A "Speaking" Arm Reliquary of Saint Pantaleon

Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0 

There is little doubt that the hands of Saint Pantaleon were his body part most worthy of veneration. Born in what is now Turkey in the 3rd century CE, Pantaleon was a renowned physician who, according to his hagiography, once healed a blind man by invoking the name of Jesus. His reputation for curing the incurable spread, and Pantaleon’s knowledge and practice of medicine was so renowned that he was called to serve the Roman Emperor Maximian. The invitation was undoubtedly a boon to Pantaleon’s career, but hazardous for his own health: Like many eventual saints, Pantaleon fell victim to Diocletian’s persecution of Christians.

Pantaleon’s story is a familiar one: a public commitment to the faith followed by blood, gore, and an inevitably miraculous death. Though it’s unclear exactly when Pantaleon was canonized, there are references to his veneration as the patron saint of physicians, in particular, as early as the 5th century. By the 14th century, Pantaleon was venerated as one of the Fourteen Holy Helpers, a group of saints known for their particular ability to intercede on behalf of the sick, particularly those affected by the plague.

This arm reliquary, held by the Walters Museum in Baltimore, dates to the late 13th century. Made of gilded silver, the West German (Rhineland) reliquary depicts the arm of Saint Pantaleon, fingers bent into the blessing gesture, directed toward the worshiper. The ornate reliquary features embellishment with jewels as well as fine, detailed metalwork.

Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

According to the Walters, some of the embellishments were added later in the 15th century, including the large crystal at the cuff of the sleeve and the glass door, which would have provided worshipers a better look at the reliquary’s contents, likely an arm bone said to have been once attached to Saint Pantaleon. The additions demonstrate the continued importance of Pantaleon and his earthly remains to later pilgrims seeking his intercession. As the reliquary continued to be an object of veneration long after its creation, it’s likely that it had particular relevance during the 14th century as Black Plague moved across Europe, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives.

Shaped reliquaries like Pantaleon’s arm were designated [PDF] by Germans as redende Reliquaire, translated simply as “speaking reliquary.” The term was specifically used for reliquaries that generally resembled the body part contained inside, like this one. Simply put, speaking reliquaries plainly and visibly communicated their contents. Such reliquaries were common in European churches by the 13th century, but there are examples that date as late as the 18th century. Numerous speaking reliquaries still survive, including a lavish gilt bust reliquary of Saint Baudime and a foot reliquary of Saint Blaise dating from the mid-13th century.

Arm reliquaries like Saint Pantaleon’s are, by far, the most common of the speaking reliquaries. Medieval art historian Cynthia Hahn suggests [PDF] that they were the most easy to preserve, and notes that they were probably the most produced of the speaking reliquaries because, unlike feet or busts, they could play a pivotal role in the spectacle of mass. The arm reliquary was a kind of “liturgical prop” that stood in for the saint; it could bless the pilgrim, giving the worshipper a recreation of a direct experience with a long-dead saint. Hahn notes that numerous medieval texts describe clergy using hand reliquaries to bless worshipers with the sign of the cross.

In this respect, Saint Pantaleon’s hand, which, centuries before, had supposedly healed a blind man and a paralytic, could mimic the gesture of those miracles for a worshiper seeking relief from the Black Plague. The hand of the saint, imbued as it was with mystical power, could touch and heal the faithful without the constraints of mere time. Speaking reliquaries were, no doubt, powerful visual representations of saints and their miracles.

Header images: Chloe Effron // Walters Art Museum via Wikimedia Commons (Reliquary), Luigi Chiesa via Wikimedia Commons (Background) // CC BY-SA 3.0

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Roadside Bear Statue in Wales is So Lifelike That Safety Officials Want It Removed
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Wooden bear statue.

There are no real bears in the British Isles for residents to worry about, but a statue of one in the small Welsh town of Llanwrtyd Wells has become a cause of concern. As The Telegraph reports, the statue is so convincing that it's scaring drivers, causing at least one motorist to crash her car. Now road safety officials are demanding it be removed.

The 10-foot wooden statue has been a fixture on the roadside for at least 15 years. It made headlines in May of 2018 when a woman driving her car saw the landmark and took it to be the real thing. She was so startled that she veered off the road and into a street sign.

After the incident, she complained about the bear to highways officials who agreed that it poses a safety threat and should be removed. But the small town isn't giving in to the Welsh government's demands so quickly.

The bear statue was originally erected on the site of a now-defunct wool mill. Even though the mill has since closed, locals still see the statue as an important landmark. Llanwrtyd Wells councilor Peter James called it an "iconic gateway of the town," according to The Telegraph.

Another town resident, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph that the woman who crashed her car had been a tourist from Canada where bears are common. Bear were hunted to extinction in Britain about 1000 years ago, so local drivers have no reason to look out for the real animals on the side of the road.

The statue remains in its old spot, but Welsh government officials plan to remove it themselves if the town doesn't cooperate. For now, temporary traffic lights have been set up around the site of the accident to prevent any similar incidents.

[h/t The Telegraph]

The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

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