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Pilgrim's Ampulla with (Symbolic) Crucifixion and Marys at the Tomb

Early Byzantine
6th century - early 7th century
4.6 cm (1 13/16 in.)

On view


Additional Images
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Additional Image Detail: Marys at the Tomb
Detail: Marys at the Tomb
Additional Image Obverse and reverse
Obverse and reverse
Additional Image Reverse

According to the inscription on this lead vial or ampulla, it contained oil from the wood of the true cross, obtained from the Holy Land. At the sites of sacred events, pilgrims could acquire “eulogiae,” literally “blessings,” in the form of tokens or cloth or oils that they believed shared in the sacred power of the Holy Sites and relics themselves. The Dumbarton Oaks ampulla shows the crucifixion on one side, and Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James carrying spices to Christ’s tomb on the other. In both images, the illustrations deviate from the Gospel accounts. Some Biblical details are selected and then mixed with aspects of the holy site as it would have appeared to a pilgrim hundreds of years later. So, in the case of the crucifixion, while there are details from the Gospels, such as the two thieves being crucified on either side, we do not see Christ’s body on the cross, but rather an emblematic cross surmounted by a bust of Christ. In fact, we know from pilgrims’ descriptions that this is what pilgrims would have seen in the basilica erected by Constantine over the traditional site of the crucifixion. In the case of the Marys at the tomb, the tomb is depicted, not as a cave, as it is described in the Gospels, but as a small porticoed shrine with grilles in front. This is what was visible in the Church of the Resurrection (Anastasis) in Jerusalem as it developed into a pilgrimage site. The shrine is surrounded by columns, and set under a row of windows, representing the windows around the bottom of the dome that rose over the sacred spot. So, these images, like those on other mementos of the Holy Land overlay Biblical details with aspects of the pilgrim’s visit, allowing the faithful to map his or her own experience onto sacred history.

- J. Hanson

The Dumbarton Oaks Collection, Harvard University (Washington, D.C., 1955), 46, no. 112, fig. p. 50.

M. C. Ross,
Catalogue of the Byzantine and Early Mediaeval Antiquities in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection,Metalwork, Ceramics, Glass, Glyptics, Painting (Washington, D.C., 1962), 71-72, no. 87, fig. 48.

Handbook of the Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1967), 40, no. 146.

D. Barag. "Glass Pilgrim Vessels from Jerusalem: Part I,"
Journal of Glass Studies 12 (1970), 35-63, esp. 59.

J. Engemann. "Palastinensische Pilgerampullen im F.J. Dolger-Institut in Bonn,"
Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum 16 (1973), 5-27, fig. 9.

K. Weitzmann. "Loca Sancta and the Representational Arts of Palestine,"
Dumbarton Oaks Papers 28 (1974), 31-55, esp. 42, pl. 24.

M. E. Frazer. "A Syncretic Pilgrim's Mould from Mamre(?)," Gesta 18, no. 1 (1979), 137-45, esp. 139.

K. Weitzmann, Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 19, 1977-February 12, 1978, (New York, 1979), 585-586, no. 524.

G. Vikan,
Byzantine Pilgrimage Art Publications / Dumbarton Oaks Byzantine Collection (Washington, D.C., 1982), 20-24, reproduced front and back covers.

King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea, exhibition catalogue, Smithsonian Institution, Traveling Exhibition Service, (New York, 1988), 194, pl. 142, entry 129.

H. Belting, Likeness and Presence: A History of the Image before the Era of Art (Chicago, 1994), 107, pl. 57.

L. Kötzsche-Breitenbruch, "Das Heilige Grab in Jerusalem und seine Nachfolge," in
Akten des XII. Internationalen Kongresses fur christliche Archaölogie: Bonn, 22.-28. September 1991, ed. E. Dassmann and J. Engemann. Jahrbuch für Antike und Christentum. Ergänzungsband; 20 (Munster, Città del Vaticano, 1995), 1, fig., 28a, pl. 18 p. 275.

M. Biddle,
The Tomb of Christ (Gloucestershire, England, 1999), 23, pl. 18.

S. Kochav, Church of the Holy Sepulchre Holy Land Revealed Guides (Jerusalem, 1999), 13.

Cradle of Christianity, exhibition catalogue, The Israeli Museum, Weisbord Exhibition Pavilion, Spring 2000-Winter 2001, (Jerusalem, 2000), 200.

P.-L. Gatier, ed. O. Binst
The Levant: History and Archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean (Cologne, 2000), 224.

K. Krause. "Darstellungen der Kreuzesverehrung auf palastinensischen Pilgerampullen,"
Mitteilungen zur spätantiken Archäologie und byzantinischen Kunstgeschichte 2 (2000), esp. 10 n. 4, 15 n. 33, 17 n. 41, 32.

D. Woods. "The Cross on the Glass Pilgrim Vessels from Jerusalem," Journal of Glass Studies 46 (2004), esp. 95, pl. 2.

G. Frank, "
Loca Sancta Souvenirs and the Art of Memory," in Pèlerinages et lieux saints dans l'antiquité et le moyen âge: mélanges offerts à Pierre Maraval, ed. B. Caseau, J.-C. Cheynet and V. Déroche. Monographies, Collège de France-CNRS-Centre de recherche d'histoire et civilisation de Byzance (Paris, 2006), 193-201, pl. 1,2.

A. J. Wharton, Selling Jerusalem: Relics, Replicas, Theme Parks (Chicago, 2006).

R. Ousterhout. "'Sweetly Refreshed in Imagination': Remembering Jerusalem in Words and Images," Gesta 48, no. 2 (2009), esp. 155, pl. 3.

T. Ó'Carragáin, Churches in Early Medieval Ireland: Architecture, Ritual and Memory (New Haven [Conn.], 2010), 75, pl. 77.

A. D. Lazaridou, A. Cameron, H. Saradi-Mendelovici, H. Maguire, and S. ?ur?i?,
Transition to Christianity: Art of Late Antiquity, 3rd-7th Century AD, exhibition catalogue, Mouseio Vyzantino, Athens, December 7th, 2011- May 14th 2012, (New York and Athens, 2011), 68, pl. 1.

H. C. Evans, and B. Ratliff,
Byzantium and Islam: Age of Transition, 7th-9th Century, exhibition catalogue, Metropolitan Museum of Art, March 14th-July 8th, 2012, (New York and New Haven [Conn.], 2012), 91-92, no. 59.

R. Ousterhout, "Women at Tombs: Narrative, Theatricality, and the Contemplative Mode," in Wonderful Things: Byzantium through its Art: Papers from the Forty-Second Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, London, 20-22 March 2009, ed. A. Eastman and L. James (Farnham, Surrey; Burlington, VT, 2013), xix, 328 pages, esp. 235, pl. 16.1.

M. Bacci,
The Many Faces of Christ: Portraying the Holy in the East and West, 300 to 1300 (London, 2014), 216, pl. 116.

D. Krueger, Liturgical Subjects: Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium, 2014), 95, pl. 10.

D. Sever. "A Pilgrim’s Self-Identification: Sixth- and Seventh-Century Lead Pilgrim Flasks from the Holy Land," Diogenes 4 (2016), 35-48, esp. 41-42, 47, fig. 2.

P. Cesaretti and B. Hamarneh, Testo agiografico e orizzonte visivo: ricontestualizzare le Vite dei saloi Simeone e Andrea, BHG 1677-115z. Testi e studi bizantino-neoellenici 20 (2016), fig. 24

J. Bogdanovic, The Framing of Sacred Space: The Canopy and the Byzantine Church, Oxford University Press (2017), fig. 5.4.

Exhibition History
New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, "Age of Spirituality: Late Antique and Early Christian Art, Third to Seventh Century," Nov. 1977 - Feb. 1978.

Washington, DC, Dumbarton Oaks, "Byzantine Pilgrimage Art," March 5 - Sept.6, 1982.

Washington, DC, Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition, "King Herod's Dream: Caesarea on the Sea," 1988.

Jerusalem, The Israel Museum, "Cradle of Christianity," March 16, 2000 - Jan. 30, 2001.

Acquisition History
Collection of Hayford Peirce, Bangor, ME.

Acquired from Mrs. Hayford Peirce by Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Washington, D.C., October 1948.

Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, Byzantine Collection, Washington, D.C.