Swords and reliquaries

So the week between Xmas and New Year’s, my awesome wife got the idea to take our daughter and four of her cousins to the Cleveland Museum of Art.  It’s been a while since we’ve been there, and it has some great stuff for kids, like the Armor Court, which has a sweet collection of swords ranging from a Viking era sword to “court” small swords, along with a massive parade sword, a two-handed thrusting “estoc” with a triangular cross section — imagine a 5′ bayonet blade on a sword hilt! — various pole arms, not to mention all kinds of armor and crossbows and helmets and early guns.  I could spend hours in the Armor Court, actually.  My quick scan of the CMA’s web site didn’t turn up any good galleries of the stuff there, but it must be stashed somewhere on the site.  If you use the site’s “search” box and search “Armor Court” you’ll get links to individual images from the collection but it is rather slow to wade through.  Here’s a pic I found online that gives a sense of the layout of the Armor Court:

There was also a special exhibit of reliquaries from Europe, which included parts of altars, books, and most spectacularly (and perhaps gruesomely) a large number of objects that house or house actual relics like saint’s blood, bones, skulls, and so on.  Some had obviously been pillaged at some point in the past.  There are gaping holes where gems had been set on some pieces, for example.  Others were fairly intact.  I was kind of busy keeping a five and six year old from touching the glass but I got to see some extraordinary stuff and some of it has D&D relevance!

A “Griffin’s claw”  (actually a an ibex horn) associated with St. Cuthbert!  I’d never heard of this particular  legend, but apparently  griffins were alleged to give claws to holy men who  cured them of maladies.  The claws  would have some ability to heal in turn, I guess.  I’ll have to file that little piece of info away.  Crusaders often brought griffin claws home  from the holy land so  this particular object was probably never really in St. Cuthbert’s possession, as he lived hundreds of years before the Crusades.

A reliquary for the ulna of  St. George  (the dragon-slayer).   The knight and dragon on top are  slightly larger than 25mm  scale.  My daughter Riley asked me if dragons were real (she was pretty sure they were not or are at least extinct, while her cousin Quinn assured me he does believe in dragons!)  I don’t remember what part of St. George was supposed to be housed in this one, but this reliquary was especially striking not just because of the dragon but also because I feel like I’ve seen a depiction of the Archangel Michael smiting Lucifer with a falchion in a very similar pose.  Google Image Search fails me though.  (I’ve always like falchions, and I’ve found them to be very common in art — much more common than you’d expect given how few seem to turn up in museums.  They were not as strongly associated with knights and nobility as straight swords, though, and were often used by commoners like archers, so they were less worthy of preservation, I guess.  Still I have found them in the hands of many knights — not to mention saints and angels! — in art and they can’t have been entirely ignoble to the medieval mind.)

Anyway the kids did great with the reliquary exhibit (no doubt it helped that there was a self-help audio tour so even the little ones could type in the exhibit number and hear about what they were looking at, even if they did not understand much of it).  We spent an hour in the special exhibit, and then we went to the Armor Court (all the kids, even the girls, talked about which sword they’d use and which armor they’d wear and they clearly loved that whole area).  After about half an hour in the Armor Court, we had lunch in the cafe and then checked out the contemporary collections, which teetered between boring and awesome (giant tube of toothpaste: awesome! Rothko: boring).  My wife did a good job engaging their minds a bit when they looked bored, asking the kids to describe how they thought the paintings and sculptures were made, what they thought it looked like, etc., while I kind of juggled keeping the youngest ones from touching anything, talking about some of the art with the older kids (the CMA has some nice surrealist paintings including a great Dali), and trying to find interesting stuff.  We then raced through the ancient stuff and concluded with a quick detour to the Coventry area to buy the kids some junk at Big Fun (a toy/novelty store with lots of old/retro items, like ancient Star Wars figures and Atarti 2600 cartridges).  It turns out Quinn really loves the old Stars Wars stuff and he found a Gamorean Guard figure (from the 1990s reissues, not the original 1980s ones, but how awesome is that?

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 9:13 pm  Comments (6)  
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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. What a great outing! I never knew that St. Cuthbert was a real saint. That is very cool!

  2. Very Cool. Love the reliquaries… need to see some stats on the Artifact/Relic table!

  3. A store with old Star Wars figures? Gah, now I’m jealous. Pretty cool museum visit, I’m sure it got the kids thinking.

  4. I remember seeing a supposed thorn from the crown of Christ on tour at the Palace of Fine Arts in S.F. with my wife (girlfriend at the time). Also some bit of St. Bede somewhere in NW England. They definitely stir the imagination… reliquaries in medieval times must have driven men mad with religious fervor. In the game, they could work very as magic items, but also as major game hooks, treasure, and trickery.

  5. […] Griffin’s claw (usually ibex or buffalo horns) was fashioned into a drinking horn, which would purify any beverage of poison. […]

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