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Tales from Stones, Travels through Time: Narrative and Vision in the Casket from the Vatican

The Vatican pilgrim casket (sometimes referred to as the Sancta Sanctorum pilgrim box), containing relics from the Holy Land, reveals important changes in the history of devotional art. In revisiting the increasing use since late antiquity of a linear narrative in Christian decorations,1 the author relates the three modes of representation in and on the pilgrim casket to three concepts of time—history, memory, and vision—testifying to the establishment of a new pictorial and iconographic Christian tradition, shaped by visionary experiences at holy sites, favoring narrative scenes. Beginning in the sixth century, pilgrims’ reliquaries increasingly showed events from the holy sites from which the relics came, images that gained impact as a medium in themselves, as an aid to memory and/or to meditation. The author demonstrates how the visionary experiences that took place at holy sites, recorded in early pilgrim accounts, shaped these iconographic traditions.