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The cult of saints and the subsequent interest in relics constituted one of the essential characteristics of medieval Western Christianity. In particular, relics and reliquaries are prime examples of the importance of materiality in devotion. In the present article we analyse one of the medieval skull relics of Turku Cathedral and its material characteristics in detail. Previous examinations undertaken in the 1920s and 1940s produced two theories of its origins and identification. By analysing the bone material and the narrative depiction of martyrdom embroidered on the silk wrapping, State Archaeologist Juhani Rinne connected the relic to St Henry, the patron saint of Finland and the cathedral, while State Archaeologist Carl Axel Nordman identified it as belonging to St Eric, the patron saint of the Kingdom of Sweden. By reexamining the central element of the skull relic, the bones, with osteological analysis and radiocarbon dating, we show both theories to be highly problematic. Our analysis reveals the complex material features of the skull relic and the medieval cult of relics.
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Temenos Vol. 54 No. 2 (2018), 149–83© The Finnish Society for the Study of Religion
From Bones to Sacred Artefact: The Late Medieval
Skull Relic of Turku Cathedral, Finland1
University of Turku
University of Oulu
University of Turku
The cult of saints and the subsequent interest in relics constituted one
of the essential characteristics of medieval Western Christianity. In
particular, relics and reliquaries are prime examples of the importance
of materiality in devotion. In the present article we analyse one of
the medieval skull relics of Turku Cathedral and its material char-
acteristics in detail. Previous examinations undertaken in the 1920s
and 1940s produced two theories of its origins and identication. By
analysing the bone material and the narrative depiction of martyrdom
embroidered on the silk wrapping, State Archaeologist Juhani Rinne
connected the relic to St Henry, the patron saint of Finland and the
cathedral, while State Archaeologist Carl Axel Nordman identied it
as belonging to St Eric, the patron saint of the Kingdom of Sweden.
By re-examining the central element of the skull relic, the bones, with
osteological analysis and radiocarbon dating, we show both theories
to be highly problematic. Our analysis reveals the complex material
features of the skull relic and the medieval cult of relics.
Keywords: skull relic, Middle Ages, Turku Cathedral, Christian relic cult,
osteological analysis, interdisciplinary
The late medieval relics and reliquaries of Western Christianity are prime
examples of the importance of materiality in devotion (Bynum 2011). Some
reliquaries are simple products, consisting of a bone fragment placed inside
folded sheets of lead, while others are highly complex objects incorporat-
1 This research was supported by the Eino Jutikkala Fund of the Finnish Academy of Science
and Leers and the Jenny and Ani Wihuri Foundation.
ing numerous human remains and other artefacts covered with layers of
textiles and precious metals. However, to speak of their materiality refers
not only to the characteristics of individual bone fragments and other sacred
pieces and the concrete materials and tools used in production, but also the
production techniques, the organisation of labour, the provenance of vari-
ous materials, devotional practices, and even more abstract conceptions of
the presence of the sacred in the maer (Bagnoli et al. 2011; Robinson et al.
2014). An analysis of the intricate material nature and construction of relics
and reliquaries is therefore pivotal for an understanding of the character of
devotional objects and the medieval cult of relics.
The study of the materiality of relics is especially important in cases
where only scant or no wrien evidence on the objects survives. A case
in point is the skull relic at Turku Cathedral (Fig. 1), which has no textual
information on its identity, origins, or age. Until the 1920s the skull relic
was kept in a wooden construction called the shrine of Blessed Hemming,
and the skull was therefore considered to belong to Bishop Hemming (c.
1290–1366; Lindman 1869, 28). He was the Bishop of Turku between 1338
and 1366 and was beatied in Turku Cathedral in 1514.
The object had already aracted a scientic study in the 1920s, when
the earliest scholarly examination of the cathedral’s relic collection took
place. The pioneering work was done by State Archaeologist Juhani Rinne
(1872–1950), who presented the rst interpretation of the identity and history
of the skull relic (Rinne 1932). In the 1950s State Archaeologist Carl Axel
Nordman (1892–1972) introduced another interpretation (Nordman 1954).
The conicting theories formed the background for a new research of the
skull relic in 2011. This was part of the research project on the relics and
reliquaries of Turku Cathedral Professor Emeritus Jussi-Pekka Taavitsainen
has directed since 2007 (Taavitsainen 2011).
Already in the early stages of dismantling the object and receiving the
rst results of the scientic analyses, the skull relic proved a considerably
more intricate object than Rinne and Nordman had imagined. This raises
a series of questions. What is the importance of natural scientic methods
in approaching devotional objects, and has their application changed our
understanding of the cult of relics during the 20th and 21st centuries? How
can their results be combined with the humanities approach? In the present
article we seek answers to these questions, rst, by sketching an outline
of the cult of relics. We then describe the construction of the skull relic of
Turku, starting with textiles used in the skull relic, their scientic dates,
and techniques of production; we proceed to an osteological analysis of the
bones. The development of new scientic methods has radically modied
and complicated the interpretation of the skull relic in Turku. The variety
of scientic analyses of the sacred artefact has revealed medieval aitudes
towards relics and devotional objects.
The emergence of the medieval cult of relics
The centrality of relics is not unique to Catholic Christianity. Indeed, albeit
to diering degrees of importance, many major world religions – including
Buddhism, Hinduism, and Islam – have traditions of venerating the earthly
remains of holy persons or objects that have been in contact with them
(Strong 2007; Meri 2010; Aymard 2014; Hooper 2014). However, since the
1980s the cult of saints has come to be seen as one of the most characteristic
aspects of medieval Western Christianity (Bynum & Gerson 1997, 3f.). Rel-
ics and reliquaries were at the core of medieval piety, and the cult of saints
spread throughout society (George 2013).
Caroline Walker Bynum (1995; 2002) points out the gradually increasing
interest in body parts as objects of veneration during the Middle Ages. The
cult was based on the bible. Luke writes of those strong in faith: ‘Not a hair
of your head shall perish’ (Luke 21:18). According to the Pauline view all
Christians are ‘saints’, because they have entered more fully into the life of
Christ by death (Ward 2010, 275). The physical remains of certain Christians
who had shown special signs of the Holy Spirit in life and death were held
in unique honour. Based on the creation of the whole person in the image
of God, there was no reason to think their esh was less holy after death.
In the fourth century Cyril of Jerusalem (c. 313–386) taught in his cat-
echetical lectures that ‘there reposes in that body a power greater than that
of the soul itself, the grace of the Holy Spirit’ (Ward 2010, 275). Due to the
dramatic expansion of the church in Late Antiquity, most new Christians
lived far away from the graves of the early martyrs. Subsequently, the bones
of martyrs began to be transported to urban basilicas. They were placed
under the altars so the mysteries were always celebrated in the presence of
the saints (Angenendt 2007, 167–72). An increasing number of holy bodies
were broken up and the pieces sent to new Christian groups.
As the size of relics decreased, their mobility increased. They could be
carried around in processions and moved between places and churches,
and some relics entered private possession (Bartle 2013, 275). Relics also
moved people, because the devotee needed physical contact with the most
important remains of holy persons (Geary 1986, 179; Ward 2010, 277). This
was the motivation for medieval pilgrimages, the cities of Jerusalem, Rome,
and Santiago de Compostela being the most famous destinations, although
there were hundreds of pilgrim sites to visit across Europe. Relics, especially
famous ones, enhanced the spiritual capital of churches and brought them
visitors, donations, and nancial benets.
The ongoing fragmentation of relics was a concern, and Theodoret of
Cyrus (393–c. 458/466) stated that ‘when the body is divided, the grace re-
mains undivided’ (Miller 2009, 199). In other words, even the tiniest piece
of a holy person had the saint’s miraculous presence in full. The theme of
relics’ miniscule and nondescript actuality, however, remained a cause of
anxiety, and in the 12th century the Benedictine abbot Peter the Venerable
(1092–1156) argued that the relics of the saints were already their resurrected
bodies (Bynum 2002, 15). Accordingly, one should not feel contempt for the
bones of the present martyrs, but honour them as now full of life, as if they
were in their future incorruptible state.
The authentication of a body part as a holy relic was an issue that fre-
quently preoccupied medieval clergy and laymen. Patrick Geary (1986, 175f.)
identies three interrelated beliefs required for the communal acceptance of
relics. First, during the saint’s life and after her or his death the individual
had to have a special connection with God manifested through her or his
actions. Second, the church had to ocially authenticate the corpse or its
part as belonging to a particular saint. Third, the remains of such a person
were to be prized and treated in a special way.
The recognition of a relic involved a formal ceremony called an inventio.
It was carried out by assessing the relic candidate and evaluating whether
it met the extrinsic and intrinsic standards for a true relic (Geary 1986, 176).
The extrinsic criteria entailed the formal processes of investigating the tomb
or reliquary and an examination of authenticae documents. These are slips
of parchment aached to the relics with inscriptions indicating their identi-
ties. Internal criteria denoted the miracles the saint performed after their
death. The saint usually indicated where the body parts were to be found,
and during the authentication process the holy person showed through su-
pernatural intervention that the remains were indeed genuine. If its results
were armative, the relic was presented for public veneration in a ritual
known as an elevatio, and when the relic was moved from one location to
another, a translatio took place involving a series of formal ceremonies and
possibly a procession (Angenendt 2007, 172–75).
By the late Middle Ages it had become church law that relics must be
used in the consecration of a church and placed permanently beneath its
altars. The law emphasised that ‘the relic should be of a size sucient for
them to be recognized as parts of human bodies; very small relics may
not be used’ (Nafte 2015, 212). Because of their relatively wide availability
and the possibility of creating new relics by dividing older ones, churches
gathered dozens if not hundreds of relics, including the relics of the saint
to which the building was consecrated. In 1215, alongside their vital pres-
ence in churches, the Fourth Lateran Council decreed that relics were not to
be displayed outside their containers (Montgomery 2010, 60; Bartle 2013,
305). In eect reliquaries were like an epidermal layer over the saint’s actual
body and kept the precious small pieces together and safe.
The dynamics of relics and reliquaries
The distinction between relics and reliquaries seems unequivocal. However,
in the Middle Ages their relationship was complex in terms of both theol-
ogy and material culture. As Cynthia Hahn (2017) points out, a reliquary is
akin to a gift box. As it performs its function of presentation, the reliquary
is erased in the presence of the relic. Precisely as the medieval reliquary is
materiality gloried, sparkling silver, gold, and gems, it simultaneously
denies its own existence, standing only as a seing or context for the stag-
ing of the relic. If a relic were an object that prompted an intense human
response, the function of its reliquary was to open a space for the imagina-
tion to be lled with devotion.
A preference for certain parts of the body is visible in the surviving ‘speak-
ing reliquaries’ (Bynum & Gerson 1997). These are metal containers which
express the body part underneath. The most popular were heads and arms,
the most expressive and communicative parts of human bodies. However,
many of the body-part reliquaries did not actually contain the body part they
seemed to imitate, but they could instead house the relics of several saints.
Consequently, the shape of body-part reliquaries depended more on the ref-
erentiality of body parts and the function of the reliquary than on its contents.
Not all reliquaries were shaped like body parts (Braun 1940). The larg-
est were caskets which look like miniature versions of buildings. Another
common type of reliquary borrowed its shape and ornamentation from
liturgical vessels like chalices and monstrances. Altar and processional
crosses mounted with relics were also typical reliquaries, but even ecclesi-
astical objects like wooden sculptures could have relics incorporated into
them. Small reliquary crosses and other reliquary pendants could also be
privately owned and worn as dress accessories.
The complex relationship between relics and reliquaries is manifested in
the many material layers surrounding medieval relics. There was rarely only
one relic, a piece of bone, inside one container: usually, there were a number
of reliquaries inside each other. In some sense the church building as such
was a reliquary protecting the relics it housed. Many smaller reliquaries
were shaped like ecclesiastical buildings, repeating the architecture which
contained them. Inside a church reliquaries were stored and displayed in a
particular architectural seing such as a dedicated chapel or a niche in the
wall. The altar functioned as a reliquary for the relics it contained.
Even genuine medieval reliquaries have several layers before the actual
relic is reached. For example, a head reliquary might have an outer surface
moulded in gilded silver and placed on a wooden core. This core in turn
had a small cavity containing the relic. A relic, whether a fragment of bone,
textile, or other material, was often protected by a linen cloth and wrapped
in a piece of sumptuous fabric. The package was then furnished with an
authentication slip. In addition to reliquaries placed inside one another, in
some cases the reliquary concretely structured its relics into a recognisable
entity. This is most evident with some skull reliquaries.
Three skull relics at Turku Cathedral
Skull relics were a popular item in the medieval cult of relics. They consist
of a human cranium wrapped in textiles or placed in containers of wood or
precious metal. Occasionally, skull reliquaries do not include an entire skull
but a scaered group of bones that may originate from one or several human
crania. The collection of medieval relics at Turku Cathedral includes three
skull reliquaries. Unfortunately, they all lack authenticae and thus cannot
be directly associated with any known saint or cult. All information has to
be extracted from the objects themselves with the assistance of art history
and the sciences.
In the 1920s Rinne examined all the relic material at Turku Cathedral.
He was a pioneer in combining scientic analyses with medieval hagi-
ographical evidence, church history, and the architectural history of the
cathedral. The two scientic methods Rinne applied were radiography and
anatomical examination. The laer analysis was conducted by the profes-
sor of anatomy Yrjö Kajava (1884–1929) of the University of Helsinki. Since
none of the reliquaries were opened, he could do a hands-on examination
only of individual, unwrapped bones in the collection. Kajava’s analysis
of the bones inside reliquaries was therefore based solely on radiographs.
When Rinne (1932) presented his identication of the three skull relics,
he emphasised rst, the particular features of their textile wrappings, and
second, the location in which they were kept after the Reformation. The pool
Rinne considered as possibly connected with the skull relics was limited to
Nordic saints. However, in addition to the Nordic alternatives a number of
other saints with altars at the cathedral could have been considered.
The rst of the skull relics of Turku Cathedral was found in a bricked-up
niche inside the sacristy in 1924. In addition to a cranium the niche revealed
two arm bones which are currently missing and silk covers for both the cra-
nium and arm bones. Rinne suggests that these bones belong to the patron
saint of Finland, St Henry of Uppsala (died c. 1156), because they were kept
safe inside the wall. St Henry was the Bishop of Uppsala, who arrived in
Finland in a crusade and converted the population to Christianity in the
1150s (Heikkilä 2005). He was then murdered by the Finnish farmer Lalli
(Taavitsainen, Oinonen, & Possnert 2015).
The two other skull relics were deposited in a medieval wooden cas-
ket known as the shrine of Blessed Hemming. The rst of the skull relics
is wrapped in a hemispheric textile cover. This reliquary contains small
pieces of bone placed in linen packages aached to a large piece of cloth.
The reliquary has a cross-shaped motif on its top, based on which Rinne
interpreted the object as the cap of St Bridget of Sweden (1303–1373;
Karila 2014). In addition to the purported cap of St Bridget the shrine of
Blessed Hemming included another skull relic, which is the focus of this
paper (Arponen 2015).
Kajava’s examination of the skull relic wrapped in red silk damask
The skull relic wrapped in red silk damask is similar in size to an average
adult cranium. It is 19.2 cm long, 14.1 cm wide, and 12 cm high. The object
can be divided in two: a textile reliquary and an articial skull structure.
The textile reliquary consists of three layers of fabric. The innermost layer
is made of linen, whereas the two outer layers are of silk. On the surface of
the topmost silk, a red damask cloth, a pictorial motif of a martyrdom has
been embroidered with silk and metal threads.
The skull structure consists of bones deposited in linen packages which
have been sewn together with a thread of linen (Fig. 2). The largest bones
are placed in roughly the same locations as they would be in a real human
cranium. In front of the skull structure there is a large hole which approxi-
mately corresponds to the area in the human face between the mandible and
frontal bone. The structure is so densely packed that no additional material
support was needed.
In his anatomical report Kajava notes that even by looking at the skull
relic it was clear it could not contain an actual cranium. He could tell that
the relic consisted of multiple separate bones by feeling it through the fabric.
The mandible was easily identied through the textile, and he could make
observations on the cranial bone on the top of the relic through a hole in
the fabric. The rest of his observations were based on radiographs. Kajava
(1932, 340, 344) states that other bones were included in the relic in addition
to the cranial bones, some of which may have been animal bones.
Kajava (1932, 340) describes the mandible as gracile with a narrow but
protruding chin. He notes a fracture on the left side of the mandible, which
had probably occurred after the relic had been assembled. The measure-
ments of the mandible suggest that it was of the same size as the cranium
found in the sacristy of Turku Cathedral (Kajava 1932, 345). The mandible
had sockets for all the teeth, but the third molars had not formed at all.
The radiographs showed that there were some tooth roots present in their
sockets, including the left second premolar and right rst molar. The rest
of the teeth had probably fallen out or been removed after death. The relic
also had a tooth in a separate package that was placed where the maxillary
teeth would have been. Based on the shape of the tooth, Kajava (1932, 342)
suggests that it was probably a lower second premolar. An opening in the
fabric wrapping exposed a hole in the right parietal. Kajava (1932, 337)
notes that there were carving marks on one of the margins of the hole. The
depression next to the hole seems to have been the result of some kind of
pressing force. He presents no interpretation of the purpose or the timing
of the perforation.
From the radiographs Kajava identies occipital and parietal bones,
which form the top and the back of the cranium. The fact that the suture
between the parietal bones was partly open indicated that the deceased
was under forty years old (Kajava 1932, 344). This relatively young age was
supported by the fact that the individual had lost no teeth. Hence, Kajava
concludes, the relic cannot belong to Bishop Hemming, as he was seventy-
six at the time of his death in 1366.
Rinne’s interpretation
Rinne constructed his identication of the skull relic on the depiction of a
martyrdom embroidered on the surface of the reliquary (Fig. 3). It represents
a man in knight’s armour with a raised sword. A headless man wearing
a long vestment is kneeling and holding his hands in prayer. His severed
head lies on the ground between the two men. Rinne (1932, 347f.) dated
the knight’s surcoat to the turn of the 13th and 14th centuries by compar-
ing the scene with, for example, a depiction on Birger Persson’s sepulchral
monument from the 1310s at Uppsala Cathedral. Rinne also considers the
shape of the knight’s sword to date it to the beginning of the 14th century.
This early dating and the fact that Bishop Hemming was not a martyr leads
Rinne to abandon the idea that the skull relic belonged to him.
As with Kajava’s observation that the dimensions of the mandible in
the skull relic ed those of the cranium found in the sacristy niche, Rinne
associated them with each other. Moreover, he assumed that the cranium
and the arm bones in the niche were St Henry’s. It was therefore logical
to identify the mandible as belonging to the patron saint of Finland. Since
Rinne (1932, 354) considered the mandible to form the core of the skull relic,
he did not hesitate to aribute the entire skull relic to St Henry.
Rinne’s aempt to support his identication through embroidery analysis
is unconvincing. The only element which ties the scene of the martyrdom
to St Henry are the martyr’s shoes. Rinne suggests, on very shaky grounds,
that they were episcopal sandals. A more serious problem with Rinne’s argu-
mentation is the apparent disparity between the weapon used to decapitate
the martyr on the embroidery, a sword, and the weapon mentioned in St
Henry’s hagiography, an axe. Rinne explains this discrepancy by suggesting
the embroidery was a representation of St Henry’s martyrdom based on an
older tradition in which the weapon of slaughter was a sword. Rinne even
tries to support this idea by pointing to a 16th-century Italian drawing of
St Henry’s murder. It was drawn by the Italian Niccolò Circignani (born
c. 1517/1524, died after 1596) and published as gravures in Bartholomeus
Grassi’s Ecclesiae anglicanae trophæa (1584). However, in Circignani’s drawing
St Henry is not murdered with a sword but with a dagger.
Nordman’s new aribution
Another important saint for the Diocese of Turku in addition to St Henry of
Uppsala was King Eric IX of Sweden, who accompanied St Henry to Finland.
The patron saint of Sweden was martyred in 1160, and his remains were
deposited in a reliquary at Uppsala Cathedral. The contents of the reliquary
were examined in the 1940s, and this gave Carl Axel Nordman a basis for
a new interpretation of the skull relic in Turku.
As part of the 1940s examination the mandible of the skull relic was
taken to Uppsala for anatomical analyses. It was also ed to the supposed
cranium of St Eric. Nordman (1954) refutes Rinne’s assumption of the link
between the skull relic and St Henry. First, according to Nordman, the
footwear of the martyr depicted on the embroidery was not proof of his
status. Nothing in the martyr’s dress suggests that he was a bishop. Indeed,
in religious art between the 13th and 16th centuries both the Apostles and
holy kings wear similar robes reaching to the ground. Second, Nordman
rejects Rinne’s theory of a nobleman killing St Henry with a sword. Nordman
points out that the legend of St Henry, the later folklore, and the tradition
passed on by the modern historians give no indication of the weapon being
a sword. Third, Nordman argues that the early modern draft by Circignani
is much too late to provide evidence of earlier conventions of art (Nordman
1954, 308, 311). In medieval art St Henry’s martyrdom was always staged
with an axe.
Nordman presents an alternative interpretation of the skull relic’s
identity. He bases it on the hypothesis that the martyr represented on the
reliquary is either a layperson or a clergyman. This involves dozens of de-
capitated medieval saints, and Nordman thus limits the number of potential
candidates by assuming that the skull relic was so valuable that the saint
must have been relatively highly respected at Turku Cathedral. Nordman
could think of no other holy man except St Eric as the saint represented in
the embroidered scene. He admits, however, that there are some icono-
graphic dierences between the martyr on the embroidery and the medieval
sculptures of St Eric. Nevertheless, of all the saints murdered with a sword
St Eric was the only one whose feast was ranked at the highest level, totum
duplex, in the calendars of saints of the Diocese of Turku. Nordman suggests
another possibility for identication as well – St Paul – but he rejects this
interpretation for an obscure reason: St Paul and St Peter shared the same
feast day. Moreover, St Eric was already one of the patron saints of Turku
Cathedral by 1400, supporting the aribution of the sumptuous reliquary
to him. Nordman (1954, 311) concludes by identifying the skull relic as St
Eric’s and suggests that it was made in Uppsala.
Nordman aempts to support his theory with the anatomical analyses
conducted by Dr Bo E. Ingelmark in the 1940s. He compares the mandible
of the skull relic with the cranium found in the sacristy niche. Ingelmark
concludes that the cranium and the mandible do not belong to the same
person because the tooth sockets in the maxilla show pathological changes
which are not observed in the mandible. Since Nordman (1954, 309.) as-
sumes that the cranium was St Henry’s, the anatomical analysis proves
that the mandible and, consequently, the skull relic as a whole could not
be linked to him. Unfortunately, the maxilla of the cranium is now missing,
preventing any comprehensive re-examination.
Based on similar dimensions the mandible of the skull relic in Turku
was ed to the cranium in the reliquary of St Eric at Uppsala Cathedral.
After closer examination Ingelmark writes that the cranium was bigger than
the mandible, and concludes that the cranium was masculine, whereas the
mandible was gracile. Hence, it was likely that the bones were not from the
same individual (Ingelmark 1954, 254–255). To explain the unfavourable
results of the anatomical examination, Nordman claims that by the time the
skull relic of Turku was assembled the mandible was interpreted as belong-
ing to St Eric, despite its possible female origin (Nordman 1954, 313, 317).
In addition to his observations on the cranium Ingelmark (1954, 254)
reports that the tooth Kajava had identied as a lower second premolar is
actually a deciduous canine tooth. Moreover, Ingelmark observes a loose
tooth root near the fracture site. It is probably the root of the left second
premolar that Kajava had seen in the X-ray of the mandible. Ingelmark
(1954, 254) interprets the fracture as having occurred around or after the
time of death.
Nordman’s dating of the skull relic diers considerably from Rinne’s,
because he emphasises the dierence between the dating of the embroidery
on the silk and the actual assembling of the skull relic. Nordman suggests
that the depiction was embroidered in Uppsala around 1300 or slightly
earlier, and the silk was then used as a wrapping for one of the relics of St
Eric. Around 1400 the silk was re-used as a cover for the newly constructed
skull relic, which was soon given to Turku Cathedral where a new altar
had been founded and dedicated to Saints Eric and Henry (Nordman 1954,
317f.). Nordman’s theory of St Eric’s skull relic has been repeated in several
subsequent publications (e.g. Pylkkänen 1976, no. 29; Riska 1987, 252f.;
Gardberg et al. 2000, 276).
New discoveries
The skull relic was disassembled in 2010–2011. On the one hand this was
the only way to document the artefact in detail and obtain the necessary
samples for scientic analyses. On the other the condition of the skull relic
was deteriorating because it had been tampered with several times. In the
rst photographs taken of the skull relic before Rinne’s examinations the
textile covers of the upper part of the skull relic were opened, revealing the
bones of the vertex. There was also a long tear on the left side of the skull
relic, indicating a violent opening of the textile covers.
In the 1920s the skull relic was conserved for the rst time. A piece of
cardboard was placed on the reliquary’s base. It formed a platform for iron
wires which were used to reinforce the skull construction inside. Even some
plastic materials were added to support the textile covers. In the 1940s the
skull relic was opened, and the mandible was taken out for examination.
On this occasion the supporting structure was destroyed by cuing the iron
wires. However, while the skull relic was eventually closed and the disman-
tled stitches replaced with new ones, the damaged supporting structure of
iron wires was left in place. This incomplete conservation work meant that
the structure of the skull relic started to deteriorate, wrinkles emerged in
the textile covers, and the lowest part of the embroidery was bent under
the base of the reliquary. To improve the disposition of the skull relic, a
complete re-conservation was required. This would include the removal
of the remains of the iron wires and other modern materials, and creating
a new support inside the skull relic.
Since the opening of a skull relic is an extremely rare event, every ef-
fort was taken to carry out the process carefully and document any and
all steps. Several samples were extracted to obtain reliable results for the
dating and identication of the origins of the materials. All the bones were
also osteologically analysed. The materials and the weave or twist of most
of the fabrics and threads in the skull relic were examined. Samples for
dye analysis from two of the three coloured textiles were also taken and
analysed at the textile laboratory of the Royal Institute for Cultural Herit-
age (KIK-IRPA) in Brussels (Vanden Berghe 2016). By March 2017 forty-six
radiocarbon-dating results had been obtained: fteen were from bones and
thirty from fabrics and threads. The dating results include one sample from
a grain found between the layers of cloth in the skull relic.
The date of construction
Rinne and Nordman had no access to natural scientic means to date the
skull relic. However, textile research and iconographic analysis provided
them with clues to the age of the materials. By comparing stylistic details,
Rinne dated the embroidered scene of the martyrdom to the beginning
of the 14th century, and his conclusions still seem valid. The style of the
knight’s long and loose surcoat was not favoured after the mid-14th cen-
tury (Fig. 4; e.g. Houston 1996; Newton 2002; Sco 2007). The radiocarbon
dating result of a thread in the embroidery supports Rinne’s iconographic
interpretation. With a probability of 70.5% the thread is from the turn of
the 13th and 14th centuries (Ua-53815, 691±29BP, 1260-1320 and 1350–1390
calAD, probability 95.4%).
In the 1950s Agnes Geijer (1954, 296; 1994, 141) dated the topmost silk
cover of the skull relic to the end of the 13th century. She analysed the weav-
ing technique and the style of the depiction of mythological characters in
the Chinese damask. Again, the radiocarbon dating result of the silk was in
harmony with Geijer’s conclusions: with a probability of 82.3% the dating
covers the period 1220–1310 calAD (Ua-39385, 712±34BP, 1220–1310 and
1360–1390 calAD, probability 95.4%).
Based on textile research and iconographic analysis, the skull relic should
be dated to the end of the 13th century or the rst half of the 14th century.
With the aid of radiocarbon dating the age estimations can be rened. There
are some materials in the skull relic which are younger than the silk in the
Chinese damask. These include linen in the two pieces of cloth between the
skull structure and the fabric covers. The dating of the linen is 1290–1410
calAD (Ua-42604, 604±30BP; Ua-55438, 609±26 BP; probability 95.4%).
Another young material is the linen in the thread closing one of the bone
packages (1290–1410 calAD; Ua-42105, 595±30BP, probability 95.4%). As
the textiles and the thread are inside the reliquary, the skull relic could not
have existed before 1290. The assembling of the skull relic probably took
place around the middle of the 14th century, which is also indicated by the
radiocarbon dating of the silk threads used in closing the silk covers. The
dates for both, 1280–1330 and 1340–1400 calAD, lend a slight emphasis to
the younger time span (a white silk thread for the red silk cover: Ua-54642,
640±29BP; a beige silk thread for the beige silk cover: Ua-54643, 648±29BP;
probability for both 95.4%).
The age estimation for the skull assemblage is complicated by the radio-
carbon dating of other textiles. Green silk braid has been applied to the front
and sides of the skull relic, most of which is hidden by the textile covers
(Fig. 5). Samples from two dierent locations of the braid were extracted
for radiocarbon dating. According to the rst sample, taken in 2011, the
silk was dated to 1310–1350 and 1390–1450 calAD with an emphasis on the
more recent period (Ua-42095, 527±30BP; probability 95.4%). However, the
result makes the silk in the braid distinctly younger than any other mate-
rial in the skull relic, although there are no visible traces of the braid being
added later to the artefact. To explore this discrepancy further, another
sample of the braid was taken and analysed in 2017. The result, 1290–1400
calAD, corresponds with the dating of the youngest materials in the skull
relic (Ua-55436, 614±26BP, probability 95.4%). It is dicult to explain the
dierence in the two dating results, but at least the case proves the benets
of resampling. Ultimately, however, there is no reason to doubt the date of
the assembling of the skull relic. It took place around the mid-14th century.
The bones of the skull structure
There were nineteen linen pouches with bones in the skull construction and
a few pieces of linen cloth, which were probably the remains of emptied
bone packages. Most packages contained only one bone or a fragment,
while ve had several fragments. For example, one package (#7) contained
over forty small pieces of bone (the bone fragments and their details are
presented in Table 1).
A macroscopic osteological analysis of the bones was undertaken in 2016.
The goals of the analysis were to identify the bones, determine whether
they were human or non-human, estimate the sex and age of individuals
represented in the relic, and identify whether the bone fragments could be
associated with each other. Potential modications, pathological changes,
and taphonomic damage were also documented.
Bone fragments were divided into three groups: cranial bones; post-
cranial bones; and unidentied bones. The post-cranial bones include all the
identied bones that were not from a cranium or mandible, while unidenti-
ed bones include all the fragments that could not be identied as human
or non-human bone, or as a specic bone.
Cranial bones
Six of the packages include a cranial bone or fragments of cranial bones. One
package comprised a tooth (Table 1). The major bones consist of a mandi-
ble (#2), two parietal bones (#6, 9), and an occipital bone (#8). These bones
also form the frame of the entire relic, and they were placed in their correct
anatomical positions. Two cranial fragments (#10, 15) were also identied,
but no further identications are possible.
The mandible is complete and well preserved. Kajava reports a postmor-
tem fracture between the second premolar and rst molar on the left in the
radiograph. This fracture is still visible, although it is now adhered. This
adhering may have been done in the 1940s when the mandible was taken to
Uppsala for examination. No teeth are present except for two broken tooth
roots. The right rst molar root is still in its socket but the other, possibly
the left second premolar root, is loose and cannot be reed in its socket,
possibly because of the reconstructive adhering. All the teeth except the
third molars were probably present at the time of death, since no healing is
observed in the alveolar bone. Based on Kajava’s (1932, 342) report on the
radiographs, the third molars had never formed.
There are no macroscopic methods that can estimate the age at death
from a mandible lacking teeth. However, there are some indicators of rela-
tive age. For example, all the teeth except the third molars were present at
the time of death, and mandibular condyles show no pathological changes
in the joint surface. These observations may indicate that the deceased was
young or middle-aged, but not elderly.
Sex can be estimated from the mandible using several traits. The most
commonly used trait is the shape of the mental eminence (chin) which, in
general, is broader and more protruding in males (Buikstra & Ubelaker
1994). Another characteristic used is the gonial angle, which is the angle
between the mandibular body and ramus. The angle tends to be more acute
in males than in females (Krogman & Iscan 1986, 192; Williams & Rogers
2006, 731). In the mandible of the skull relic the mental eminence area is
quite small, but slightly protruding. This may therefore indicate a female.
Furthermore, the angle is neither clearly masculine nor feminine. Because
of these ambiguous characteristics two additional mandibular traits were
scored, even though their reliability has been debated in previous research
(Hill 2000; Kemkes-Groenthaler et al. 2002). In the relic mandible the
ramus is straight, exhibiting no exure at the level of the occlusal surface
of the molars. This generally indicates a female (Loth & Henneberg 1996;
Kemkes-Groenthaler et al. 2002). The mandible shows a slight eversion of
the gonial angle, which may be considered a neutral trait, since it is more
common for males to exhibit eversion, whereas in females this trait can be
anything from slight eversion to inversion (Kemkes-Groenthaler et al.
2002; Oelé et al. 2009). The mandible in the skull relic seems to exhibit
ambiguous characteristics, but based on these traits it is classied as a pos-
sible female (Fig. 6). However, a future DNA analysis may provide more
conclusive results.
The two parietal bones, right and left, belong to the same individual.
There is a cranial suture between these bones, and the suture lines match
perfectly, but the suture is closed from the anterior part and the bones have
been broken in two before being placed in separate packages. Kajava (1932)
estimates the age of the individual based on the suture closure. However,
suture closures are not used as often in age estimation as it used to be because
of ndings that have shown wide variation in closure times (Hershkovi et
al. 1997), and we can thus conclude that the individual in question was an
adult and more likely to be young or middle-aged than elderly.
Another large bone fragment is the squamous part of the occipital
bone. The bone is more weathered than the other cranial bones, although
it is the youngest one dated in the relic. A morphological trait commonly
used in sex estimation, the nuchal crest, is present on the occipital bone.
The crest is an aachment site for muscles and is generally larger in males
than in females. In the present bone the crest area is not pronounced and
may thus indicate a female, but it is dicult to estimate sex on the grounds
of only one trait.
One of the packages contains a small tooth (#18), the size of which sug-
gests it is deciduous, but its root morphology more resembles a permanent
tooth. Kajava (1932, 342) identies the tooth from the radiographs as a
permanent premolar, while Ingelmark (1954, 254) reports it as a deciduous
canine. The morphology suggests it is indeed a canine, but it is smaller
than a normal canine. The tooth is also worn to the degree that the dentin
is exposed.
Post-cranial and unidentied bones
Four packages contain a fragment of a post-cranial bone. Three are from
the pelvis, specically from the ilium (#4, 12, 17). One package includes a
rib fragment from the left side (#16). Their size suggests these fragments
are probably from an adult. The ilium fragment (#17) also exhibits a fused
iliac crest, indicating an adult.
Eight packages (#1, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 14, 19) include a fragment or several
fragments that are unidentiable. Most are small fragments of compact
bone or lack identiable characteristics in general. A non-human origin of
these fragments cannot be excluded based on the macroscopic examination.
Modications of bone
Most of the bones in the skull relic are fragmentary with broken edges.
The bones may have been accidentally or deliberately broken. Many of the
edges are rounded, which may suggest they have been constantly handled
for quite a long period before being deposited in the reliquary. Most of the
edges are slightly lighter in colour than the surrounding bone, which usually
indicates that the breakage happened after death (Galloway et al. 2014, 50).
Two bones exhibit clear tool marks. A fragment of an ilium from package
no. 4 has three shallow incision marks on the medial side of the bone. They
range from 2 to 25 mm in length. There is no clear indication what the inci-
sions are for, but they are probably related to the preparation of the relic.
The right parietal from package no. 6 has an almost circular perforation
through the bone (Fig. 7). The maximum diameter of the perforation is
about 13 mm. No signs of healing can be seen on the bone, and the margins
are slightly lighter in colour than the surrounding bone. A larger area of
breakage is observed on the interior surface of the bone, indicating that the
hole was made from the outside. No radiating or other fractures associated
with the defect is detectable. The walls of the perforation are vertical but
rugged. The outer surface around the perforation displays some slightly
polished areas which may indicate the use of a metal tool or wear (Murphy
2003, 213). A round depression has been made next to the perforation. This
may be a false start for another perforation.
The timing of the defect can be estimated based on its macroscopic
characteristics. However, identifying when the injury or damage occurred
can sometimes be dicult or even impossible (Maples 1986; Loe 2009; Gal-
loway et al. 2014). In this case the lack of healing of the margins indicates
the perforation was probably done at the time of death (perimortem) or after
death (postmortem). The colour of the margins of the perforation and the
area around it dier from the colour of the surrounding bone. This colour
dierence usually indicates postmortem breakage (Galloway et al. 2014,
50). Other characteristics consistent with postmortem breakage are rough
and uneven margins of the perforation and the absence of other fractures.
Yet the bone has not shaered in any of the ways commonly observed in
postmortem fractures (Galloway et al. 2014, 50). Based on these traits, and
without further details on the taphonomic processes involved, the perfora-
tion seems more similar to a postmortem defect than a perimortem one.
Several methods have been suggested in the literature for making per-
forations in the cranial bones. These commonly involve the trepanation of
living individuals. These methods include scraping, grooving, drilling or
boring, chiselling, and sawing (Lisowski 1967, 661; Kirkup 2003, 290.).
The right parietal in the skull relic shows no sign of scraping, grooving, or
cuing, and the shape of the hole and the margins do not indicate drilling.
The margins of the perforation are uneven and may evince some sort of
gouging. There is a small polished area around the hole that may reect
the use of a metal tool such as a gouge (Murphy 2003, 213). However, the
depression next to the perforation does not appear to have been made by
gouging, but rather by the force of pressure.
Several interpretations of the perforation in the right parietal can be pos-
ited. It may be a perimortem trepanation done as a surgical treatment which
the patient did not survive. However, considering the characteristics of the
perforation, it is more likely to be a postmortem defect made for religious
or ritual purposes (Lisowski 1967, 659; Murphy 2003), or to hang or aach
the bone to a surface for other reasons. Both healed and unhealed trepana-
tions in archaeological materials are commonly seen on the left parietal or
frontal (Lisowski 1967, 659; Roberts & Manchester 2005, 126). In this case
the perforation is on the right parietal, which, with the lack of traumatic
lesions on the parietals, may thus support the idea of a postmortem defect.
Associations between the bones
It is important to evaluate whether these bones come from the same in-
dividual or if multiple individuals are involved. Only two of the bones
(#6, 9) can be reed together and thus can be said to originate from the
same individual. Other associations between the bone fragments are best
addressed with radiocarbon dating, but in future DNA analysis may help
to establish further associations between fragments as well. By April 2017
bones in fteen of the nineteen packages had been dated (Table 1). The
calibrated dates range from 550 BC to 1220 AD, but there are clearly seven
clusters with similar dates: 550–50 BC, 180–1 BC, 50 BC–90 AD, 50–240,
240–430, 660–900 and 1040–1220. In the case of three packages (#7, 5, 13),
which include several bone fragments, the sample for scientic dating was
extracted from only one fragment, and it thus remains unknown whether all
the pieces in the packages are contemporary. Nor can it be concluded based
on the macroscopic examination if the contemporaneous bones belonged
to the same individual.
The oldest dates are mostly from unidentied fragments (#1, 5, 7, 10, 13,
14), except one ilium fragment (#12) that coincides with the cluster dated
to 50 BC–90 AD and a rib fragment (#16) in the cluster dated to 50–240. The
mandible (#2) has been dated to 250–300 or 320–430. These dates coincide
with the dates from package nos. 4 and 3. The parietals (#6, 9) belong to the
same date cluster (660–900), with one unidentied cranial fragment (#15).
The occipital bone (#8) is the youngest fragment, dating to 1040–1220, and it
remains the only one dated to the period when Saints Eric and Henry lived.
The material complexity of medieval relics
The re-examination of the skull relic at Turku Cathedral reveals what intricate
objects medieval reliquaries and relics are. The study of this complicated item
not only refutes and revises old interpretations, it also raises new issues and
points of interest for further scholarship on medieval relics and their posi-
tion in the cult. An unavoidable realisation is that the understanding of relics
should not focus solely on the moment when they were acquired and depos-
ited in reliquaries. Instead, an investigation must consider the long history
of material changes that the objects have experienced. A holistic approach to
the materiality of the skull relic of Turku requires the integration of dierent
strains of information. It involves the re-evaluation of previous iconographi-
cal and historical reasoning, as well as the acquisition of new scientic data
on the age of dierent elements, a macroscopic osteological analyses of the
bones, and the documentation of the physical construction of the reliquary.
The question of the authenticity of medieval relics, or rather their correct
identication, was a driving force in Rinne’s and Nordman’s work, but had
a particularly modern emphasis. This was manifested in Rinne’s pioneering
application of scientic methods of anatomical examination to the bones.
However, the development of the methodology and the introduction of
other scientic methods like radiocarbon dating also undermine his and
Nordman’s assumptions and conclusions. Their interpretations rested on
historical and iconographic analyses and were supported by anatomical
inferences. They assumed that the skull relic of Turku must be a pivotal
saint for the cathedral and the history of the diocese. The holy man had
to be one of the two major saints associated with the history of Finland, St
Henry or St Eric. However, the new scientic data supports neither Rinne’s
nor Nordman’s identications.
Rinne and Nordman considered the mandible the core of the skull relic.
The assumption functioned well as the basis for their subsequent theories,
since the mandible was lacking both from the presumed skull of St Henry at
Turku Cathedral and the skull of St Eric at Uppsala Cathedral. This assump-
tion, however, must be questioned, because the mandible is a loose bone
and as such inferior to cranial bones sheltering the brain, which, beside the
heart, was considered the most vital organ in late medieval thought (Cohen
2013, 68-71). There are mandible relics (for example, that of St Anthony of
Padua in Italy), but skull relics constructed on a mandible were not known
to the authors.
Ingelmark determined the mandible to be female and the new osteo-
logical analysis supports his view. Nordman sought to avoid the problem
posed by the wrong sex by explaining that the mandible was considered St
Eric’s relic when the skull relic was compiled. The radiocarbon dating result,
however, has revealed that the mandible was already about 800 years old
when it was added as part of the skull relic. It is unlikely that such a man-
dible was available in Uppsala. Altogether, the age of the mandible refutes
assumptions of its belonging either to St Eric or St Henry.
The two parietal bones from the same skull form the core of the skull
relic. Of the other two central bones, the occipital and the frontal, the
laer is missing. If the crania in Turku and Uppsala Cathedrals belong
to St Henry and St Eric, none of these bones belong to them, because
the skulls are – apart from the mandibles – complete. Hence, there is no
physical connection between the skull relic at Turku Cathedral and the
two Nordic saints.
In the medieval cult of relics skull relics had a particularly strong link
with St Ursula and the 11,000 virgins. The most abundant concentration of
skull relics is at the centre of the cult, the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne.
When a Roman cemetery, providing masses of ancient human remains, was
discovered there in 1106, the cult spread quickly across Europe (Montgom-
ery 2016, 19, 24f.). By the end of the Middle Ages relics of the 11,000 virgins
were found not only in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands (e.g. Van
Strydonck et al. 2006; Sorber et al. 2010; de Kruijf 2011; Becker-Huberti &
Beikircher 2012), but they found their way further north and east to Den-
mark (e.g. the Cistercian Abbey of Esrom and Lund Cathedral; Montgomery
2010, 29; Karlsson 2015, 482.) and Poland (e.g. the Cistercian Abbey of Ląd;
Mrozowski & Nowiński 2015, 64–87; Nowiński 2016, 208–57). They are also
mentioned in the inventory of relics in the main cathedral of the archdiocese
of Sweden, Uppsala, around 1344 (SDHK 4953).
St Ursula and the 11,000 virgins were also important in the medieval
diocese of Turku, in whose calendar of saints their feast day appeared early.
The signicance was emphasised particularly at the beginning of the 15th
century, when the day was raised to the highest rank of ecclesiastical feast,
totum duplex (Malin 1925, 86, 168f.). A chapel and associated altar for the
11,000 virgins were founded in Turku Cathedral in 1455 (Rinne 1948, 82).
Although the interpretation of the skull relic as St Ursula’s or one of the
11,000 virgins seems aractive, it has signicant problems. The altar for the
11,000 virgins at Turku Cathedral was founded in 1455, but the skull relic
had already been assembled a hundred years earlier, approximately in the
second quarter of the 14th century. Additionally, there are two other relics
in the relic assemblage of Turku Cathedral, which, because of their dating
and the other preserved authentica (St Benedicta), are probably related to
the founding of the altar.
Most skull relics related to the cult of the 11,000 virgins are complete
crania with a silk wrapping. Occasionally, the pieces of broken crania have
been adhered to each other, but constructions with separate linen pouches
containing bones and sewn together are rare. An example of a construction
similar to the skull relic at Turku Cathedral is among the skull relics in the
altar complex of the 11,000 virgins at Ląd Abbey, Poland. It is probable that
other similar constructions exist, but they are visible only if the wrapping
is missing or partly dismantled. Such a time-consuming solution was prob-
ably used only if the bones originated from dierent skulls and there was
no other way to join them together.
In almost all the skull relics of the 11,000 virgins part of the frontal bone
remains exposed. In the skull relic at Turku Cathedral, however, there is no
frontal bone, and it is possible to see inside the construction. Like part of the
silk wrapping, the frontal bone was probably taken as a memento. Indeed,
the empty linen packages in front of the skull relic point to souvenir hunting.
The example in Ląd Abbey points to the possibility that unwrapped pieces
of bone were aached to linen pouches by drilling the bones and binding
them to the fabric with a thread.
Perforations are a relatively common feature of the skull relics related
to the cult of the 11,000 virgins. At St Quinten Cathedral in Hasselt in Bel-
gium there is a postmortem perforation on the right parietal of a skull relic
(Fanny van Cleven, KIK-IRPA, pers. comm.; inv. no. 39; hp://balat.kikirpa.
be/object/62284). Further examples of perforations are in the skull relics of
the Basilica of St Ursula in Cologne and the Abbey Church of Ląd in Po-
land. The perforations were probably considered proof of martyrdom and
thus exposing them was appropriate. In the skull relic at Turku Cathedral
the two innermost wrappings reveal the hole in the parietal bone, but the
outermost silk fabric covers it. Was this an aempt to hide the contradiction
between the perforation, which may have been thought to be the result of a
fatal strike, and the embroidery depicting a decapitation? However it may
be, perforations are not an exclusive feature of the skull relics of the 11,000
virgins. For example, there is the skull of a count of Toulouse with two
perforations found in a sarcophagus outside Toulouse Cathedral (Crubézy
& Murail 1996, 78).
As far as the wrapping is concerned, thin metal plates or parchment ow-
ers may be sewn on the medieval silk wrappings of the skull relics associated
with the cult of the 11,000 virgins. Occasionally, there are also embroideries
in the skull relics of the 11,000 virgins, but such narrative representations as
the one on the skull relic at Turku Cathedral seem to be lacking.
In sum, the skull relic at Turku Cathedral includes features in common
with the skull relics related to the cult of the 11,000 virgins, but there are
also signicant dierences. They may be explained by the adaptation of
the cult’s skull relic tradition to local circumstances. However, the most
important problem is the date of some bones in the skull relic. According
to the radiocarbon dating they are older than the Roman graveyards in
Cologne. Furthermore, most of the rst Roman burials were cremations
(Euskirchen 2014, 29), and there are no scorch marks on the bones of the
skull relic. Keeping this in mind, the skull relic at Turku Cathedral may
represent some other medieval cult involving the wrapping of skull relics
in textiles (cf. Van Strydonck et al. 2006, 152; Stracke-Sporbeck 2016, 103f.).
The osteological analysis of the skull relic shows that not all the bones in
the assemblage are cranial, a feature also encountered in other reliquaries
shaped like a body part (Bynum & Gerson 1997). In the skull relic the major
cranial bones, including the parietals, the occipital, and the mandible, give
shape to the skull, and they are in their correct anatomical locations. Three
fragments from the pelvis are used, probably because they are at bones
similar to the cranial bones. The rest of the bone packages mostly ll the
empty spaces of the actual skull structure. The major bones are human, but
the non-human origin of the small fragments cannot be excluded based on
the macroscopic examination.
The radiocarbon dates of the individual elements in the reliquary, in-
cluding bones, textiles, and threads, testify to a wide chronological range.
The dates of the bones range from 550 BC to 1220 AD with seven clusters.
While the oldest bones may be as old as the 6th century BC, the dates of
the textiles and threads reveal that the skull relic was assembled around
the mid-14th century.
The structural study of the skull relic of Turku exposes how intricate
the relationship between relics and reliquaries was. The bone fragments
were wrapped in linen pouches stitched with thread, and then these small
pouches were deposited inside layers of cloth. It is apparent that the func-
tion of a reliquary was more than just to protect the bones: it organised the
holy remains in a form recognisable as a human skull.
This new study of the skull relic in Turku reveals the complexity of me-
dieval objects of devotion and the power of scientic analysis to access their
material history. The combination of radiocarbon dating with a macroscopic
osteological study has revealed that both Rinne and Nordman were incor-
rect in their identications of the skull relic as St Henry or St Eric. Although
the identity of the relic’s saint remains elusive, the interdisciplinary and
detailed study of the materiality of the skull relic discloses a number of
other material phenomena relevant for understanding the use of medieval
devotional objects as part of the cult of relics.
* * *
AKI ARPONEN is PhD Student, University of Turku. E-mail: aki.v.arponen@utu.
VISA IMMONEN is Professor of Archaeology, University of Turku. E-mail: visa.
HELI MAIJANEN is University Lecturer of Archaeology, University of Oulu, Fin-
land. E-mail: heli.maijanen@oulu.
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Fig. 1. The anonymous skull relic of Turku Cathedral before the scientic
examination in 2011. The length of the object is 19.2 cm. Photo: Aki Arponen.
Fig. 2. The structure inside the textile reliquary. The photo was taken during
the scientic examination in 2011. Photo: Aki Arponen.
Fig. 3. The depiction of a martyrdom embroidered on the silk wrapping.
Photo: Aki Arponen.
Fig. 4. The knight with a surcote which went out of fashion after the mid-
14th century. Photo: Aki Arponen.
Fig. 5. The green silk braid is visible due to the collectors of mementos who
have cut o pieces of the Chinese silk damask. Photo: Aki Arponen.
Fig. 6. The mandible in the skull relic (package 2). Photo: Aki Arponen.
Fig 7. The right parietal (package 6) with a perforation c. 13 mm in diameter
and a round depression. Photo: Aki Arponen.
Table 1. Bone packages inside the Turku Cathedral skull relic, their iden-
tication, and the radiocarbon dates of the bones. In the table, ‘texture’
refers to the major bone type (outer compact, cortical, bone or inner spongy,
trabecular, bone) present in the fragments, while ‘preservation’ is evaluated
if bones are more complete (from partial to complete). The radiocarbon
datings were done in Ångström Laboratory at Uppsala University. The
marine reservoir eect on the radiocarbon dating results of the relic bones
in the Turku Cathedral relic assemblage has been discussed in Taavitsainen,
Oinonen & Possnert 2015 (NB. In the article in question, the radiocarbon
dating result of the bone in the package 8 is incorrect).
age Identication of
the bone Number of
bones/ frag-
ments in
the package
size in
Preservation Colour Laboratory
for the ra-
dating result
of the bone
Calibrated radio-
carbon datings of
the bone (prob-
ability 95.4%)
fragments 3 20.3 Mainly trabecular Yellowish brown Ua-53812 2073±29 180–1 calBC
2 Mandible 1 Complete Light brown Ua-44315 1675±30 250–300 and 320–
430 calAD
fragment 1 22.8 Mainly cortical Yellowish Ua-42098 1692±30 250–420 calAD
4 Ilium fragment 1 59.0 Cortical/trabecular Yellowish Ua-42100 1717±30 240–400 calAD
fragments Over 30 33.9 Mainly cortical Yellowish brown Ua-42101 1973±33 50 calBC–90 calAD1
6 Right parietal 1 132.5 Almost complete Yellowish brown Ua-44318 1268±30 660–820 calAD2
fragments 43 22.9 Cortical Brownish grey Ua-50738 2264±83 550–50 calBC
8 Occipital Over 8 97.5 Partial Yellowish Ua-42102 883±31 1040–1220 calAD
9 Left parietal 1 122.0 Almost complete Yellowish brown Ua-50739 1314±30 650–780 calAD
10 Unidentied
cranial fragment 1 21.5 Cortical/diploë Yellowish brown Ua-50740 1885±31 50–220 calAD
11 Unidentied
tubular bone
1 29.6 Cortical Light yellow not dated
12 Ilium fragment 1 25.9 Cortical/trabecular Yellowish Ua-50741 1980±30 50 calBC–80 calAD
13 Unidentied
fragments Over 5 24.9 Mostly cortical Brownish Ua-42103 1990±31 50 calBC–80 calAD
14 Unidentied
fragment 1 40.3 Cortical/trabecular Brownish grey Ua-42104 1896±30 50–220 calAD3
15 Unidentied
cranial fragment 1 27.0 Cortical/diploë Brownish Ua-42107 1189±30 760–900 calAD4
16 Rib fragment 1 30.1 Cortical/trabecular Yellowish Ua-50742 1851±30 80–240 calAD
17 Ilium fragment 1 58.4 Cortical/trabecular Yellowish not dated
18 Tooth 1 16.3 Complete not dated
19 Unidentied
fragment 1 14.2 Mainly cortical Yellowish brown not dated
1 Probability 94.1%.
2 Probability 93.7%.
3 Probability 94.4%.
4 Probability 88.6%.
The relics and associated reliquaries of Turku Cathedral are among the most significant early Christian artefacts in Finland preserved in situ. Despite their importance, they have not been the focus of scientific enquiry for a number of decades. This study has focused on one skull shaped relic, although the origin and name of its associated saint remains unknown. The relic is the only such example with high-status decoration in the Turku Cathedral collection and is covered with a red silk decorated with yellow yarn. The bones and fabric have been dated from the beginning of the modern era to the 13th century AD, and variance among the radiocarbon (<sup>14</sup>C) dates acquired from the bones shows the remains incorporate several individuals. In this study, oxygen and strontium isotope compositions were determined from fragmented bones and textiles. The results are the first isotope analysis performed on this collection housed in Turku Cathedral. Analysis indicates an origin from outside Finland, possibly elsewhere in northern Europe or an Alpine region. This helps take us a little closer to understanding the mystery associated with this sacred artefact.
The general definition of a “saw” as a flat blade with a serrated edge of evenly distributed teeth, visible to the naked eye, requires interpretation when analysing the trepanning instruments of craniotomy. Detailed examination demonstrated that most if not all artefacts, believed to have been utilised for penetrating the skull vault, have serrated if irregular cutting edges, plainly evident in the case of flint, obsidian, basalt, shark’s teeth and marine shells. In fact, even the keenest scalpel blade is serrated when magnified under the microscope, as studies by both Bourgery (1837) and Tubby (1928) showed; the latter concluded, “every knife-edge is a saw in miniature” (Tubby, 1928, p. 737, Fig. 7B). Scalpels however are not applied in saw-like action, with alternating to and fro movements, characteristic of amputation saws, or with alternating rotational movements, characteristic of cylindrical crown saws.
This paper argues that relics and, especially, relic-related behaviour, are a fundamental part of religion as a global human cultural practice. Using examples of artefacts and artworks from a variety of religious traditions and periods, a cross-cultural definition and theory of relics is proposed that encompasses and aims to explain a wide range of behaviour, from structured worship to celebrity adulation. A crucial distinction between religious doctrine/theology and religious practice is drawn, and the analytical utility of the distinction between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ is challenged. Throughout human history, special personages – gods, ancestors, kings, queens, saints, heroes, celebrities – have been regarded as sources of power. Their body parts, items their bodies have touched, and images made of them, have, by the operation of a mechanism of transfer and equivalence, also been attributed with power. A new tripartite theoretical framework is outlined that extends the definition of relics from body parts and contact artefacts to images, helping to explain the power of images in different cultural contexts. The attribution of power to special personages, artefacts and images is intrinsically connected to theories of causation; these aetiological concerns have given rise to much of what is called art, to the great value assigned to art and, more recently, to the value of memorabilia.
Sex determination is a key analysis that forensic anthropologists perform in order to construct a biological profile of human remains. The techniques used in forensic investigations must meet the Mohan or Daubert criteria, for admissibility in a court of law. In this study, the precision and accuracy of 21 morphological characteristics of the skull were tested on a modern sample of 50 adult crania of European White ancestry. The following craniofacial features are identified as high-quality traits, defined by intraobserver error <or=10% and accuracy >or=80%: mastoid size, supraorbital ridge size, general size and architecture, rugosity of the zygomatic extension, size and shape of the nasal aperture, and gonial angle. Ninety-six percent accuracy and 92% precision were achieved using 20 traits in combination. Fisher's exact probability tests revealed no significant differences (p=0.05) in the levels of precision or accuracy between age categories. Sex-related bias in accuracy was found for the following cranial features: ramus symphysis (p=0.009), zygomatic extension (p=0.0016), and occipital markings (p=0.0013). These traits demonstrated a greater tendency to be scored male than female.
An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe
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Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe. New York: Zone Books.
The Reliquary Effect. Enshrining the Sacred Object
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Hahn, Cynthia 2017 The Reliquary Effect. Enshrining the Sacred Object. London: Reaktion.
Matter of Faith. An Interdisciplinary Study of Relics and Relic Veneration
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Hooper, Steven 2014 Bodies, Artefacts and Images. A Cross-cultural Theory of Relics.James Robinson, Lloyd de Beer & Anna Harnden (eds), Matter of Faith. An Interdisciplinary Study of Relics and Relic Veneration, 190-99. London: British Museum.
Yrjö 1932 Kallolaitteen luusto. -Juhani Rinne, Pyhä Henrik. Piispa ja marttyyri
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