Relics of 39 saints found by British Museum

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Relics of 39 saints were found by staff of the British Museum today in a 12-century German portable altar. The altar had been donated in 1902, but had not been opened until today.

It had been opened for a cleaning and a check on its condition, prior to being scheduled for display in a new medieval art gallery at the Museum tomorrow. When it was opened, James Robinson, the curator of medieval antiquities, found a linen cloth which itself contained several dozen bundles of cloth, each of which was labelled.

The back of the altar contained a list of names, including those of John the Baptist, James, John, and Mary Magdalen, and 36 others, indicating that relics of these individuals were believed to be encased there. However, only 39 bundles were found, indicating that at some point before the most recent rearrangement of the bundles in the 19th century, one had been lost.

One of the bundles contained a relic of Saint Benedict of the early 6th century. The reliquaries and relics will remain in the Museum.

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