Reliquary Replica

I have become enamored by this silver box that was discovered at Jamestown: 3D view of Jamestown reliquary from the Smithsonian.

There are a lot of good articles about it. Here is one from The Atlantic. The box belonged to Gabriel Archer, who died in the early 1600s.

Scans have shown that the box contains bone fragments and archaeologists think it is a reliquary – a container that Catholics use to keep holy items. Below is an image I’ve stolen from the Web:


This is surprising to me since, when I visited Jamestown, I was told that this colony was established by the British in part to keep the Spanish from settling the rest of North America. The Spanish, of course, were Catholic, and one of the cornerstones of British nationalism, at the time, was fierce opposition to anything Catholic.

I was especially impressed by the door, which is fitted extremely well despite its irregular shape and has an enigmatic ‘M’ scratched into.

To the best of my knowledge, the archaeologists have not opened the box, so there are no images of the inside.

I wanted to figure how it might have been constructed, so I decided to build one for myself from 22-gauge sterling silver.


I measured the proportions from the Smithsonian’s 3D scan. I have changed the design of the door somewhat, because this is the first time I have made a door like this, so I did not want to have to deal with the tapered shape that only covers a portion of the surface. Instead, my has parallel edges and extends the length of the face.

I have not yet fully polished and cleaned it. There is still some firescale to remove before I might try to scratch and ‘M’ into it.


Inside I put four pieces of silver leftover from a previous project and held them in place with vitreous enamel.

Overall, I am happy with the results so far and have only grown more impressed by what people were able to accomplish 400 years ago without modern equipment.


UPDATE (20 Feb 2016): I’ve finally gotten around to polishing this piece and putting it on a chain. Total weight (17 g)



More about this reliquary and other artifacts


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