Reliquary with the relic of the Forerunner’s right arm, the Chapel of St John the Baptist in Siena cathedral
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Reliquary with the relic of the Forerunner’s right arm is today kept in the crypt of the chapel of St John the Baptist in Siena cathedral.
The foundation charter of the Žiča Monastery shows that King Stefan the First Crowned and his son Radoslav bestowed some of the most highly venerated Christian relics upon it, among which is the above-mentioned relic with the ultimate purpose to transfer the image of the Holy Land to Serbia, and in that way secure sacral legitimacy for the young kingdom. Later, in 1464 the Despot of Morea Tomas Palaiologos brought it with him to Siena, along with some other precious possessions, and turned it over to Pope Pius II in exchange for a handsome recompense.
The relic consists of the embalmed, excellently preserved forearm and hand. The original cylindrical silver-gilt reliquary, clearly distinguishable from the later 15th-century one, is decorated with ﬁligree ornaments, gemstones and rows of pearls. In terms of style and crafsmanship, it ﬁnds closest analogies in the work of Byzantine goldsmiths of the 10th to 12th centuries.The waist-length portrait of St John incised in the middle of its domical lid is encircled by the donor’s prayerful inscription: the Forerunner’s right arm. Protect me, Sava, Serbian archbishop. Based on analogies from the Byzantine world, it seems very likely that the relic was used on important state and church occasions.
The relic enjoys the status of a highly venerated cult object ever since.