This gold figurine was probably made around A. D. 900. It is supposedly a likeness of Saint Foy, a twelve year old girl who was martyred during the persecutions of Diocletian and Galerius in A. D. 303. It is made of sheet gold over a wooden core. The gems, jewels, and other ornaments were attached to her over the years by faithful pilgrims. The Roman Catholic Church had many images of the saints, the Virgin Mary, Jesus, and martyrs. The Roman Catholic Church took many of the native customs and holidays of the peoples with whom it came in contact and incorporated them into their worship. Because the Romans used personification and allegorical figures in their art, the Church incorporated images and symbols so that its worship would not seem totally unfamiliar to new converts.
This statue also served as a reliquary. Many miracles and healings were claimed to occur when a worshipper touched a piece of a martyred saints clothing or a preserved part of her body. Small bits of bone, locks of hair, ashes, or a cloth that had been dipped in the saint's blood were treasured reminders of the death the faithful ones had died for the name of Christ. These relics of the saints were preserved and kept in reliquaries that were often covered with precious metals and stones. The skull of this little girl who was martyred is kept in a compartment in the back of the ornate reliquary illustrated here.
Many small personal reliquaries have been discovered at archaeological sites and by hunters of artifacts. They are popular amongst antiquities collectors and the less ornate ones are not very rare or expensive, as the author was pleasantly surprised to discover.
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