Byzantine Relics and Reliquaries in the Frankish Realm (6th until 9th century)

The cult of saints that developed during Late Antiquity became a particular feature of Frankish Christianity. Most of the indigenous saints were only of local importance, but in the works of Gregory of Tours we can also trace some hints of relics from Mediterranean origin: Italy (Rome), Spain, and the Near East, mainly fragments of the True Cross as well as relics from St Mary and the Apostles. Well known is the fragment of the True Cross that was obtained by the former Merovingian queen Radegund († 587) for her monastery in Poitiers together with a reliquary ornamented with gold and gemstones. She received it as a gift from the Byzantine emperor Justin II (565–578) after an official petition carried by Frankish ambassadors who have been sent by Radegund to the Byzantine court. In addition relics Relics from Byzantium and the eastern Mediterranean survived until today in church treasuries, but their authenticity is not clear in any case. After the renewal of diplomatic contacts between the Frankish realm and the Byzantine Empire during the 8th century important relics were again given to the western rulers and high-ranking clerics by the Emperors. For example Louis II (the German) met a Byzantine embassy sent by Basil I in Regensburg in 872 AD that apart from letters and different gifts handed over a large crystal ornamented with gold and gemstones and a fragment of the True Cross.

The subject of relics and reliquaries from the Eastern Mediterranean in the Frankish Realm comprises prominent single cases as well as more widespread phenomena – especially if one takes into account secondary relics, too, for example the liquids kept in so-called pilgrim flasks. On the base of concise examples it shall be analysed during the project, under which circumstances the contacts developed that enabled the transfer of relics. Which scope of relics and reliquaries can be proved at all and is it possible to distinguish different mechanisms of transfer? Moreover it will be asked, what kind of effect the relics in the West had. Was it a problem to integrate them into the religious sphere or was it necessary to make some adaptions? And was at least a transfer of special knowledge about the regions and the Byzantine Empire connected to the transport of relics from East to West? Thereby a possible knowledge transfer concerning the religious-ecclesiastical sphere will be focussed.




  • J. Drauschke, Byzantine relics in the Frankish Realm from the 6th to the 9th century. In: I. Iliev (ed.), Proceedings of the 22nd International Congress of Byzantine Studies, Sofia, 22-27 August 2011, Vol. II: Abstracts of Round Table Communications (Sofia 2011) 167-168. 


Dr. Jörg Drauschke
+49 (0) 6131 / 9124-163