme: something that lives forever in people’s minds, like the tune of a nursery rhyme. It means that everyone gets to re-create you in their own minds. You barely have your own identity any more. Instead, you’re a thousand aspects of what people need you to be. And everyone wants something different from you. Nothing is fixed, nothing is stable.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Before I left San Lorenzo I had one more place to investigate: the Museo del Tesoro (Treasure Museum).  Not treasure in the sense that the contents were looted by ecclesiastical pirates; there are no chests overflowing with ducats and pieces of eight, yet the extent of the precious metal here seems just as great.  Not in number.  There are relatively few pieces, but their impact is not lessened by this in any way.  They are huge, in some cases literally, but also in terms of their claimed histories, and the extent of the work that has crafted them.  Being predominantly gold and silver their value is another significant factor, and again one where I question the symbolism.  Yes the pieces tell tales superficially, but there is also the story of the church’s wealth and power here.

Their most treasured piece, the Sacro Catino, a hexagonal green chalice was not on display.  Historically this has been claimed to the Holy Grail and fashioned from emeralds.  Modern studies have revealed it to be glass and Islamic in origin so I suppose it may be losing some of its appeal.

This being San Lorenzo though, you must have St Lawrence, and here he is with the griddle by his side as a symbol of his martyrdom, though I’m no

t sure of the significance of the palm leaf.  More importantly this is a reliquary, and there for all to see through the window in his chest (very Tony Stark).  There must have been a lot of him left after his barbecuing for he has an arm in Berlin and various other pieces in places like the Vatican, Dubrovnik Cathedral, Maastricht, and of course there’s the magic blood vial in Italy that liquefies each year on the anniversary of his martyrdom.  (Must have a word with those Roman executioners – they clearly need to improve their BBQ skills if there’s still blood left at the end of the cooking time!)

There’s a crucifix reputedly containing a sliver of the true cross, though to me its value is as a piece of 13th century art.


By contrast the silver leaf statue of the Virgin Mary is a newcomer, though this is still over 250 years old.  What it lacks in history (and added relic content) it makes up for by being life-size (though of course we have no idea as to Mary’s stature.

Fancy seeing the plate that Salome used to serve up the head of John the Baptist to Herod?  The treasury blames to have that too. If this stone platter was used for that purpose it did so without the gilt edging (and definitely without the miniature head of John).  These are French additions from the 14/15th century.

John’s murder/execution is an important event for the Cathedral here for there is another star attraction; an incredibly detailed casket used to contain and parade the saint’s ashes.  “The ashes of what?” would be a fair question to ask, for there are several different claimants just to his right hand.  There are bones in Bulgaria that have been scientifically proven to date from the right era (though that hardly narrows things down), Amien cathedral in France claims to have his head, though muslims believe those particular bones lie within a mosque in Damascus.  Oh and there’s another head in Rome’s San Silvestro.

I could go on.  What is beyond doubt is the exquisite workmanship of the silversmiths Teramo Danieli and Simone Caldera from the early 15th Century which depicts scene’s from his life ultimately his beheading.  Pity it doesn’t depict what happened to the head after that.

All the same the casket is fit for a saint.

If there are such things.


2 thoughts on “Treasures To Turn Heads

  1. Irreverent! 😇
    I’d heard of the vial of blood routine. Does it happen in the warmer months?!
    If these events inspire people to create such massive Art, then I’m all for it.

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