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The Holy Thorn Reliquary of Jean, duc de Berry

The Holy Thorn Reliquary houses one of the most important relics of all time - a thorn from the Crown of Thorns that was put on Christ's head during the Crucifixion. © Trustees of the British Museum. Created by British Museum.

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Video transcript

In medieval times relics were revered for their power to bring people closer to god This is the Holy Thorn Reliquary it houses one of the most important relics of all time a thorn from the crown of thorns that was put on Christ's head during the Crucifixion This is made in Paris probably around 1400 obviously by somebody very very rich The Holy Thorn Reliquary is a one foot high theatre made of solid gold and encrusted with jewels In it we watch the terrifying drama of the end of the world the day in which we along with all the other dead will be raised and will face judgment This is a drama in which one day every spectator will be participant It's in three acts At the bottom as the angels blow their trumpets at the Earth's imagined corners graves open on an enamel hillside of vivid green Far above them at the very top of the reliquary sits God the father enthroned in judgment among radiant gold and precious gems And in between is the focus of the whole reliquary For medieval Christians the only hope of escaping the torments of hell lay in the redeeming blood that Christ had shed At the very centre of the reliquary is Christ showing us his wounds and here just below him before your very eyes and only inches away from you is one of the long needle-like thorns that caused that holy blood to flow reads the enamel label "This is a thorn from the crown of our Lord Jesus Christ" It is I think impossible to exaggerate how powerfully this object would affect anyone kneeling in front of it The blood drawn by this worthless thorn will save immortal souls and so nothing earthly can be too precious for it This is a sermon in gold and jewels and aid to intense contemplation and a source of the deepest comfort