Medieval pendant discovered in an old dump in Mainz contained forgotten relics

The small relic of the gilded copper excavated in 2008 was carefully restored last year prior to the exhibition. Its cleaning revealed some mysteries to the German researchers.

It is understandable that archaeologists rummage through the dustbins of history. On the other hand, finding the remains of a medieval saint hidden among the garbage is an unusual find. In 2008, during an excavation campaign carried out in the historic center of Mainz, Germany, archaeologists discovered a small metal pendant. The object, blackened and damaged by centuries, was among thousands of pieces of pottery identified in the courtyard of a 17th century mansion, in a dump from the medieval era.I century. The object turned out to be a golden copper ornament dated from the late 12thI century and decorated with figures in champlevé enamel. However, fourteen years later, the pendant reveals a new secret: it contains an unexpected relic.

An examination of this six-centimeter pendant carried out in recent months in the laboratories of the Technical University of Munich in Bavaria revealed the presence of five bone fragments. Hidden in an inner compartment of the jewel, they were wrapped in silk and tied with a string; The presence of wax was also observed. So many clues that lead one to believe that this multipart pendant contained the remains of a holy man. However, it is difficult to know to which saint the owner of this precious ornamentation was dedicated.

“Such relics are usually accompanied by a strip of parchment on which the name of the saint is inscribed. But in this case, unfortunately, we cannot follow it.”, Matthias Henzel, restorer within the LIZA (Leibniz-Zentrum für Archaeologie), known as the Roman-Germanic Central Museum in Mainz until 2022, said in a press release on January 5. ,The corrosion has severely damaged the pendant, particularly the closing mechanism, so that attempting to open it would risk irreparably destroying it. Connects expert.

View of the interior of the small relic. A tomographic examination of the ornamentation was entrusted to teams from the Technical University of Munich. Burkhard Schillinger, MLZ

To find these remains, the scientists used tomographic imaging, a neutron scanning technique that has been used in the past to examine mummies, for example. “The neutron test was particularly useful because it’s non-intrusive, and we can’t open the object to look inside.Matthias Henzel says.

an impenetrable tomb

Researchers are not giving up hope of getting their hands on the parchment in question just yet. Its inscriptions can actually be read thanks to the acid of vegetable origin used in the preparation of black ink. Additional examinations will be conducted during future observation campaigns.

The pendant’s restoration campaign was carried out in preparation for an exhibition at the Regional Museum of Mainz dedicated to the city’s medieval treasures, where the object is currently presented. In addition to tomographic examinations, approximately 500 hours of work were required to restore the object, rid it of the rust that was eating away at it and finally restore its luster.

According to Lisa’s researchers, this type of relic is called a phylactery. It would be one of only three items of this exact model that can be attributed to a prestigious workshop in Hildesheim, Lower Saxony. The entablature figures represent Christ on one side, surrounded by the Four Gospels, as well as, on the other, the Virgin Mary with four holy women. The identity of the saint or saint, meanwhile, must still remain in the mystery of the gods. and under the protection of its small copper fort.