Holy Thorn coming to British Museum

The Holy Thorn

The Holy Thorn

A relic believed to be from the Crown of Thorns placed on Jesus' head before his crucifixion, has been loaned by Stonyhurst College in Lancashire to the British Museum in London,  as part of its Treasures of Heaven exhibition which opens in June.

The Thorn is said to have been seized from Constantinople, during the Fourth Crusade and later sold to Louis IX of France, who subsequently gave it to Mary Queen of Scots who took it with her to Holyrood in Edinburgh.

Following her execution in 1587, the Holy Thorn was given to the Jesuits for safe-keeping, who brought it to Stonyhurst in the heart of the Ribble Valley.

Catriona Graffius, a sixth former at the school has also been interviewed as part of a downloadable guide being put together by the British Museum as part of the exhibition. She was asked to give her perspective on her school’s precious possession.

Catriona said: “I was asked to describe the thorn, which has Mary Queen of Scots’ pearls twined around it. The thorn is placed in a chapel at Stonyhurst every year in Holy Week.”

The podcast is narrated by museum director Neil McGregor who also presents Radio 4’s ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ programme. (see link below).

It is believed the thorn is one of 15 parts of the Crown of Thorns remaining in the world with the only other part held in the UK at Stanbrook Abbey in Worcestershire.

The British Museum’s Treasure of Heaven exhibition opens to the public on 23 June and runs until October.  It brings together for the first time some of the finest sacred treasures of the Middle Ages featuring more than 150 objects drawn from more than 40 institutions  in Europe and America

During the medieval period  relics (some genuine and some less so) were very popular and had great spiritual significance. Relics were usually set into ornate containers of silver and gold known as reliquaries, opulently decorated by the finest craftsmen of the age. They had spiritual and symbolic value and reflected the importance of the sacred contents.

The earliest items on display date from the late Roman period and trace the evolution of the cult of the saints from the 4th century AD to the peak of relic veneration in late medieval Europe.

Relics featured in the exhibition include three thorns thought to be from the Crown of Thorns, fragments of the True Cross, the foot of St Blaise, and the Mandylion of Edessa (one of the earliest known likenesses of Jesus).

Treasures such as these have not been seen in significant numbers in the UK since the Reformation, which saw the  wholesale destruction of saints’ shrines. A bonfire of statues taken from churches around the country was made near the site of St Thomas More's house in Fulham. It burnt for several days.

This exhibition offers the perfect opportunity to glimpse the heritage of beautiful medieval craftsmanship that was lost to this country for centuries.

To listen to Neil McGregor discussing the Holy Thorn on ‘A History of the World in 100 Objects’ programme go to: www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/pZ-Jq-iaTOiazy-YLBF2fg

Source: British Museum/Stoneyhurst