What memories reveals the reliquary bust of St. Pantaleon? 

National Museum Soares dos Reis

Discover the story behind this amazing piece

São Pantaleão came to be Oporto's most revered saint and patron of the city. This reliquary, a jeweller's masterpiece filled with inscriptions tell us his story.
A pious legacy: one man's lasting memory
Inscribed on the base of the reliquary bust is the benefactor's name: ESTA : CABECA : LEIXOU : GO(n)CA/ LO DA : CV/ NHA : MEO : CONIGO. The work was commissioned by one of the members of the Cabido da Sé do Porto, chaplain of the hospital of Santa Maria de Rocamador.
The cult of Santo Pantaleão
The cult of São Pantaleão has a long tradition in the Catholic Church dating back to the 5th Century. During the peak of the Byzantine Empire multiple temples were built for the adoration of this saint by order of Emperor Justinian I. The spread of the cult is document in multiple versions of the greek passion themselves translated into Arab, Georgian and Coptic. Renown of this saint and his miracles became widespread in Europe between the 9th and 15th centuries.

Following the contour of the the chest of the bust the following inscription is written: + HOC : ENIM : CAPUT : sanctl : PANTELEYONIS : ET CeTera: 1509. The inscription confirms that this is indeed Saint Pantaleão. The date inscribed remains a mystery, is this the date of the reliquary's donation or is it there to mark an important date related to the bust's status as a reliquary remains unknown.

Panteleyoni, is the name of the saint for whom this reliquary was made.

This inscription reiterates the role of the reliquary in the adoration of the doctor martyr saint, known in the western christianity as Pantaleemone, the name itself meaning all merciful. This bust commonly known as the head of São Pantaleão was used by the cult for the adoration of this saint, martyred in Nicomédia in 303 AD.

An inscription runs through the whole of the bust's interior. Here we can see a detail of the greek cross.

In an oriental fashion there is a ribbon around the bust's head. Even on this ribbon the remains of a worn message can be found: EM XX DE AGOSTO DA ERA DE 1509 A[NOS] .

On this inscription, yet again the same date is mentioned, yet we continue at a loss as to its meaning.

A plaque added in 1548 makes reference to relics of other saints kept in this reliquary.

During the high medieval period the cult of São Pantaleão saw an incremental rise in popularity in the city of Oporto.

According to accounts from this period after the fall of Constantinople to the Turks in 1453, a group of Armenians was carrying with them what was left of the body of São Pantaleão docked in the city of Oporto leaving the remains in the church of S. Pedro de Miragaia. The cult immediately achieved great prestige and fame leading the city to elect this saint as its patron on 12th December 1499. It was the bishop of Oporto D. Diogo de Sousa who oversaw the transferral of the remains to the Diocese of Oporto.
Several eminent figures were involved in the promotion of this cult in Oporto. King D. João II himself mentioned in his will the desire to have a tomb built for the purpose of housing these remains. His will however was never met.

In 1502, King D. Manuel his successor having found out about this fact orders that King João II's will be met.

On the inside of the bust we can see what techniques have been used to create it. The head was made of single silver sheet, hammered to the inside of a mould.

Tempera was the technique used to paint the head and neck.

The hair, tunic and ribbon have been created using a mercury amalgama. The relief of the hair and tunic were made with a chisel.

In 1548 the goldsmith Brás Afonso added decorative elements such as the plaque and the angel's heads.

The final additional to the bust was the jewel made with from polished hyaline smoky quartz.

On account of the iconic importance of São Pantaleão to the city of Oporto, the piece was added to the Museu Nacional Soares dos Reis' Collection in 1941.

Credits: Story

Curator Ana Cristina Almeida Macedo
Content: Fátima Macedo
Support: Mafalda Macedo (Voluntária do MNSR)
Digital Production: Luis Ramos Pinto (DGPC)
Photographic credits: ADF / DGPC
Thanks: Google Arts & Culture

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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