Fragments of an Irish-type reliquary discovered in Norway

The house-shaped reliquary fragments (Photo: Bjørn Johnsen)
The house-shaped reliquary fragments from Norway (Photo: Bjørn Johnsen)

Two fragments of a house-shaped reliquary of Irish-type have been found in Norway. Most likely dating from the 7th to 9th centuries AD, the pieces probably represent loot that was stolen during Viking raids on Ireland or Scotland.

In early medieval Ireland house-shaped reliquaries were used to store saint’s relics and played an important role in religious affairs. They were often richly adorned, to reflect the status of the relics inside and as result were targeted during Viking attacks.

According to archaeologist Bernt Egil Tafjordfjellne, the two newly discovered Norwegian pieces were found by a metal detectorist working in a field near the town of Hokksund. They consist of a bronze panel, ornamented with enamel and millefiori pieces and a bronze hinge, also decorated with enamel, which would have held the shrine lid in place (like the Monymusk shrine below).

The Monymusk Shrine from Scotland (image source)
The Monymusk Shrine from Scotland (image source)

These pieces are a significant addition to small but important corpus of Irish-type reliquaries from Scandinavia, which also include examples from Melhus and Setnes in Norway as well as the magnificent Copenhagen Shrine.


Further Reading

Nytt vikingfunn i Eiker (by Carsten Øhrn)

5 thoughts on “Fragments of an Irish-type reliquary discovered in Norway

  1. Hi all, what a wonderful rescue of an important bit of (poss) Irish history! It was heartening to see that the find was made by a metal detectorist who handed it over to the archaeologists. Three years ago the Irish Metal Detecting Society was formed, aimed at promoting the positive aspects of the hobby and complementing the good work done by archaeologists. There is damage being done by irresponsible owners of metal detectors and thats something the IMDS wants to put a swift end to.
    I am based in Norwich in the UK, but born in Dublin and my business is now extended to cover Ireland. I work closely with UK archaeologists and we would like to see a more sensible approach in Ireland where at the moment it is effectively banned.
    Last month I managed to find a 6th century Saxon coptic bowl in great condition and this is now with the BM for research. I took part in the ensuing excavation and found it very gratifying. The word elitism springs to mind when I read some of the anti-detecting comments, but I sincerely hope that we can eventually all work together in a controlled/licensed way for the benefit of Irish heritage.
    I also hope that this topic is not now deleted!
    Apologies for getting on the soap box, I promise to behave myself and not rant on! Good luck to all those who are entering 2015 with some uncertainty re their jobs and the ever shrinking public purse, you all do a fantastic job and should be paid double! Liam

    1. Hi Liam,

      Thanks for your comment. Just to reiterate that metal detecting for archaeological objects is currently illegal in Ireland.

      All the best, Colm

  2. Excellent news!

    This find reminds us that we really need to examine material from Scandinavian museums and excavations more closely to ascertain what Irish material can be found there. Remember, the largest ‘Irish’ artifact found abroad is one of the ships that were sunk in Roskilde Fjord in Denmark to block the place in the face of an enemy attack.

    There is also a reliquary in Italy – which suggests that we must search further afield. The men who went looking for ancient Irish manuscripts in Continental libraries during the 19th and early 20th centuries found plenty of material in their field.

  3. Good morning all, I attach a YoutTube link that has a film last 11 mins. It describes the benefits of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The PAS does not operate in the Republic as the Laws from 1987 do not allow it. Please have a quick look and make a comment. I will be over in Ireland on business in July and I hope to meet up with as many archaeologists as possible and gather their views. The film is about to be sent out to an army of politicians and anyone connected to preserving Irelands heritage. The PAS is a model that could very easily be adapted to suit the irish situation, thanks, Liam

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.