Italian artifact discovered, housed at St. Mary’s

MEDFORD, Ore.– It’s a piece of history, more than 700 years old and now it’s found a new home in the Rogue Valley.

“It’s tremendous,” said Alastair Hunter, chair of the English Department and art history teacher at St. Mary’s School. “It is providential really, that it came just as we’re finishing the decoration of the chapel.”

A piece of the old world, dating well back to the pre-Renaissance.

“It does show some early departures from very early Christian art which was extremely flat and two dimensional,” said Hunter. “It’s probably sometime in the 1200’s, the thirteenth century.”

The sacred artifact was discovered in an antique store in Coburg, Oregon and was recently gifted to St. Mary’s School by Rachel Hall, a long-time friend of the school whose kids also attended.

After further investigation, the school found out the panel was a reliquary box – something designed to hold sacred relics.

“Medieval Christian church was like mad keen on relics,” said Hunter. “Relics could be actually parts of the skeletons of saints, they could be parts of, for instance, the true cross.”

Unfortunately, not many boxes survive intact as each panel of the box was worth more separately.

But those that remained intact culminate in telling the story of Jesus Christ. For St. Mary’s, the panel they received is one of the starting pieces to the story.

“In some ways this is the beginning, this is the announcement that Christ would be born,” said Hunter. “You know, different artists chose different things that represented Christ’s life and ministry. But it would end with the Crucifixion, the passion of Christ, so you get the whole story.”

Initially there were concerns that the piece might be a fake but after further analysis proved – it’s the real deal.

The panel was appraised by a local appraiser and was priced at around $3,000 to $4,000.

“To get a piece of old wood and then to get the paints and the gesso that’s used on this,” said Hunter. “And to match them with all the wands and then to paint in this style, it would take a lot of expertise, a lot of time.”

School officials say it’s only fitting it arrives at the perfect time just as they’re opening their renovated chapel. It will hang on one of the walls where it can viewed by those in attendance.

“The stained glass windows are in and all of the bronzes are in and so that this should come and we can place it is really like the coup de grace,” said Hunter. “It’s wonderful. It’s great.”


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